I know, I know – I have promised (and am working on!) entries about canine cancer, allergy, yeast, anxiety and more…but hey, it’s been a busy week (new students, lots of client work) and it’s the weekend (a long one here in the frozen north) and I am behind. It’s tough getting everything done, so I may post in sudden bursts of many, and then become strangely silent for a while. That strange silence is almost always either work elsewhere, or rejuvenation time. Both are good things, but it’s also good to be back blogging.
It’s the long weekend as mentioned, so I thought a quick and easy post (I dare not say ‘short’ ever again, but we’ll see) is just the ticket. I thought I’d address the problem of supplements – which will require expansion later on. For right now, getting a few facts sorted out may be helpful to those who ask me about this, and I do get asked a lot. Let’s see what we can do to sort through some of the confusion.
For starters; a typical scenario is like this. I receive a phone call from someone needing advice, help, possibly a dietplan. We speak for a while, and I ascertain the dog has been on a home made diet, for several months. Initially he did really well, she was thrilled, and her vet, while skeptical at first, became more comfortable as time went by, given that the dogs issues(let’s say chronic loose stool and itching) improved so much. All well and good, but now, seven or eight months into the diet, things are not so good. While the problems the dog started out with are still improved, new ones have appeared; perhaps he is losing coat or developing rough, red patches around the stomach and anus. Perhaps he has trouble with healing from any minor cut or scrape. Perhaps he seems to have a sore mouth. Maybe he has a chronic UTI that no antibiotic clears up completely, or else balanitis or other localized, chronic infection. Maybe his coat has lost luster or is too thin.
Any number of scenarios can arise, and now the owner is “concerned she might not be balancing the diet properly”.
So, invariably I ask, what are you supplementing with? And the answer most often is “see, that’s the strange part,. I’m adding so many supplements, and so much variety”….a little investigation reveals, usually, that the supplements she is adding include:
Probiotics, fermented foods
Honey, local, supposed to cure allergies
a Multivitamin “as insurance”
Apple Cider Vinegar
a greenfood product, one of many on the market
So understandably with all this “stuff” the owner is baffled about why the dog is having problems. Should she try raw diet? Go back to kibble? The vet now wants the dog on Science Diet. And so on.
Well, the problem is almost always that while all of this “healthy, natural” supplementation is great, and with the exception of the honey and the multi I use them all too – NONE of the above serve to provide the essential nutrients the diet is lacking. Even the multi, while helping to boost the dietary content of vitamins and minerals, doesn’t go nearly far enough in providing for nutrients that are missing from the diet. Of course, the diet itself could be seriously unbalanced to start with, and often is, if the owner has been following, say, that infernal “Rule of Thirds” or otherwise generic bad advice. (which I hasten to add, people do very trustingly and innocently, it’s a minefield out there, and a lot of very erroneous information presented as fact). If she is adding organ meat and the dog is having raw meaty bones, well there’s a couple of things I feel better about. but typically, we see low vitamin and mineral content, and a lot of it. If the calcium is low and the phosphorus high, as happens with a cooked diet unsupplemented with calcium, there’s a very serious problem right off the bat. So, when I talk about supplements I need to be clear and specific about what I mean. Over the years I’ve been doing this work, I’ve found it helpful to break them down into three categories; Essential, Supportive and Target. While all three are going to add to your dog’s overall health and longevity, if used correctly, in any home made diet I ever inquire about I am asking about the Essentials.If you are not adding them, the chances are very good that your dog is developing a problem. And if you’re taking the trouble to homeprepared meals, you surely do not want to see that happen.
So for starters, here are the three groups, and what they mean. In my next entries on supplements I’ll look more deeply into each group, and in the A-Z nutrients take serious looks at each nutrient individually. (2023 update – I’m doing this now, in the private Membership group, on Facebook. I started in the Newsletter, but it was a bit too technical for many, so it’s one of many features now in the private group. )
Here’s what my Three Categories cover.
These are the nutrients that need to be present in specific amounts in a home made diet, and that are not generally provided by food alone. Depending on what is in the diet itself, I often have my clients add the following- not saying all of these, but according to the ingredients in an individual diet, any of the essentials listed below may be low:
and often have to use Supplemental copper and Vitamin D3, sometimes A
In addition, I use the following in amounts above the RA, although they are usually met in the diet by food alone, depending on the amount of food used and specific ingredients:
Vitamin B complex
A carefully formulated home made diet for a healthy dog is an incredibly powerful tool for better health, but a poorly thrown together one may be a disaster, no matter how mice the foods used may be. I’ve seen dogs with osteoporosis, with teeth falling out, with early-onset kidney problems and with a condition called nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism, all from this scenario above. I’ve seen young dogs fed an ad hoc home made diet who have all manner of skeletal problems, who have zinc deficiency, low immunity, even temperament issues from lack of nutrients in that all-important first year. Usually the owner believed that a home made diet with good, fresh food would have to be better than kibble,and fed something along the lines of ” one- third meat, usually chicken or beef, a third grain and a third veggie” Even worse is when they feed just the meat and veggie with no organ meat or fish. In these cases, kibble would most definitely have been a better choice.
