Does My Pet Need a Multi-Vitamin?
Good pet parents want to take the best care of their furry family that they can and one of the basic keys to helping your dog or cat live a long, healthy life is to provide them with a good diet. Most people are not nutrition experts and leave the formulating up to the pet food companies. Pet food companies often claim that their formulas are either designed or recommended by veterinarians and many have animal nutritionists on staff. If these foods are available for sale in big name pet food and grocery stores, they must have gone through a rigorous approval process to be on the market, right? I know I personally spend over $120 per month at a specialty pet supply shop on food for my dog and 2 cats so I expect that food to provide everything they need.
What are the nutrients that my pet requires?
The basic nutritional categories required for survival:
Within these general categories are more specific nutrients including amino acids, fatty acids, and specific vitamins & minerals that truly are essential for wellness. If an animal’s diet is low on even one essential nutrient it can inhibit the animal’s body from effectively completing certain functions. Your pet may have subclinical deficiencies that you do not even know about! Long term deficiencies can take their toll because they train the body to live in crisis mode, making them extra sensitive to their environment and prone to developing allergies. Bigger deficiencies lead to more serious health concerns depending on which nutrient(s) is lacking.
Let us assume that the commercial food I am buying for my dog, Winnie, really is 100% perfectly balanced and provides every essential nutrient to meet the average dog’s nutritional requirements. After all, all commercial pet foods carry the claim to be “formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles”. However, there still can be a few things that the dog food companies are not taking into account.
Pet food was formulated for the average dog or cat. There are a lot of really cool new foods out there that target specific lifestyles, breeds, life stages and conditions, but each one is designed for the average animal in that category. Some pets genetically have higher needs for certain vitamins or minerals than others. Some diseases and medications can cause the body to metabolize certain nutrients faster than usual as well. Everyone’s body has their own internal chemistry & metabolism, is exposed to their own environment and has their own genetic make-up. We call that “biochemical individuality”, which is a fancy way of saying that we’re all unique!
Classes of pets that may need additional support:
- Young or adolescents that are growing
- Pregnant or nursing moms
- Seniors who are showing signs of aging
- Athletes and active pets that get a lot of exercise
- Animals that travel and are exposed to strangers & stressors
Feed manufacturers achieve their desired nutrient levels by adding whole food ingredients (like meats or grains) and by adding vitamins & minerals. Regardless of the source of these nutrients, many materials are sensitive to outside factors such as oxygen in the air, sunlight, water and heat. While the initial recipe could be ideal, nutrients can degrade during the manufacturing process and shipping. Heat is especially concerning because many manufacturing processes include heat. Plus, think about a bag of dog food that sits in a warehouse, rides on a hot truck all day for delivery, then sits in the sun on a store shelf. How likely is that food to still have all of the heat sensitive nutrients that it originally contained? Shelf life is another important factor because the potency of nutrients will decrease over time.
I am the first to admit that my dog food routine had some problems. When I would go to my local pet food store I would pick up a big bag of dog food, bring it home and dump it into a pail with a lid for easy access. That dry food was not tightly sealed, plus I open it twice a day to feed my dog. Because I wanted to make sure that I was always well-stocked with Winnie food, I often refilled the pail before the kibble at the bottom was completely gone, so who knows how long the food at the bottom of the pail had been sitting there? That is why it is important to keep dry food stored in a cool, dry place and sealed up in an air tight container. I now keep the dry food sealed in the bag that it came in, with a re-sealable zipper top so I can squeeze out the extra air before closing it.
Just because a formula contains a vitamin or mineral that you know your pet needs does not mean that the nutrient is actually accessible by your pet’s body. Minerals are often culprits because not all forms of minerals are bioavailable. Whole food supplements for vitamins and minerals such as algae, brewers yeast or vegetable powders can be good options because the nutrients tend to be more easily assimilated by the body, but are not always as potent or stable as purified options. In college, one of my nutrition professors did an experiment where he created a “dog food” recipe out of old leather boots, motor oil and saw dust. When that gruesome blend was analyzed by a lab, it met the nutritionally required levels for protein (from the leather), fat (from the oil) and carbs (from the saw dust), but we all know that a dog could not live off of those ingredients because even though the basic protein, fat & carbs are present they are not digestible by the dog. Always read the ingredient list so you know where the nutrients are coming from to ensure they are healthy sources!
Reading the feeding directions was the final bit of information that I needed to convert me to a multi-vitamin user. I buy high end, all-natural (read: expensive) food for my pets and when I review the Guaranteed Analysis and Ingredient list everything looks perfect. Then after years of feeding my pets and maintaining their healthy weight, I noticed the directions. The large 12.5 oz can of wet dog food says to give one can per 15 lbs of body weight daily. My dog, Winnie, weighs 60 lbs and she gets 1/3 can for breakfast (with kibble) twice a day. If I followed the directions on the can I would need to give her 4 whole cans a day! The same goes for my cats’ food. My 2 cats share one large 12.5 oz can of wet food per day. They each get ¼ can, twice a day. The cat food label says to give 1 can per 7 lbs of body weight. That means my 13 lb cat should be getting 2 full cans per day! In both cases the pet food company suggests that I feed over 4 times what I am currently giving my pets because that is the amount of food needed to hit those ideal nutrient levels. If I increased their diet 4 times they would all be grossly overweight and very unhealthy. Even though the food uses high quality, bioavailable ingredients my pets were probably lacking the nutrients they need because they were not getting enough of them.
Selecting a Multi-Vitamin / Mineral Supplement
All of the factors I just mentioned that can affect the quality of pet food can be true of multi-vitamin supplements as well. Here are the things to look for when selecting a good supplement:
- Always look for the NASC Quality Seal to ensure that the company follows current Good Manufacturing Processes and the product is safe.
- Purchase your supplement in a good quality, re-closable bottle or bag to keep it properly stored.
- Read the ingredient list to make sure all of the nutrient sources are healthy and digestible.
- Follow the directions and make sure that the levels of the ingredients are appropriate.
Be mindful of treats like biscuits and jerky products that claim to be fortified with vitamins and minerals. Those kinds of products are great as treats and it’s always good to choose a treat that has added benefits, but they are not a replacement for a good multi-vitamin. Most fortified treats are still exposed to heat which degrades the nutrients and many do not contain very high levels.
All of this info gives pet parents a lot to think about, but now you have a good foundation for understanding your pets’ nutritional needs. If in doubt, always ask your vet! You veterinarian will be able to assess your pet and all of his or her individual needs based on their age, breed, genetics and activity level to help you decide which food and supplements are right for your pet.
For a list of multi-vitamin products that have been tested and reviewed by PetHealthLive.com, please click here!