Did you know that most pet foods, even the so-called premium brands, are formulated to only meet minimum nutritional guidelines.
Pet food manufacturers compete in a price based market, few go above the minimum standard when it comes to quality or quantity. Minimums do not address the needs of performance, work, reproduction, injury or disease. While this minimum level of nutrition may help keep your pet alive; it definitely does not provide for optimum performance, health, or longevity. To meet these higher standards supplementation becomes a fundamental requirement of the canine and feline daily diet. Our dogs and cats need fresh vitamins, minerals and other specialty nutrients in order to be their best.
Dogs and cats evolved as carnivores (meat eaters) and although most have changed in appearance and versatility, their digestive anatomy and physiology is the same as it was when they first appeared on the planet. Their relatively simple and short digestive tracts require that they be fed the ancestral diet similar to what they naturally selected over time – a diet high in protein, low to moderate in fat and almost no carbohydrate at all.
Note: Neither the dog nor the cat has a metabolic requirement for carbohydrate. Yet most pet foods contain as much as 50%, way too much for optimum health.
Sadly, most of today’s pet foods contain poor quality protein sources, an imbalance in fatty acids and too high a level of cereal grain based carbohydrate).
Why Not Let Our Pets Decide What’s Best For Them?
Pet foods lack many key nutrients
Today’s pet foods provide plenty of calories however, nutrient content is set at minimal levels and most of the important micronutrients are generally lacking.
- Selenium, a powerful antioxidant mineral, is no longer available from basic food sources and should be supplemented daily.
- The absorption of fragile micronutrients like Beta carotene and the other carotenoids from food is highly unlikely and can be better provided through supplementation.
- Our water, air and food sources are increasingly becoming more contaminated with compounds that stress the immune system. Supplements rich in antioxidants can help combat the effects of ingested toxins.
- Bad habits such as overfeeding and under exercising can lead to obesity. Nutritional supplements offer a way to safely reduce an animal’s weight without sacrificing its health.
- Finally, as animals age, they lose their ability to efficiently absorb nutrients causing a progressive depletion of essential micronutrients. All senior animals should receive a high-quality nutritional supplement.
Fact: Our pets may very well be eating the most highly processed food on the planet.
What exactly is a Nutritional Supplement?
A nutritional supplement is intended for the purpose of improving the nutritional value of a diet, or to provide specific nutrients that have been determined to be deficient in the body.
Nutritional supplements can include some or all of the essential nutrients (proteins, amino acids, fatty acids, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins and minerals).
Nutritional supplements also include specialty nutrients that science has determined to be beneficial:
- Boosting overall health and energy
- Providing immune system support
- Reducing the risks of illness and age-related conditions
- To improve performance and mental activities
- And, to support the healing process during illness and disease.
In order to improve the nutritional value of a diet, it stands to reason that the smaller amount of supplement must be greater in quality and more nutrient dense than the larger portion of the diet.
To accomplish this, effective supplements must have the following three key principles.
Completeness – means it contains 100% of all essential nutrients
Concentrated – means a small amount can actually replace a large portion of the pet diet
Balanced – means it will facilitate optimum absorption and utilization of all nutrients.
Types of dietary supplements
Vitamins are organic compounds required by the dog and cat as a vital nutrient in limited amounts. For the most part, our pets do not synthesize vitamins so they must come from the diet.
Vitamin content may be compromised when food is overcooked, processed, or improperly stored. The body requires vitamins to support its basic biochemical functions, and deficiencies over time can lead to illness and disease.
Vitamins are either water-soluble or fat-soluble. Water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water and pass through the body quickly, meaning that the body needs them on a regular basis. Water-soluble vitamins include the B-complex vitamins and vitamin C. Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body’s fatty tissue, meaning that they remain in the body longer. Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, and K.
The minimum amount of vitamins needed by the dog and cat has been determined. These figures can be used as guidelines, but individual dogs and cats may have different needs depending on gender, age, activity level, reproductive state and health condition.
Vitamins can be natural or synthetic. Natural vitamins are extracted from food sources, while synthetic vitamins are formulated in laboratory processes. Natural vitamin E has been shown to be slightly more absorbable by the dog and cat than the synthetic version, although for all other vitamins no significant difference in absorption has been noted.
Minerals are chemical elements required by all living organisms. Once again, our pets must get these chemical elements from the food they eat.
Minerals are micronutrients present in all foods and are essential for the proper functioning of the body. Cells require minerals as part of their basic make-up and chemical balance.
Minerals can either be macro-minerals, used by the body in larger quantities, or trace minerals, used by the body in minute or trace amounts. Macro-minerals include sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. Trace minerals include iron, zinc, selenium, iodine, chromium, copper, manganese, and others.
Some studies have shown that the amount of minerals, particularly trace minerals, may be decreasing in foods due to mineral depletion of the soil caused by unsustainable farming practices and soil erosion.
Supplemental minerals should be provided in chelated form, in which they are bonded to proteins in order to improve their absorption by the body.
Many herbs have been used over the years to facilitate nutritional and nutraceutical responses in both man and animal.
Herbs can supplement the diet to aid in overall health or to aid in specific conditions. For instance, Ginseng is used as a general tonic to increase overall health and vitality, while Echinacea is a popular herb used to stimulate resistance to colds and infections.
Amino acids are biologically important organic compounds. Amino acids are divided into three basic categories:
- Essential amino acids
- Non-essential amino acids
- Conditional amino acids
Essential amino acids cannot be made by the dog or cat, and must be supplied through high quality protein sources. Non-essential amino acids are made by the body from essential amino acids or by the normal breakdown of consumed proteins. Conditional amino acids are usually non-essential, except in times of illness, stress, or when an animal is challenged with a lifelong medical condition.
Essential Fatty Acids
Essential fatty acids must be ingested by the dog and cat. They are required for good health as they participate in many different biological processes.
Many nutritional ingredients have been identified as supplemental aids for increasing muscle strength and improving athletic performance.
Nutritional supplements may be designed to provide specialized support for performance animals. Some of these consist of high-protein products, such as amino acid supplements, while other products contain nutrients that support metabolism, energy, athletic performance and recovery. Canines participating in intense athletic activity may have increased needs for water-soluble vitamins, antioxidants, and certain minerals, including chromium.
Other nutritional supplements
Other specialty nutrients that have been shown to offer particular health benefits include antioxidants, prebiotics, probiotics (supplements containing friendly bacteria for the digestive tract), digestive enzymes, collagen, phospholipids, medium chain triglycerides, glucopolysaccharides, phytonutrients and others.
General guidelines for Supplementation
Considering average dietary needs and the prevalence of certain health conditions in our dogs and cats, some basic guidelines may provide the foundation for the effective use of nutritional supplements. First, a high quality, broad-spectrum multivitamin and mineral supplement is recommended. This should include the B-complex vitamins B6, B12, and folic acid, which may help prevent heart disease, and the minerals zinc and copper, which aid immunity.
In addition, antioxidants can be added as they have several positive effects on the body, such as slowing the aging process, reducing the risks of cancer and heart disease, and reducing the risks of illness and infection by supporting the immune system. Coenzyme Q10 is another antioxidant in wide usage, as studies have shown it may improve the health of the heart and reduce the effects of heart disease.
Essential fatty acids, particularly omega-3, are also recommended as they are involved in many important processes in the body, including brain function.
After basic nutritional requirements are supported, supplements may be used to target specific needs and health conditions of the dog and cat and support the body’s natural healing capacity by providing optimal amounts of nutrients.