Puppies in particular require much higher levels of nutrient for their growing bodies and systems to develop properly. There is no room for mistakes with puppies – many cannot be undone later on. If you are homefeeding a puppy, use a quality commercial product or have a specialist formulate the recipe for you.
Essential supplements are those which are lacking in a home made diet and must be added in careful amounts in order to prevent nutritional problems or outright deficiencies. In the next installment I’ll talk about how even marginal low levels of each nutrient can create problems – and how overfeeding many of them may be just as bad or worse.
This group includes any supplement that can be more or less,generically added to the diets of most dogs, in order to improve their overall soundness and wellbeing. This group includes
Joint formulas (glucosamine/chondroitin based, often with additions like MSM) important both preventively and therapeutically
Probiotics – most dogs can benefit from the addition of a simple acidophilus or a more complex blend of strains; some do well with fermented veggies, but I have seen too many reactions ( digestive) and worry about histamine content, so I tend to select a probiotic instead
Fish oils – not to include cod liver oil, and it’s usually a good idea to boost dietary Vitamin E when adding fish oil, but overall a conservative dose of fish oil daily or weekly can help ease the progress of arthritis, lower systemic inflammation and protect the cardiovascular system, among other benefits
Antioxidants– Often, this is a blend/formula containing things like alpha-lipoic acid, COQ10, milk thistle and grapeseed extract. Many plant compounds are highly beneficial, and if a dog doesn’t like whole veggies, or berries, for example, powders can be mixed with yogurt or goats milk, and added to kibble or raw food. I routinely add cranberry, rosehip, hawthorn, beetroot and elderberry powders to my own blends. Turmeric is a popular herb and may be useful for many dogs as well – but choice of which to use, and how to dose remains very individual, with considerations for medication, breed predisposition (I don’t use high oxalate herbs with dogs predisposed to uroliths, for example).
These are the supplements that many owners new to homefeeding feel are the necessary ones – and they aren’t. All of them offer unique and powerful benefits when used correctly; what they won’t do is supply essential nutrients in adequate levels (other than the fish oil balancing fatty acids) and they won’t prevent the problems associated with ad hoc feeding from manifesting. My recommendation is always the same; get the diet right first; then add some of this group. Fish oil will do nothing for zinc deficiency and probiotics will not balance calcium. These are secondary additions; good ones, but by no means “essential”.
The last group here consists of supplements that target specific health conditions, either preventively or therapeutically. While some of Group One do this ( selenium, Vitamin E for heart disease) and Group Two as well (probiotics with IBD) the characteristic of the Target Group is most are not used as general support, although some of them can be – and that often, higher doses are used when targeting illness. I would, for example, suggest much more fish or krill oil for a dog with lymphoma than I’d use as a general tonic. I use sometimes 3-5 times as much CoQ10 with dogs who have had chemotherapy, as I would for prevention of heart disease in susceptible or older dogs. I usually use the high end of the dosage range when targeting a condition – and I know vets who go well over that level, too.
Some of the supplements that target specific conditions, very briefly, include:
Heart Disease- CoEnzmeQ10, L-carnitine and L-taurine, fish oils, Vitamin E (especially full spectrum) B vitamins, Hawthorne and several other herbs, grapeseed/pycnogenol
Cancer – a HUGE range of possibilities, and will vary according to type, but the shortlist includes fish/krill oils, antioxidants such as lipoic and ellagic acid, CoQ10, turmeric and milk thistle; the amino acid L-arginine; countless and very specific herbs and herbal formulas, mushroom polysaccharides, phenolic compounds, flavonoids and much more. Cancer is actually a wide range of diseases and must always be evaluated individually, but the resources we have for dietary and herbal/supplemental support are enormous.
IBD- Slippery Elm, pre- and probiotics, L-glutamine, herbal blends to possibly include plantain, calendula, evening primrose, marshmallow, licorice, wild yam, chamomile; glucosamine, supplemental B vitamins
Liver Disease– milk thistle, turmeric (maybe) and other hepatic herbs, lipoic acid, SAMe, sometimes lowered protein diet
I could go on with regard to this last category, this is a very cursory look; but you get the idea. A comprehensive supplement and herbal protocol for a specific illness must take a great number of factors into consideration, including the overall condition of the dog, any co-existing illnesses, what veterinary treatment he is undergoing, nutritional status. Because a supplement, food or herb is heavily rotated on Facebook/marketed, does NOT mean it is beneficial or even suitable for your own unique dog or cat. The target group is usually higher dose and more specific than the support group. And again this group is not intended to balance a diet in the way Group One is.
I hope this helps clarify an often murky topic and I’ll explore it all in more detail as we progress with this blog. Have a healthy and happy day!