top nutrients every animal needs: what you need to know
Regardless of the type of food you feed your dog or cat, these few specific supplements provide important nutrients and enhance their nutrition.
Many people, including veterinarians, believe that commercially prepared pet foods contain all the nutrients dogs and cats need for good health. When they begin to realize that over-processing destroys nutrients, they may turn to better quality or fresher foods. But even if these foods contain a full complement of vitamins, minerals and other necessary nutrients, there is still room for improvement. Regardless of the type of food you feed your companion, there are some specific supplements that will complement and enhance their diet.
The most discussed omega-3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Neither is considered essential, although DHA is needed during the growth of puppies and kittens. But the only meat that contains EPA/DHA (and even then, perhaps not in sufficient amounts) is 100% grass-fed meat. All other meats are forage or grain fed and therefore contain virtually no EPA/DHA.
The vast majority of vegetable oils are in the form of omega-6 fatty acids, which are often in excess in our animals’ diets. Flaxseeds and some other seeds and nuts contain omega-3 fatty acids in the form of ALA, which in turn have beneficial effects, especially on skin and coat health. However, although ALA is technically a precursor of EPA and DHA, dogs and especially cats have an extremely limited conversion capacity (no more than 1–2% for EPA and practically 0% for DHA after weaning). Only marine oils (fish oil, cod liver oil, krill oil, green lipped mussel oil and some algal oils) contain the preformed EPA and DHA that our carnivorous companions can absorb and utilize. Dogs and cats should receive EPA and DHA directly.
- EPA is important for cell membrane fluidity, blood flow, skin health and immune system function. It has a strong anti-inflammatory effect, is helpful for many inflammatory and degenerative conditions, and is specifically helpful for chronic kidney disease, arthritis, feline asthma, dermatitis and cancer.
- DHA is the most abundant fat in the brain and the main component of myelin. It is essential for the development of the nervous and visual systems. Research suggests that DHA deficiency may play a role in anxiety, hyperactivity and aggression; supplementation may be helpful in these cases.
Keys to choosing a good omega-3 product
- look for products made from sustainably caught wild (not farmed) fish or clean, farmed shellfish or seaweed.
- Cod liver oil should not contain added vitamins A and D, which can reach toxic levels in small animals.
- the products must be independently tested for freshness.
- They must be free of toxins such as mercury, PCBs and dioxins, which are widely found in the world’s oceans.
Normally, the pancreas provides these necessary digestive enzymes, although production decreases as animals age. Raw foods contain many enzymes, including a number of digestive enzymes in cell lysosomes.
Cooking causes denaturation of the enzymes. Supplementation with digestive enzymes is particularly important for animals consuming commercially processed feeds (in addition to the enzymes listed on the label). Geriatric animals may also benefit, even if they are fed a raw diet. Digestive enzymes may also be useful in treating parasites such as giardia, and may prevent pancreatic enlargement that can result from a processed diet.
Keys to choosing a good digestive enzyme product.
- Look for a product of plant or fungal origin so that it works in the widest range of pH and temperature.
- At a minimum, it should contain: Protease, amylase, lipase and cellulase.
The gut microbiota is an essential component of overall health. The constant interaction between gut bacteria and the brain is through neural, endocrine, immunological and humoral connections. A balanced gut ecology impacts not only physical health, but also emotional and mental health. It prevents pathogenic bacteria from taking hold, produces B vitamins, vitamin K and short chain fatty acids, and contributes to normal immune system function.
Probiotic supplements are beneficial for allergies, including atopy and food allergies. They are also helpful for pets suffering from any type of digestive problem, such as vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, IBD, colitis and even hairballs.
Probiotics are also essential for animals that are receiving or have received antibiotics (including natural antimicrobial therapies such as herbs, medicinal mushrooms, colloidal silver, etc.) Continue probiotic supplementation for at least two weeks after treatment.
Keys to choosing a good probiotic product
- Look for a supplement that contains at least Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria.
- The label must guarantee the presence of live microorganisms.
- The product should be sufficiently potent (at least 100 million per dose).
- Many products combine digestive enzymes and probiotics and can be an interesting and inexpensive option, especially for hard-to-supplement animals.
The function of antioxidants is to remove and neutralize free radicals from oxygen. Cells produce controlled amounts of free radicals as weapons against viruses, fungi, bacteria and abnormal cells. However, excess and unbalanced free radicals produce oxidative stress that can damage normal cells and cause chronic inflammation. Processed pet foods often contain high levels of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids, so it is very important to supplement with antioxidants.
Free radical damage is at the root of virtually all inflammatory and degenerative diseases, as well as many diseases we don’t necessarily think of as inflammation-related, such as diabetes, cancer, hypothyroidism, heart disease and cognitive impairment. By reducing oxidative stress, antioxidants may be helpful in preventing and treating disease. However, the mechanisms are complex and there is no clear scientific evidence yet. Nevertheless, antioxidants can be generally considered useful in most inflammatory and immune diseases.
Keys to choosing a good antioxidant product
- It should contain several antioxidants, such as vitamin E, carotenoids (such as beta-carotene and lycopene) and flavonoids (such as vitamin C and quercetin).
- Look for a natural or whole food-derived product rather than a chemically synthesized product. Natural substances are usually in the l-form, as opposed to the d- or dl-form; for example, d-alpha-tocopheral is a synthetic product.
- Plant and fungal sources may be more bioactive.
- For cats, avoid products containing alpha-lipoic acid for toxicity reasons.
Including these four categories of supplements in your dog or cat’s diet, regardless of what he or she eats, can help ensure optimal overall health.