Whether your pet suffers from osteoarthritis, gut problems or allergies, here are some of the most popular supplements available...
The most-popular supplement for dogs and cats, glucosamine is claimed (and widely believed by vets and owners) to be a useful treatment for osteoarthritis. It's used for the same purpose in humans, but clinical trials on both people and vets have found limited evidence for its effectiveness.
The placebo effect could be a factor in using it on humans, but for obvious reasons this won't be the case with dogs and cats. Glucosamine is often sold in a combined product with chondroitin or green-lipped mussel extract or other ingredients.
Vitamins and minerals are just as important to pets as they are to us, however while we have to make an effort to get all the nutrients we need by buying, planning and cooking our own food, commercial cat and dog food is supposed to be formulated with everything your pet needs to stay healthy.
There is some use for vitamins C and E in helping to reduce inflammation and to help older dogs with memory problems, but care is urged with supplements because of the risk of causing harm with an excess of some vitamins. For that reason, you should also consult a vet before starting your pet on vitamin supplements.
Another popular supplement for humans and pets alike, fish oil is used by us for a host of reasons – including heart and brain health – but is mainly recommended for cats and dogs with allergies or arthritis. There have been several studies into both these uses and the results are predictably mixed, however there does seem to be evidence that fish oil supplements can reduce itching and irritation caused by allergies and help animals grow a healthy coat of fur.
We've all heard about "good bacteria" and the importance of gut health for our overall wellbeing, but relatively little is still understood about how to manage the ecology of our own guts, let alone our pets'.
Some research has been carried out on treating dogs with acute diarrhoea using probiotics, with positive results, but its use as a general supplement for healthy animals has not been substantiated. If your pet suffers with gut problems, it's definitely worth trying them.
A herbal product, milk thistle's active ingredient is called silymarin and it is used to treat a number of liver and kidney related problems, as well as by some diabetics. In cats and dogs it is marketed as helping to reduce harm and repair damage to the liver and kidneys – and evidence suggests that in instances where animals have ingested toxins, it could indeed have a positive effect. It may be very useful if your pet has eaten a toxic mushroom, or has liver or kidney problems, but there's less justification for using it as a general supplement.