Spilling the Tea on Natural Health Products
There's a dizzying array of natural health products on the market for dogs, including colostrum, bee pollen, spirulina, golden paste, digestive aids, green lipped mussel powder, glandular supports, oils, joint and cognition support products, immune boosters, herbal remedies, and many more. It's good to know that natural health products for dogs are not regulated for ingredient verification, analysis or testing.
These offerings might claim to boost immunity, reduce itching, heal the gut, support brain health, and so on. They are different than essential vitamin, mineral, fatty acid, and amino acid supplements that must be supplied in the diet to prevent deficiencies.
Sometimes I see people add 10 or more natural health supplements each day to their dog's meals. I'm not saying there is anything necessarily wrong with these products, or that they aren't beneficial in some way, however, you should use them with caution.
If you're giving these products to 'boost health and immunity', or prevent or treat health conditions in your dog, I'd encourage you to make sure your dog's diet meets all of their nutritional requirements first - and then decide which health supplements might be appropriate.
No amount of bee pollen will make up for a diet that is low or borderline in zinc, a trace mineral which is critical for immune health, wound healing, and tissue repair and growth.
An NRC diet is more effective at supporting a dog's health than a diet that's missing nutrients but has added 'health' supplements. It's not uncommon to see well-intentioned pet parents use supplements to manage a health concern, when the dog would benefit much more from a diet that supplies all essential nutrients at optimal-for-them levels.
In other words, the diet should fit the dog, not the other way around.
This is a lesson I learned first hand when one of my senior dogs had trouble with acid reflux. I tried all the things: apple sauce, warmed food, digestive aids, homeopathic remedies, and nothing helped until I changed her diet. I lowered the dietary fat content and tailored the diet to her - using the USDA nutrient database and my formulation knowledge. Thankfully the acid reflux is a thing of the past.
You can do a DIY check of your dog's food as a starting point:
If you feed kibble or canned food make sure your dog is eating within the guidelines set out by the manufacturer. If you are feeding less than the suggested amount for your dog's weight then chances are the diet is coming up short in nutrients.
If you feed commercial raw or a ratio diet (80-10-10), you have to do more legwork to verify that your dog's overall dietary needs are being met. A diet based on percentages is not likely to be balanced. Typically these diets are short in vitamin D3, manganese, iodine, vitamin E, thiamine, and omega-3s. High-fat meats and chicken diets are usually low in zinc as well. A Guaranteed Analysis does not mean the diet is 'complete and balanced', and commercial raw products that claim to be 'complete' often are not. Have a look at this article for more info.
When it comes to supportive supplements avoid the kitchen sink approach. Instead, target which products make sense to add to your dog's meals. Then, verify that the supplement contains the amount of ingredient that will actually benefit your dog.
Did You Know …
The supplement market is largely unregulated (unless adverse events are reported to the Food and Drug Administration or Department of Agriculture) and anyone can develop and sell supplements without any consideration for the effectiveness, safety, or quality of ingredients. Purchasing and administering supplements from unknown or disreputable manufacturers can be costly and may expose your pet to supplements that are ineffective or even harmful, especially if contaminated with other ingredients. (source)
There is no guarantee that supplements/natural health products meet label claims unless there is a Certificate of Analysis. As well, some all-in-one type of products such as kidney, cardiac, or joint support supplements may contain only token amounts of a particular ingredient. While that might look good on a label, the amount of a particular ingredient may not come close to being effective for your dog.
As a consumer, you should be getting what you pay for, and your dog should benefiting from products that truly do what they claim.