Choosing and using supplements
The health and wellbeing of our pets is really important to us and supplements can play a useful part in maintaining this, as well as supporting behaviour programmes, but there are so many products available, the choice can be overwhelming - and many, we have found, are just not worth bothering with. As with anything to do with health and behaviour, it is really important to choose the right product for your individual pet and situation and to take veterinary advice before introducing any new supplement.
Over the years, we have researched and tested a huge range of products both with our own pets and through discussion with our trusted veterinary colleagues and working with clients. These products are from reputable companies, backed up with good scientific research wherever possible (not an easy area in terms of clinical application for pets, but there is some) and we now have a small set of 'go to' products that we have also seen good results with (this is personal experience, not science) and use regularly.
Previously we have only ever supplied these supplements to our behaviour clients following discussion with their vet and as part of an individual plan, but we are seeing more and more people with cupboards full of 'over the counter' remedies from pet stores and the internet that just aren't appropriate and it is something we are regularly asked about, so we have decided to offer our 'go to' list of key products that we have confidence in for our dogs, to hopefully help you avoid some of these pitfalls, but..... this in no way constitutes any form of advice or recommendation for your specific dog.
We always strongly recommend you discuss any new supplement with your vet before introducing it to your pet - effective results come from the right supplement at the right dose which is determined for your individual dog.
There is no panacea product or one size fits all. Sometimes there can be a bit of trial and error to find what works for an individual dog, but we always recommend starting with products that are produced by reputable companies, using good ingredients from an audited supply chain, with proper breakdown and analysis of the properties and which have some evidence underpinning them wherever possible (but remembering that the limitations of investment in non-pharmaceuticals means that good clinical trials are hard to find and it is often about using the knowledge and experience of your vet to help you). For us, choosing products is about quality and reliability - two products may look similar, but the way the body absorbs and uses them could be completely different.
We're always happy to chat about our experiences before you try something, but we cannot give specific advice for individual dogs as there are so many things to consider in terms of current health status and, in some cases, interactions with existing medications - this is something only a vet can help you with. We also find that the optimum dosage for some of these supplements can vary from the general recommendations on the packets (given the variation in size and shape of dogs!) so may need adjusting to get the best results. Therefore, even though these are all freely available, over the counter, we strongly recommend you speak to your own vet before starting a new supplement. If your vet is unfamiliar with using these types of supplements (as may be the case for some general practice vets), and in particular for herbal products, you may wish to consult a properly qualified herbal or holistic vet for specific advice.
Don't forget, if you are a current client undertaking 1:1 sessions with a member of our behaviour team, please do just give us a call as in these circumstances we work directly with your vet to help you build an individual wellbeing plan for your dog.
Tummies and digestion
This is all about helping the body extract and absorb the nutrients it needs from food as efficiently as possible, and eliminate the things that it doesn't need. If the digestive system isn't working at its best, it can have an impact not only on physical wellbeing but on behaviour too.... and vice-versa, stress (environmental, dietary, physical, behavioural) can have a very negative effect on how well the digestive tract functions. We see a huge correlation between digestive issues and behaviour issues and find that addressing them together can really help our dogs to improve and feel well much more quickly.
These supplements are NOT any sort of substitute for proper, professional veterinary advice (probiotics are amazing things, but they are not a magic cure for parasites, obstructions, allergies or underlying disease, so if you suspect your pet has any sort of gastro-intestinal discomfort or concerns, you must see your vet first)
There are a few things we then tend to use to support digestion.
- pre- and probiotics (prebiotics are the food the probiotics eat)
- food-state multivitamins and minerals (which are designed to be recognised by the body as food and therefore more easily absorbed)
- 'superfoods' like spirulina, chlorella, slippery elm and a few others
- herbal supplements (for example Dandelion root extract)
The choice and combination depends very much on the individual pet (and therefore our vet's advice!) and with our own dogs we don't give all of these things all of the time, but tend to do some regular 'pulsing' (time using the supplement, time without) and add in things as needed at times of stress, illness and so on. Please do your research (and that vet discussion) before choosing.
The comprehensive 'all rounder' in the selection below is 'spark' by pet wellbeing. Brilliant product, we really like it and this is one that can be used on an ongoing basis. But it isn't the only option and the doggie dophilus is a great starting point for improving gut microbiome with a range of probiotic strains that work along the length of the digestive tract.
Yudigest plus is a staple we always have in our cupboards for times of tummy upset. Its a mix of probiotics, prebiotics but also kaolin which can help bind everything back together again. And its really easy to administer either by sprinkling in food, or, if your pet is off food, mix with a little water and syringe into their mouth.
And so, we say it again, as with all supplements, these work best when tailored to your dog so speak to your own vet, or a holistic or herbal vet with a good knowledge of nutrition and herbs.
Joints and pain
Pain is hugely under-diagnosed in dogs and particularly chronic conditions like arthritis yet there are easy and effective things you can put in place to help with both prevention and management. ONE of these things is supplements (but they need to be part of an overall programme of support)
As ever, these supplements are NOT any sort of substitute for proper, professional veterinary advice. Joint (and other musculoskeletal or neurological) conditions require lots of different types of management, not just supplements (not even just medication for that matter), but supplements may play a role as part of this). Please do not use supplements as a substitute for medication unless on the specific advice of your vet (not Drs. Google and Facebook where nonsense miracle claims abound!) . If you suspect your pet has any sort of pain, you must see your vet first.
