4 Reasons Why You Need to Read Supplement Labels
One of my goals is to help pet parents become more informed about decisions that affect the health of their dogs. I'll bet that many of you add at least a couple of supplements to your dog's diet - whether it's a vitamin, mineral, nutritional oil, joint supplement, antioxidant, probiotics, herbal or health support product.
It's good to get into the practice of reading the ingredients and fine print on supplement labels. I usually find that I also need to check the company's website for additional product details. There are 4 main reasons why you should spend the time to find out more about the supplements you give your dog:
To find out how much of the ingredient that you want to give your dog is in 1 dose.
To make sure that there are no unwanted or unneeded ingredients in the supplement.
To verify any puffery claims made by the manufacturer.
To understand any storage instructions or expiry dates.
Real Life Examples
Let's look at some actual products to see why it's important that you read the fine print on the back of the label and check the information on the company website. I won't give the names of these products so as not to single out particular brands.
Product: Popular Brand of Fish Oil Capsules. 500 mg capsules.
Details: This is an excellent quality fish oil, but 500 mg is the amount of oil that's in 1 capsule. What we need to know is how much EPA and DHA - those are the marine-sourced omega-3 fatty acids - are in each capsule. Most likely you have a target amount of EPA and DHA you want to give your dog.
Label Check: The brand's website shows that this brand of fish oil actually contains 80 mg of EPA and DHA combined per 500 mg capsule. This amount might be fine for a small dog, but larger dogs would need a much higher dose, and would need many capsules to meet EPA and DHA requirements.
Product: High Quality Liquid Fish Oil in a glass bottle.
Details: This is another excellent quality fish oil. Directions for dosing are included on the back of the label along with the amount of EPA and DHA provided per 5 ml.
Label Check: At the very bottom of the back of the label are the instructions to use the product within 3 months of opening and to refrigerate after opening; important information to make sure the fish oil stays fresh.
Product: Organic Milk Thistle in Capsules
Details: This product contains 250 mg capsules of organic non-GMO milk thistle.
Label Check: This is an example of why reading the fine print on the label is important, particularly if you have a dog with a food sensitivity or intolerance, or if you are working on an elimination diet for your dog. The product's list of Non-Medicinal Ingredients indicates that the gelatin capsule is made from fish; much needed information for pet parents whose dog has a sensitivity to fish.
The other important bit of information on the label is the Guaranteed Potency. While each capsule contains 250 mg of milk thistle, the Guaranteed Potency is 120 mg of silymarin. Silymarin is the active ingredient that's extracted from milk thistle, and it's the number you need when dosing.
Product: Popular Brand of Probiotic 'Plus' Supplement
Details: This probiotic supplement is marketed as a daily supplement to combat digestive issues in dogs. The product contains a good range of probiotics, but unfortunately, not in high enough numbers to make much of a difference to gut health.
Label Check: I consider 5 billion colony forming units (CFUs) per dose a starting point. This is the minimum amount of bacterial colonies needed to make any kind of difference in gut health - and this product has just around 3 billion CFUs per scoop.
The label also lists a number of other ingredients you should be aware of. There are 700 mg of kelp per scoop of product. Kelp is an excellent source of iodine, but there is no indication of the amount of iodine per scoop. For a product that is to be given daily, you would want to know how much additional iodine is being added to your dog's diet, since an over supply of iodine can have negative consequences for your dog's thyroid gland.
At the bottom of the back of the label are some contra-indications: not for use in pregnant or lactating animals or for use in animals with thyroid disease or for animals receiving other drugs. It also says it's not for long term use in animals - even though the Recommended Use says it's to be used daily to make sure your pet's digestion functions at peak performance.
Product: Veterinarian Recommended Brand of Probiotic
Details: This product is often recommended by veterinarians when antibiotics are prescribed. The company website has a #1 Brand of Probiotic Prescribed by Veterinarians badge - which doesn't mean it's the best probiotic, it just means that a survey of veterinarians showed that among the veterinarians surveyed, this was the one most often prescribed. It's not an indication of quality.
Label Check: The minimum amount of colony forming units (CFUs) I want to see in 1 dose of a probiotic supplement is 5 billion. Any less than that and it's highly unlikely to make any difference to gut health. This product contains only 1 strain of probiotic at a minimal amount of only 10 million colony forming units per gram (each satchel is 1 gram).
The number 1 ingredient in this probiotic supplement is listed as both Animal Digest and Liver Flavor, depending on whether you look at the box or the website. Animal Digest is a questionable ingredient I would not want to give my dogs.
The FDA's information section on Pet Food Labels says that,
With respect to flavors, pet foods often contain "digests," which are materials treated with heat, enzymes and/or acids to form concentrated natural flavors. Only a small amount of a "chicken digest" is needed to produce a "Chicken Flavored Cat Food," even though no actual chicken is added to the food.
The product is then rounded out with synthetic minerals. This is not a product I would recommend. I think that dogs, especially ones who have been ill, deserve a much better "probiotic supplement" than this.
Product: All Natural Sprouted Seed Food Topper
Details: You know that saying, 'when something sounds too good to be true, it probably is' - this product is an example of that! This product is marketed as a probiotic, enzyme, and vitamin and mineral supplement meant to be added daily to dog's food. I needed to know more and so I spent some time on the company's website.
Label Check: This product is a blend of 3 types of raw, organic sprouted seeds and the website says that it can be sprinkled onto your dog's raw, cooked, or kibble meals to boost nutrition and "complete the diet".
My education in canine nutrition told me this seemed too good to be true. I calculated the amount of each vitamin and mineral per tablespoon and found that there is only a very small amount of each vitamin and mineral in each tablespoon - not enough to make any difference in the diet and not enough to "complete' a nutritionally deficient diet. For example, this product contains 42 mg of zinc per kg.as fed, so I would have to feed about 250 grams (8 ounces) by weight to add an additional 10 mg of zinc to a diet.
These are just a few examples of why we have to be informed consumers when it comes to our dog's health. Dogs who are at risk of health issues need, and deserve, accurate and whole-picture information.
As always, I encourage you to continue to research and make up your own mind about products and treatments that affect your dog.