As a veterinarian, my visits to pet stores are quite rare- usually, I am able to bring home most of what our family’s eight pets need with me from work. But recently I was at my local pet store looking for a light for Captain Kirby Hardshell, our Red-Eared Slider turtle, when I noticed the giant section of pet vitamins and supplements. I knew that this was a growing market but I was still shocked at all of the options. I figured that if I felt overwhelmed by all of the choices then my non-veterinary field friends might appreciate a little guidance in this area.
First, I think it is important to define what we are talking about. In the United States, a “drug” is a substance used to treat medical conditions, tightly regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Think anti-inflammatories or antibiotics – these undergo rigorous testing to ensure they’re not only pure but also safe and effective. Some are available over the counter, like ibuprofen, while others, such as cephalexin, require a prescription. On the other hand, a “supplement” can encompass vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals, and dietary nutrients. Unlike drugs, they don’t face the same stringent scrutiny. Manufacturers must follow certain FDA guidelines, but they can’t make direct medical claims.
Before you consider introducing a new supplement to your pet’s routine, I strongly recommend seeking advice from your veterinarian. The market is flooded with options, and I’ve witnessed many pet owners spending money on supplements that ultimately offer little benefit to their furry companions. I have seen puppies with bone growth abnormalities and older dogs with bladder stones because a calcium-containing multivitamin was given.
Furthermore, the lack of a regulatory body for supplement manufacturing makes it challenging to gauge product quality. At the very least, purity should be assured – meaning the product is free from contaminants. Take CBD or Hemp Oil, for instance, a popular pet supplement often tainted with substances like turpentine, pesticides, heavy metals, and anticoagulants. If a manufacturer can’t provide proof of purity through independent lab testing, it’s wise to question the safety. Remember, the cheapest option might compromise quality. Look for products with a transparent ingredient list, specified ingredient amounts, lot number, expiration date, and manufacturer contact details in case of issues.
Look for products that are evidence-based or supported by strong medical evidence. There are so many products now offered by small and large companies that it is easy to get caught up in the marketing. Your veterinarian can help you start by diagnosing the issue and then help you sift through the supplement options to determine if one may help your pet. Many of my patients benefit from a drug and supplement combination to provide relief.