What supplements veterinarians give their own dogs?

A word of caution before we proceed:

Consult your veterinarian BEFORE giving your dog any supplement or vitamin

It's hugely important not to give your dog, and especially senior ones, anything  without consulting your veterinarian first if he/she has any underlying health problems or is taking any medications or other supplements. Even a 'natural' remedy could have some serious health consequences.

Even if your dog appears healthy, it's always a good idea to check with your vet before starting giving supplements, vitamins, herbal or holistic remedies, or other products. Giving supplements should be part of an overall health strategy, not the only strategy.

As someone who has licensed and consulted for licensing products with Health Canada and has over 9 years of Good Manufacturing Practices experience, I am very picky when it comes to which supplements I use and recommend. In many cases, the science supporting the supplement claims is strong, but the owner giving it does not observe any noticeable difference. This could be due to a few reasons:

  • The quality of the product is poor
  • The dose and/or length of use is not adequate
  • The supplement has no effect on the problem addressed
  • The dog is overweight

It is easier to start in reverse order, but first we have a question to ponder:

Should Aging Dogs Get Supplements?

With nutraceuticals so popular among people 50 and up, we veterinarians often recommend them for older pets. I personally recommend a handful of these products fairly routinely but only after a discussion about proper nutrition and weight management.

Why your dog should be in the ideal weight for supplements veterinarians recommend to work?

Clinical and anecdotal evidence proves that supplements work. To get the most value when it comes to preventive efforts that you'll be putting, however, the best and first thing you should do is get a senior-pet examination, which in many cases will be followed by a plan to reduce your pet’s weight. Having your pet at or slightly below ideal body weight will not only extend the pet's life but also help improve the quality of that life. What you put in your pet’s mouth needs to be considered as a whole: All the supplements in the world won’t help a pet on a sub par diet or with a body so fat his joints are begging for mercy.In other words, unless you do something about that weight, throwing supplements at a fat pet isn’t very effective.

That’s why the best money you can spend on your older pet is not on supplements but on that comprehensive senior exam, and on whatever diagnostics your veterinarian may recommend helping her get a good picture of your pet’s overall health. When you know what that picture is, you can work with your veterinarian to improve it.

Some of the common health issues in older dogs which may benefit from dietary supplements include:

  • Arthritis and joint problems
  • Poor immune system function
  • Urinary problems (including incontinence)
  • Skin and coat issues
  • Heart, liver or kidney problems
  • Digestive issues
  • Neurological conditions
  • Weight problems (either weight loss or weight gain)

Please keep in mind that no matter how wonderful the claims for any supplement or natural remedy - it's worth remembering that they are not "magic bullets". In many cases, however, treatments, dietary supplements or herbal products (or a combination) will have a positive impact on your dog's general health.

But no supplement can cure serious illnesses such as canine parvovirus, cancer, organ failure, hip or elbow dysplasia and so on.

That’s where supplements come in. Because yes, these nutraceuticals really can make your pet healthier and more comfortable as he or she ages, but only when they’re part of an overall wellness strategy.

Talk with your veterinarian about what your pet does and doesn’t need because individual care is important. But in general, here are the supplements I find myself recommending often to my clients and why.

Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs):

salmon Salmon and fatty fish are rich in EFAs

I am sure you heard of Omega-3 and Omega-6 by now. What I want to emphasize however is that they are called essential fatty acids because our pets' bodies (and our own bodies for that matter) cannot manufacture them — they must take them in along with their food, or as supplements. We’ve long known that adding a squirt of “oil” into a food dish can make a pet’s coat shinier. But EFAs are about more than shine. These substances aid the body in performing and maintaining critical brain function, which is why they’re part of many anti-aging cocktails. They also have been shown to help boost the immune system, and their anti-inflammatory effects make them natural for pairing with other supplements meant to help lessen the pain of arthritis.


Glucosamine Sulphate with Chondroitin Sulfate (GS-CS): Everyone seems to know about this combination, which is very popular for people and pets alike. Some product blends also have ASU (Avocado Soybean Unsaponifiables), which has some anti-inflammatory effect, decreases pain scores, and reliance upon anti-inflammatory drugs. There’s some clinical evidence to back up the use of these products, particularly in conjunction with EFAs. The anti-inflammatory effects of these products may help pets with arthritis, while the ingredients (especially those derived from cartilage) provide the body with what it needs to help repair damaged cartilage in joints. For the geeks who want to really delve into the details, I recommend a recent review research article published in the Journal of Veterinary Pharmacology and Therapeutics by a group of researchers from Europe (subscription required).

The administration of GS-CS is typically started at a loading dose (higher dose), then dropped to a maintenance level for the life of the animal.


dog joints The dog joints frequently affected by osteoarthritis


Probiotics: We’re just beginning to fully understand the value of the bacteria that share space with our own cells. We’ve long been acquainted with bacteria that cause disease. But now it’s not just enough to fight harmful bacteria with the judicious use of antibiotics; we need to encourage the beneficial bacteria as well. In fact, our pets (and us as well) can’t live without the bacteria inside us, as they break down our food into nutrients our bodies can use. Probiotics are doses of those good bacteria and they’re showing promise in veterinary medicine. Supplementing probiotics (and prebiotics, which is food the good bacteria eat) can help older pets with digestion, fighting off disease and even the effects of stress. But be sure to use probiotics designed for pets, not humans — ask your veterinarian for a recommendation.

No dog can resist the green stinky stuff!

One thing to keep in mind, there are several food sources for beneficial bacteria that will replace supplementing with probiotics if you feed regularly. The most important are green tripe (beef or lamb) and Kieferr. In my experience you can save some serious money when you feed your dog a stinky tripe from grass fed cow or lamb while you are providing them with a selection of bacteria that grows naturally in the rumen of these animals.

Calculating the optimal dose for your dog:

One of the critical factors for the supplement to work is the dose and duration of use. Most of the manufacturers, however, do not list a dose per weight, and just list a general dose. Essentially, they are sticking to the minimum labelling required for pet supplements. It is up to us to make sure we are giving enough or not too much to achieve optimal results. To realize how big of a factor this could be in the supplements veterinarians recommend visit the Colorado State University Website for Fish Oil dosage.  While you are at, you can check their thorough guide on managing osteoarthritis in dogs.


There are many companies trying to sell you their products with various claims. However, there are a limited number of conditions that supplements have been studied in-depth to back the claims, especially for older dogs. My final advice is to feed your dog a natural and wholesome diet, stick to the true and tried supplements as they will give you the best bang for your buck, and please do the comprehensive senior exam.


You can also see this video by Dr. Martinez with his 18 year old dog. He he is a vet who feeds home-cooked food. You can see the difference.