Supplements 101

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 of course, 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 and he’s 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, “….a little investigation reveals, usually, that the supplements she is adding include:

Flaxseed oil


Vitamin C

an “immune blend” one of many available on the market

Coconut oil ( they read about that in the WDJ)

Joint support (he has a touch of arthritis)

and a Multivitamin

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 C 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, 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.

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:


Iodine (usually from kelp)



and often have to use Supplemental copper and Vitamin D3

In addition, I use the following in amounts above the RA, although they are usually met in the diet by food alone:

VitaminB complex




A carefully formulated home made diet for a healthy dog can readily provide protein, fat/fatty acids, fiber,and phosphorus, potassium, iron, Vitamins A, Bcomplex and E – usually but not always D3, and most  other essentials. But simply to overfeed high-phosphorus meats without adequate organ and without calcium supplementation is to court longterm problems such as wear and tear on the kidney. 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 geenrically added to the diets of most dogs, in order to improve their overall soundness and wellbing. 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 belnd of strains

Green foods –  spirulina and chlorella are my favorites

Fish oils – not to include cod liver oil, and it’s usually a good idea to boost dietary VitmainE 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 functions

Coconut Oil – a source of medium chain triglycerides / lauric acid, coconut oil is superb for many dogs, improving coat,allergic response  and overall  energy level

Antioxidants–  Often, this is a blend/formula containing things like alpha-lipoic acid, COQ10, milk thistle and grapeseed extract.

Missing Link, Nupro (and similar formulas)  I don’t use these products in my own diets but I can attest that many swear by them. Any general nutrition- booster formula would fall into this category

These are the  supplements that many owners new to homefeeidng 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 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 for IBD) the characteristic of the Target Group is most are not used as general support,although some of them certainly 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 disase 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 taregt specific conditions, very briefly, include:

Heart Disease- CoEnzmeQ10, L-carnitine and L-taurine, fish oils, VitaminE (especially fullspectrum) selenium, Bvitamins, Hawthorne and 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; ESSIAC (herbal blend of slippery elm, sheep sorrel, burdock and turkey rhubarb) 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; glucosamine, supplemental B vitamins

Liver Disease– milk thistle, chlorella,  lipoic acid, SAMe

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. 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 trust me, I’ll explore it all in more detail as we progress with this blog. Have a healthy and happy day!


9 thoughts on “Supplements 101

  1. Another great article full of information. Do you have any articles on chronic Kidney failure at all?

    Regards, Michele

    • HI Michelle,
      I will be doing a full entry on this for sure, in a few weeks! I deal with it professionally all the time, and there is a need for information, so I will be putting some in for sure. Many vets still insist on lowering protein in early to mid stages when the more important issue is to lower phosphorus and keep all other minerals and VitaminD closely monitored. Protein restriction is usually not necessary until advanced stages. but there is much individuality, these are guidelines only and you should still consider working with a qualified nutritionist. Many vets use the term “holistic” and then dispense highly questionable dietary advice – so do your homework and don;t be afraid to challenge your vet if need be. It’s good for them. 😉
      Thank you for the comments and feedback, too, it’s greatly appreciated.

  2. Thank you for all your posts and I look forward to learning more about all the subjects, in particular the information about diet and supplementation for a liver issue in a dog. Don’t know much more than she is an older fox terrier who has been on phenobarbital for several years for seizures(she is a rescue) and now has developed problems with her liver. Doc says he needs to do a biopsy to determine what the cause is, but he has her taking SamE, Ursodiol and Amoxicillin. I do cook at home for my 2 dogs, the fox terrier is deathly allergic to chicken and she was on kibble long before I had her and after, until I began to learn more about nutrition.
    Can I ask you one thing? How much calcium should a dog have, per pound? I cannot get any decent answer from anyone, not even a good ballpark measurement. I realize it is relative to the diet, so I will say I generally use ground turkey, lentils or split peas, occassionally tomato sauce, brown rice, zuccini or green beans, will occassionally use some other types of beans, once or twice a week have a meal of canned fish with some maynnaise, and the larger dog gets a raw egg 3 times a week with oatmeal. I don’t give that to the terrier because of her chicken allergy. I supplement with vit e 400iu every other day, 25,000 iu beta carotene every other day, the terrier gets 300 mg calcium supplement every day, 25 mg zinc gluconate every day, a human multivitamin every day, ester c 500 mg every day, and olive oil or some soybean oil if I run out . I have also been giving her some goat’s milk every day watered down in order to get her to drink enough fluids. DOES THIS SOUND LIKE AN ADEQUATE AMOUNT OF CALCIUM? Oh, and enzymes with pro and prebiotics, sometimes some iron if she does not have a good appetite~~half of 27 mg ferrous sulfate tablet. The calcium is carbonate and has vit d 400 iu per tablet which equals 200iu for her as she gets half a tablet. When I can afford it I use kelp and find it wonderful in many ways ~~coat and energy, etc.

  3. Hi Loretta,
    I’ve been busy and then away for a little over two weeks, so I apologize for missing this comment/question. i hope your dog has improved and you are enjoying better days with her now. The answer to the calcium requirement question is this. you need to take your dog’s weight in kilograms to the power of 0.75, and then multiply THAT number by 130. That’s what she needs per day. Each nutrient does have a range from minimal to recommended and a safe upper limit. If your pup weighs 35 pounds, then in kgs that would be 15.87 kgs. Taking this number to the power of 0.75 we get the number 7.97. Now multiply that by 130 and you have 1033 mgs. With high fiber diets I often round that up a little. But at least 1050 – 1100, daily.
    I hope that helps!

    Cat 🙂

  4. I was very pleased to uncover this web site. I wanted to thank you for ones
    time due to this fantastic read!! I definitely really liked every little bit of it and I have you book marked to look at new things on your site.

  5. Pingback: Supplements revisited | ThePossibleCanine

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s