Even if you’re already taking supplements regularly, there’s someone in the family you could be forgetting about: your four-legged friend. Along with the rise of all things wellness, pet supplements have quickly become the latest vitamin craze. Yes, you heard that right: pet supplements are officially a thing.
The market may be miniscule compared to the human supplement industry, but the pet supplement sector still saw an impressive 4% growth from 2012 to 2016, with profits reaching the $1 billion mark. A 2002 gaff involving pet supplements being sold with unsubstantiated claims delegitimized the industry temporarily, but additional regulation and health trends have secured pet supplements as a lucrative industry—one that’s only expected to keep growing.
What do pet supplements do?
Pet supplements run the gamut of uses, just as human supplements do, and many of the claims are extremely similar. Obesity is a pressing issue for pets, just like people. Consequently, weight management and joint pain supplements are some of the most popular. Animal GI supplements and daily multivitamins that generally promise to increase coat shininess, mental acuity and possess anti-inflammatory properties are all widely available and growing in popularity.
And just as the human population ages, our pet population is becoming older, too. About 30% of all cats and dogs in the U.S. are over the age of 7 and technically considered “seniors;” in one study, about half of owners were shelling out dough for age-related pet supplements.
Which pet supplements are necessary?
Many of the most popular pet supplements might sound familiar, because in many cases they’re already in your own vitamins. Keep in mind that the research for these ingredients in pets differs from the research conducted for humans. Here’s what you need to know about five of the most common ingredients you’ll see in pet vitamins.
Glucosamine: While decades of studies suggest the benefits of glucosamine in humans are more in our heads than our actual bodies, only two studies have actually been conducted on its effectiveness in dogs’ joints. Omega-3s in the form of fish oils may actually be more effective at easing animal joint pain, yet glucosamine is still widely used in pet supplements.
Omega-3s: Vegetarian or vegan owners may have qualms about including more animal-based products in their pet’s diet, but fish oil is commonly thought to ease an itch coat and soothe aching joints. The science doesn’t exactly back up this colloquial belief, since a 2010 study found that fish oil’s treatment of itchiness wasn’t significant enough to make other therapies unnecessary, and studies have found largely negative results with only a few significant statistics. However, the supplement still remains popular among experts like holistic veterinarian Judy Morgan.
Milk Thistle: This herbal additive has grown from an obscure niche ingredient in holistic medicine to a conventionally popular antioxidant and anti-inflammatory aid. While the risk of harm is low and studies have found beneficial effects of milk thistle in-vitro, the lack of information on its interaction within cats and dogs makes any definitive claim doubtful at best.
Cannabinoids: A perfect reflector of trends in human health transferring to our pets is the recent boom in pet products including cannabidiol (CBD). CBD for dogs is legal and safe. While CBD is most often used to treat human cases of chronic pain, anxiety and epilepsy, boutique brands have emerged that specialized in CBD-based pet products claiming to focus on any number of conditions. Research into this emerging compound still has a ways to go, but CBD has been shown to reduce inflammation, which can cause premature pet aging, and protect a dog’s brain cells from death at the hands of free radicals.
Probiotics: Although probiotics are easily found in common foods, probiotic supplements with strains of live cultures are popular with owners seeking to reduce gassiness and diarrhea in pets. However, one of the leading causes of diarrhea in dogs is colitis, a condition actually harmed by the introduction of additional probiotics. Testing for colitis can be done through analysis, which might be worth ruling out before investing in a bottle of probiotics.
And just in case you’re wondering: no, your pet can’t safely share your supplements. There’s no quick way to cut costs via splitting your vitamin into a smaller dosage for your furry friend. An animal’s GI tract includes different bacteria from our own, and they need dramatically different dosages of pretty much ever vitamin and mineral across the board.
For now, if you want to give your pet supplements, you’ll have to shell out a pretty penny for these costly products. Talk with your vet first to make sure you’re investing in supplements your pet needs, not trendy ones that could harm your four-legged friend. If you’re a firm believer in natural health for your pet, seek out a holistic or alternative veterinarian who is more likely to have expertise in areas like herbal supplements.