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Should You Give Your Dog Vitamins?

The answer depends on whether your dog is getting proper nourishment, vets say. Here's what you need to know about dog vitamins and supplements.

Should You Give Your Dog Vitamins?

Dog vitamins are a bit like kid vitamins. Everyone seems to have a different opinion on whether they’re needed. If you think your dog is healthy and you’re feeding him a balanced diet, you may wonder if you should give him vitamins.

“It is not essential to put any pet on vitamins if they are eating a good, balanced diet, but sometimes supplements can be helpful if an animal is sick or under stress,” says Dr. Karen Holmes, a veterinarian and owner of Holmes Family Veterinary Clinic in Walpole, Massachusetts. But for all dogs — even healthy ones — it’s important to look carefully at the type of meals and snacks you’re giving them.

Just as with kids and vitamins, kids who are healthy (not suffering from any illnesses) and eating a nutritionally balanced diet don’t require additional vitamins or minerals. If your dog is healthy and her meals and snacks make up a balanced diet, she should be fine. But if your dog seems lethargic or a little rundown, you should get her checked. “Take your dog to the veterinarian for a physical examination at least every 12 months,” says Dr. Patrick Mahaney, a Los Angeles-based veterinarian at California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness.

At that time, you can discuss any issues you may have about energy levels or sickness. Of course, if you’re between appointments and your dog doesn’t seem herself, you shouldn’t wait until the next appointment. If you feel there’s something a bit “off,” talk to your vet to see if a vitamin or mineral supplement could benefit your dog’s overall health.

What Vitamin Might Your Dog Need?
It would be easy if there were one-size-fits-all dog vitamins, but it’s very individualized depending on the dog. Just like humans, dogs maintain different lifestyles, are varied in size and have different emotional behavior. These factors often dictate what vitamin or mineral supplement is needed, if any.

Dogs not getting a balanced diet or who are sick or under stress may benefit from a supplement. “Much like with humans, dogs use B vitamins as helpers or co-factors in all the metabolic pathways in the body, so when they are sick, B vitamins can be helpful,” Dr. Holmes explains. But, she notes, typically, dogs are not deficient, as a species, in any one vitamin or mineral.

Since adding vitamins or supplements can greatly affect your dog’s health, you should always talk with your vet and explain the food and treats you’re feeding your pet, so together you and your vet can decide on a course of action.

What to Do if Dog Vitamins Are Prescribed
If your vet agrees a vitamin or supplement is a good approach, you’ll want to know how to get your pet to ingest it. A good way is to put the pill or liquid into your dog’s wet food at the primary feeding time. Your dog is most hungry then, so he probably won’t even notice the addition.

Talk to Your Dog Walker
Make sure you and your dog walker are on the same page in working together to keep your four-legged friend healthy. It’s important to have an open, honest relationship with your dog walker, Dr. Mahaney notes. Just as humans benefit greatly from exercise, adequate water intake and healthy treats, so do dogs. Often, vitamins are not necessary for humans nor dogs as long as their nutritional needs are being met and they are getting proper exercise.

For more on dog health, read about helping your pet cope with allergies.

Judy Koutsky is the former editorial director of KIWI magazine, a green parenting publication. She was also executive editor of Parenting, AOL Parent and BabyTalk. Follow her on Twitter.