Do Dogs Need Vitamins and Supplements?

How Vitamins and Supplements May Help Some Dogs

Labrador dog lying next to bottle of pills and medication, close-up
David Young-Wolff / Getty Images

Many humans have a daily regimen of vitamins and supplements. More and more people are giving vitamins and supplements to their dogs as well. But does your dog need to take vitamins and supplements? Are they even safe for dogs? The answers depend on the dog and the types of supplements in question.

Vitamins and Minerals Essential for Dogs

All dogs need certain vitamins and minerals in order to thrive. Fortunately, these can all be found in a complete and balanced diet. If you are feeding your dog a commercial diet with the AAFCO label, then the food contains all the vitamins and minerals necessary to keep your dog healthy. You can take this a step further and choose a diet made with high-quality ingredients. Many experts agree that the vitamins and minerals in diets made with high-quality ingredients are more easily absorbed and used by your dog's body.

If you choose to feed a home-prepared diet to your dog, then you may need to add vitamins and minerals to make the food complete and balanced. It is essential that you work with your veterinarian to find the right recipes and source the appropriate vitamins, minerals, and supplements. Your vet may even refer you to a veterinary nutritionist to help you develop the right diet for your dog. Consider using a website like BalanceIt.com or PetDiets.com. These sites are excellent tools to help you create a recipe that is complete and balanced. You can even develop recipes for dogs with specific health concerns.

If you feed your dog a complete and balanced diet, there is generally no reason to supplement with vitamins and minerals. In fact, adding supplements can actually cause problems if your dog gets too much of something. For example, adequate Vitamin A is important for a dog's metabolism and immune system, but too much can cause serious toxicity. Vitamin A overdose can cause loss of appetite, lethargy, joint pain and stiffness, weight loss, GI problems, and more.

Only give your dog vitamins, minerals, or supplements in the following situations :

  • Your vet prescribes specific vitamins/minerals after diagnosing your dog with a deficiency.
  • Your vet recommends adding certain vitamins, minerals, or supplements to help treat a health condition or support a dog with a poor appetite.
  • Your vet recommends certain vitamins, minerals, or supplements because you wish to feed a home-prepared diet.
  • Your vet approves of the use of certain supplements for your dog after you ask about them.

Either way, there is never a reason to just randomly start giving your dog vitamins. Always act under the supervision of your veterinarian. It's also important to verify dosing information with your vet before starting any supplements.

Are Human Vitamins and Supplements Safe for Dogs?

Before you start sharing your own supplements with your dog or buying supplements at a human pharmacy, make sure they are safe! Although dogs need many of the same vitamins and minerals as humans need, the types and amounts may vary greatly. Ask your veterinarian about the strength and dose recommendation of each supplement you are giving. In many cases, it's better to get the products made especially for dogs.

Specific Supplements for Dogs

The following are just a few examples of vitamins and supplements that may be used for dogs:

Multi-Vitamins: Never give human multi-vitamins to dogs. If your veterinarian recommends a daily multi-vitamin for your dog, ask for product recommendations. It is important that you choose a multi-vitamin that is made especially for dogs. In some cases, you can choose a multi-vitamin made for dogs with special needs, like joint support or senior age. Some vets recommend products like  Pet-Tinic or Nutri-Cal for dogs not getting enough nutrients.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids: These supplements can be very beneficial to dogs with skin issues, arthritis or other joint pain, kidney disease, heart disease, certain cancers, and other conditions. Normal fish oil might not do the trick. Be sure to choose a formula with the right concentration of EPA and DHA based on your vet's recommendation. It is often better to go with a pet-specific formula. One example is Welactin.

Glucosamine/Chondroitin/MSM: These joint supplements can be very beneficial to dogs with an orthopedic issue like arthritis, hip dysplasia, cruciate injury, etc. They can reduce inflammation in the body and help provide more lubrication for the joints. A popular formula recommended by vets is Dasuquin Advanced.

Fiber: Your vet may recommend adding fiber to your dog's diet in some cases. This may be to bulk up the stool and prevent anal gland issues. It may also be to help with constipation or other GI issues.

Probiotics: These are nutritional supplements designed to restore healthy bacteria in the GI system. Many vets recommend probiotics for dogs with chronic GI issues or to combat the side effects of antibiotics. Effective pet brands include Proviable and FortiFlora.

There are many vitamins, minerals, and nutritional supplements out there. Some can be very useful for certain dogs. Some are harmless but a waste of money. Other can actually cause harm. Just remember that healthy pets eating a complete and balanced diet do not need supplements. Don't let yourself be convinced otherwise by clever advertising. If your pet truly needs supplements, be sure to take your vet's recommendations and choose the right ones.