Pet nutritional supplements 101

cat and dog sleeping togheterBy Terri Perrin

For companion animals of all ages and life stages, supplementing with natural dietary supplements and herbal products — called nutraceuticals — can be a great way to ensure optimum health.

Ken Cowan, vice president of sales and marketing at BiologicVET, explains that the commercial pet supplement industry began in the late 1980s, with NuPro and Missing Link. Other companies followed suit. In 1998, BiologicVet began development of supplements and now has an extensive product line that addresses a host of health issues for animals of all ages.

“One of the neat things about the evolution of supplements for companion animals is that, in many cases, the specific ingredients have already been tested on humans,” says Ken. “Health Canada introduced regulations for human health supplements in the late ‘90s, because they wanted to ensure that Canadian consumers were protected.”

As a result, every human health supplement that is manufactured in, or imported to Canada, is listed with the Natural Health Product Directory (NHP) and must have an NHP number. “Two years ago, Health Canada did the same thing for pet supplements because of the lack of control in product manufacturing,” adds Ken.

All pet health supplements that are Health Canada approved are listed in the Low Risk Veterinary Health Product Directory (LRVHP) and have a Notification Number (NN). This is similar to the ‘DIN’ number that you will find on your own prescription drugs, explains Ken.

“Knowing this, your first question when choosing a supplement should be: ‘Where was it made?’ And your next question should be: ‘Was it made in an approved Good Manufacturing Practices Facility?’” (For more information visit

Jason Watkin is CEO of Vancouver Island-based Purica. The company is best known for its “Recovery” line of products specially formulated for people, dogs, cats and horses. Jason has worked in the nutraceuticals industry for more than 20 years and has witnessed an ever-increasing interest in natural supplements, especially for dogs and horses.

“Most people start looking into health supplements when they notice their dog or horse appears stiff and in pain,” says Jason. “For cats, it is more often related to kidney and liver issues or gut disturbances. Whatever the reason, they need a product that does not simply mask the pain and reduce inflammation, but also helps with cellular regeneration, improve circulation and boost immunity — without the side effects that may come with some pharmaceutical products. It is a new way of focusing on wellness care, rather than illness and disease management.”

Jason warns that it is important to know that products in the stores formulated for humans may not be suitable for animals. (Although there are some exceptions to this rule.) Dosages may vary dramatically from species to species and it is important to give the correct amount, he adds. Too little of the ingredient will not make any difference — you’ll be disappointed and your pet will still be in discomfort. Although giving your pet too high a dosage of a nutraceutical will not usually cause a problem, it’s a waste of your money. The correct dosage is healthier and more cost-effective.

Digestibility and assimilation — the absorption of nutrients into the bloodstream — are also important, says Jason. If the ingredient moves too quickly through the intestinal tract, it is simply eliminated in the urine and/or stool.

It is also important for you to understand the various ingredients and their specific healing properties. Is the ingredient an amino acid, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory or what? And how will it help your pet? Here are some common examples:

Glucosamine is an amino acid that comes from shellfish or corn. It aids in the formation of healthy cartilage to help maintain joint and tissue health.

Flax seed, salmon and virgin olive oils are three very commonly recommended sources of Omega-3, 6 and 9 fatty acids, as well as DHA and EPA. (See sidebar.) They help your pet maintain a healthy coat and healthy skin, improve cardiovascular (heart) and joint/cartilage health, vision, brain function and more.

Chromium is a mineral that supports the immune system, normal body composition and glucose metabolism (blood sugar).

Green tea and grape seed extracts are both antioxidants that protect cells and tissues and lower blood sugar.

Talk to your veterinarian or a nutraceutical product representative to learn how you can help your pet, naturally.


Have you ever tried reading the ingredient panel on a bottle of supplements? It may be written in English but, with all the acronyms, it might as well be in another language! Here is a layman’s guide to some of the most common abbreviations and terms you will find on nutraceutical labels, and a list of their characteristics.

  • ALA (alpha-linolenic acid):  Animals cannot make this required or essential fatty acid that is found in small amounts from animal flesh and relatively large amounts from seeds. This essential Omega-3 fatty acid is good for skin and coat, heart health, arthritis, digestive disorders and more.
  • Amino Acids: Support the immune system, normal histamine levels and skin health, as well as the building blocks in the production of hormones, antibodies, muscle and structural tissues.
  • Antioxidants: Protect cells and tissues from environmental pollutants and toxins and supports healthy vision, brain, heart and immune function and metabolism.
  • Bioflavonoid: Antioxidant that support the immune system, normal histamine levels and skin health.
  • DHA (docosahexaenoic acid): A complex form of Omega-3 fatty acid from fish oils and algae that helps with neurological development (brain function), vision and immune function. A non-essential fatty acid. (See below.)
  • Enzymes: Supports healthy digestion and efficient nutrient absorption.
  • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid): Like DHA, EPA is an Omega 3 fatty acid that is found in fish oils and algae. A non-essential fatty acid.
  • HVP: (hydrolyzed vegetable protein): This ingredient serves two purposes: 1) HVP is used to bond a mineral to an amino acid for more recognizable nutrients and better absorption in the body. 2) A plant-based flavour enhancer in processed foods and supplements.
  • LA (linoleic acid): An Omega-6 essential fatty acid from both animal flesh or nuts and seeds. Required for life and must be obtained from the diet. Used for skin and coat health.
  • MSM: (methylsulfonylmethane): Maintains healthy connective tissue with anti-inflammatory and analgesic (pain control) properties.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: See ALA, DHA and EPA above. Also improves cardiovascular health.
  • Hyaluronic acid: Lubricates the joints and skin. Can be injected into inflamed or damaged joints or given orally.

—Source: BiologicVET and Purica. Visit and for more info.