Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

U of I logoCollege of Veterinary Medicine

Back to search page.

Vitamins, Herbs, and Flavored Waters: The Health Frenzy Has Gone to the Dogs!

Pet Column for the week of December 14, 2009

Related information:

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Ashley Mitek
Information Specialist

Source - Kandi Norrell, DVM
You probably don't have to look any further than your kitchen to find a container of nutritional supplements or a bottle of vitamin water. It seems the pet food industry has caught on to America's desire to consume products that make us feel better about our often not-so-great diet. With the click of a button on your favorite Internet search engine, it’s easy to find several types of products for pets--ranging from organically grown grass sprouts to daily vitamins and flavored waters.

Dr. Kandi Norrell runs the primary care clinic at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana. She says, "most healthy pets that consume a high quality diet probably do not require dietary supplements such as vitamins." But there are a few instances where these new products come in handy, as well as a few concerns pet owners should be aware of.

For cats with lower urinary tract disease or history of crystals in the urine and inappropriate urination, increasing water consumption is critical to successful management of the condition. "Above anything we can do medically, increasing fluid consumption is what is most beneficial to resolution of clinical signs," notes Dr. Norrell. This is where flavored waters have been helpful.

Although cats do seem to drink more water if it is flavored to their liking, it is also worth noting that there is a less expensive alternative. Dr. Norrell's secret is to use low sodium clam juice or tuna water frozen into ice cubes and placed in the pet's water bowl to encourage water consumption.

In an effort to promote an all-natural treat, boxed grasses are now being marketed for pets. Although they are unlikely to be problematic, it is a good idea to make sure your pet does not eat too much at once. Not unlike a hairball, too much grass could cause an obstruction or minimally GI upset and vomiting.

The downside to purchasing any pet vitamin or supplement is that they are not regulated or approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), which oversees production of pet foods. For this reason, before implementing any new supplement, whether it be a new water or a new vitamin, it is a good idea to consult your veterinarian first. Some products contain high levels of certain ingredients (such as protein) that may be harmful to your pet if it has an underlying disease. In addition, xylitol, an artificial sweetener common in some human "diet" foods and drinks, is very toxic to dogs.

Though most supplements seem to have only minimal benefits, if any, there is one product that veterinarians frequently utilize for a multitude of disease processes. “"ish oil can be very beneficial for decreasing cholesterol, improving response to antihistamines in itchy pets, and treatment of arthritis and joint pain in conjunction with other drug therapies," says Dr. Norrell. However, it is best to purchase the supplement through your veterinarian rather than over-the-counter sources because of the unique nature of each commercially available product. Although a seemingly "natural" supplement, many products are combined with other supplements that can be unsafe for consumption by cats and dogs. Your veterinarian will also provide a product that is balanced appropriately for pets, is free of contaminants such as mercury and ensure that your pet does not have other conditions that would make supplementation unsafe.

In the end, vitamins and supplements for pets do have a use in veterinary medicine in some instances. But the vast majority of products are not necessary for the healthy animal. As long as you are feeding an approved (AAFCO certified) feed, and your pet is healthy, he/she should not require further nutritional supplements.

For questions about pet vitamins and nutritional supplements, contact your primary care veterinarian.