In simple terms, a key aspect of joint health is maintaining the balance between regeneration and growth of new cells and the removal of old and damaged ones. Acute injuries clearly impact this, but the process changes with age too and is impacted by nutrition, environmental and lifestyle factors too.
Omega 3 is one of the few supplements to have really good, solid research underpinning its use for inflammatory and chronic pain conditions, but the source of the Omega 3 and the level of dosage is important. Please do not use cod liver oil for pets; vitamins A and D are stored in the liver and cod liver oil is typically very high in these which can cause a risk of toxicity in pets.
Turmeric (and, more to the point, the curcuminoids contained in it) has a growing body of research behind it, but turmeric root itself has limited bioavailability and fairly low levels of the essential curcumin within. Golden paste is turmeric blended with coconut oil and black pepper which improve absorption. In the other turmeric based supplement we use, Cytopet Joint Support, the curcumin extract (not whole turmeric) is in a form to have a high bioavailability to the body and this product also contains Boswellia which has a long history of traditional use and is now even included in some veterinary specific formulas.
We use Omega 3s with all our dogs, initially to support maintaining good joint health (amongst other things) and hopefully reducing the onset of age related issues and then later in life as part of a management plan alongside the curcumin and boswellia based supplements (AND medication, environment, activities etc). We have found that they can really help with discomfort management when given in the right form and at the right dose for the individual dog, however, prescription pain relief is usually a must alongside these, particularly as conditions progress - remember dogs conceal pain very effectively and also can't just take a tablet themselves if they are sore (like we can), they rely on us to keep them pain free.
Yumove Advance 360 is a product which we use regularly for pets with more severe joint problems but this is available only through a vet. We see some great results with it, particularly for things like arthritis and often use it alongside one of the curcumin based supplements. Please note that Yumove Advance 360 is NOT the Yumove which you can buy online or in shops, it is ONLY available through your vet.
Free Work can be a very helpful exercise as part of chronic pain management too (release of postural tension through small voluntary movements) - click here for the introduction to Free Work course
And remember it is just as important to look after you too, so we have popped in here the human joint supplements which certain members of the Canine Thinking team take on a regular basis to help keep sore joints moving - we can offer no advice on these, but can highly recommend from a personal experience perspective!
Remember - please see your vet first to get a proper diagnosis and advice. But hopefully these supplements may then be helpful as part of an overall programme.
No supplement is a cure-all for behaviour, but they can be really helpful in supporting specific situations and some play a part in helping improve underlying mood state and making it easier for your dog to learn new behaviours. However, different supplements have different properties and work in completely different ways, so it is important to choose the right one and the best results come from combining this with behaviour support.
Sort the basics first
Good gut health is really important to help your dog produce things like serotonin, which plays an essential role in regulating mood (amongst other things!) so probiotics can be a very helpful part of improving behaviour. Similarly omega 3 is important for brain function too. A balanced canine multi-vitamin and mineral is also important, particularly at times of stress when certain groups can become quite depleted.
Then think about what you want to address
There are three broad categories:
- help with short term, acute stressors (like storms, vet visits, car travel, fireworks)
- help with medium term stressors like going on holiday, being in kennels, moving house, illness or injury, settling in a new rescue, guardians being in hospital and even supporting grief, for example if a remaining pet struggles with the loss of another
- longer term help to improve underlying mood state, reduce anxiety, perhaps help with some of the symptoms of canine cognitive dysfunction
Some products really only suit one of these categories, some may be used in a variety of situations - but this may be at different dosages. Even more broadly, these supplements tend to either focus on increasing key neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine (these are typically nutraceuticals and work by supplementing the precursor components of those neurotransmitters, the l-tryptophan and l-theanine) or they are herbal, and function here varies, but often targets aspects of the nervous system. The two can often be complementary to each other, but in all cases they will only be effective if they are targeted to the right underlying issue and there is always a risk can you make things worse if not - this is why it is generally better to get a bit of advice first!
We indicate some of our preferred uses for each of the products in the descriptions, but to help you get started, if you are looking for something to help with a short term stressor you might want to consider Pet Wellbeing Stress Gold or Kalm Aid. For medium term stressors, consider Kalm Aid, Doggie Be Calm or Pet Wellbeing Calming Care. These do provide some level of immediate support, but are best started a couple of weeks in advance where possible, sometimes longer. If you think your pet needs longer term support, you probably need some help to get the choice right - see our section on behaviour support.
Doggie Be Smarter is an interesting and slightly different product which we have found can really help dogs who are finding it hard to learn new behaviours, perhaps because of chronic stress, prior absence of opportunities to learn (rescued ex-racing greyhounds can be a good example) or if they show signs of learned helplessness due to previous experiences, but this is an adjunct to, not a substitute for, the tiny adjustments in training methodology which can be vital to help those dogs succeed.
The Pet Wellbeing Pet Melatonin is a slightly more specialised (although still over the counter) supplement which is included here to allow our clients and rescues to access it easily where advised to do so!
And, we say it again, as with all supplements PLEASE CHECK WITH YOUR VET BEFORE STARTING. THERE CAN BE CONTRA-INDICATIONS WITH SOME MEDICAL CONDITIONS OR OTHER MEDICATIONS