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Supplements for Pets: How Do They Work?

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As more and more of us take nutritional supplements for our own health, we are also buying these same types of products for our animal companions. Each year pet parents in the US spend $1.6 billion in supplements for their pets. While general wellness products like vitamins and minerals are among those often purchased, pet supplements formulated for specific health conditions make up a majority of those given to our dogs and cats.¹ Supplements to support joint, digestive and immune, skin and coat, and emotional health in pets are all widely given to help increase the health and quality of life of our pets.

Pet Supplements to Support Joint Health

Joint products are by far the most common supplements given to pets, perhaps because joint issues affect all sizes and ages, large breeds, small breed, young and old. ² For more than 10 years, joint supplement ingredients have been made up primarily from glucosamine, chondroitin, or hyaluronic acid. These natural joint components are critical for the production of larger glycosaminoglycans (GAGs), the biologically-produced building blocks of cartilage, connective tissue and lubricating joint fluids.³


Some new joint supplement ingredients, backed by scientific data, are now emerging to give pets relief from joint stiffness and discomfort, and to support mobility in normal daily activities. One such ingredient is NEM®, a whole-food matrix of natural eggshell membrane. It is a high-quality source of the key joint components glucosamine, chondroitin, and hyaluronic acid. However NEM® also contains the collagen and amino acids also important to maintaining the normal structure and function of joints and bones. In human clinical trials, NEM® was found to be nearly five times more effective than glucosamine and chondroitin, either alone or in combination.4

TêlaFIRM is another new joint health ingredient. The minerals zinc, copper, and manganese have been found to promote the normal formation of bone and cartilage. TêlaFIRM is a micro-ingredient system of bioavailable minerals designed to support normal bone remodeling.5

Pet Supplements to Support Digestive & Immune Health

Many pet health problems begin in the gastrointestinal system. Seventy percent (70%) of circulating white blood cells live in gastrointestinal (GI) tract, so promoting good digestive health is critical to dog’s overall health and wellbeing. For this reason, digestive supplements are also widely used with pets.

The most common ingredients found in digestive supplements for dogs and cats are prebiotics, probiotics, and enzymes. Both prebiotics and probiotics work to support the naturally-occurring bacteria already present in your pet’s GI system but they do so in different ways:

  • Probiotics are live microorganisms added to increase the number of bacteria.
  • Prebiotics increase the naturally-occurring bacterial population by providing food for them and enhancing their activity.

Enzymes are proteins that trigger biological reactions all over your pet’s body. Added enzymes will improve digestion by allowing pets to absorb all the nutrients they possibly can from their food. There are different categories of digestive enzymes that break down different types of food, like protein or fat. Each category has many individual enzymes. Following are the 5 major groupings of digestive enzymes and some examples of each.

  • Protease – breaks down protein (example: bromelain)
  • Lipase – breaks down fat (example: rhizopus oryzae lipase)
  • Amylase – breaks down starch (esample: aspergillus oryzae amylase)
  • Cellulase – breaks down plant cell walls, or fiber (example: trichoderma longibrachiatum cellulase)
  • Carbohydrase – breaks down carbohydrates (examples: alpha-galactosidase, beta-xylanase, and beta-glucanase)

When selecting a digestive supplement for your dog or cat, keep in mind that some of these ingredients can be sensitive to heat. Because probiotics are live organisms, they must be refrigerated or microencapsulated in order to remain viable. If the microorganisms are no longer live by the time they reach your pet’s mouth, they will not help his digestion. Prebiotics are not live organisms so you don’t have to worry about whether or not they are still alive. Enzymes should be stored at temperatures below 118°F, or they will be deactivated and become useless.

Pet Supplements to Support Skin & Coat Health

Products to help dogs with dull coats and itchy, flaky skin are another popular group of pet supplements, usually consisting of fish oil in the form of liquid, capsules, or chewable capsules. Research has proven that supplementing a dog’s diet with fish oil leads to a more healthy skin and coat. Fish oil contains essential omega-3 fatty acids, such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), not always present in sufficient quantities in pet food.

The dog’s hair itself is mainly made up of approximately 95% protein, but essential fatty acids play important roles in the appearance of the individual hair and the hair coat as a whole. The sheen that gives hair its healthy appearance comes from a substance called sebum, which consists of a blend of fatty acid derivatives or fatty-acid containing compounds. Sebum acts as a lubricant for skin and hair, and gives your dog’s hair a natural sheen.8

Often, inflammation plays a role in poor skin health and this may lead to rashes or red spots. There is a great deal of scientific research that shows the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 fatty acids. Research in dogs with inflammatory skin conditions has clearly demonstrated that supplementing fish oil decreases the inflammatory components in both white blood cells and the skin of these dogs. Additionally, in dogs with dermatitis, proper nutrition with additional omega-3 intake improved skin condition and itchiness with good to excellent results.9

Pet Supplements to Support Emotional Health

Products for anxiety and other emotional health issues in pets are among the fastest growing category of pet supplements. Prolonged stress impairs pet’s ability to fight off illnesses & infections. In addition, behavior problems in dogs are often related to underlying emotional factors. A shelter dog entering a new home or a pet experiencing the loss of a loved one may feel sadness and withdraw. Multiple pets in the same household can lead to jealousy and selfish behavior, fighting over attention or toys.10

Supplements to calm pets and support the emotional wellbeing of pets are typically very holistic or homeopathic in nature. Among the most popular are flower essences, liquid infusions of fresh flower blossoms to create an extract. The specialized blends work synergistically to address the common situations that affect all our animals at one time or another throughout their lives. Herbal infusions are also available, as well as blends of amino acids, proteins and vitamins, and products that mimic the pheromones that a mother dog or cat produces to calm and reassure her puppies or kittens.

Diet, Exercise, Supplements for a Healthy Pet

Most pet experts agree that a high quality diet and regular exercise are among the most important ways to keep your pet healthy and active. In addition, pet parents seeking holistic solutions to common pet health issues can look to the growing number of nutritional supplements now available for dogs and cats. These products can help pets enjoy long, active lives.

About Arenus
Arenus® is a growing division within Novus International, Inc., a worldwide industry leader dedicated to animal performance, health, and longevity. Arenus taps into the vets, nutritionists and other animal care professionals available through their parent company to develop safe and easy-to-use formulas that holistically support the wellbeing of dogs. The company has passed the rigorous quality audits of the National Animal Supplement Council and has earned the right to display the NASC Quality Seal on all its products. www.arenus.com or call 866-791-3344.
1. (2011) Animal Nutrition Industry Overview. Nutrition Business Journal. Volume XVI (No. 8), 1-23.
2. http://www.arenus.com/Pet/Blog/Entry/Article/464/joint-health-information-all-dog-owners-should-know
3. http://www.arenus.com/Pet/Blog/Entry/Article/512/how-naturally-present-joint-components-support-your-dogs-mobility
4. http://www.arenus.com/Pet/Blog/Entry/Article/499/award-winning-joint-health-ingredient-nem-means-new-options-for-dogs
5. http://www.arenus.com/Pet/Blog/Entry/Article/530/two-new-ingredients-synergistically-support-healthy-joints-in-dogs
6. http://www.arenus.com/Pet/Blog/Entry/Article/482/healthy-gut-bacteria-helps-a-dogs-digestion-overall-health
7. http://www.arenus.com/Pet/Blog/Entry/Article/517/why-digestive-enzymes-matterdoes-your-dog-get-enough
8 + 9. http://www.arenus.com/Pet/Blog/Entry/Article/478/two-ways-omega-3s-help-your-dogs-skin-coat
10. http://www.arenus.com/Pet/Blog/Entry/Article/505/three-key-components-of-holistic-pet-health

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