When you feel a cold coming on or think your diet is lacking, it’s easy to pop a vitamin (or eat immunity-boosting foods) and believe you have your bases covered. The same goes for your pets, right? Maybe, maybe not. The pet supplement market is still on the rise—it grossed $541 million in 2014, up 3.7% from 2010. If you’re thinking about giving your pets a boost, here are two bits of wisdom from smart vets.
1. Never underestimate the chow.
If you’re feeding your pet a complete, balanced diet, there’s no need for vitamins. (Look for the AAFCO Nutritional Adequacy Statement on the pet food package for validation.) That said, certain supplements can help improve overall health, according to Karen Shaw Becker, DVM, an integrative and wellness veterinarian. Vets agree that omega-3 supplements are generally safe, and they’re often used to combat inflammation and the onset of arthritis in elderly pets.
Chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine can also be beneficial for very active pets, like those who run long distances with their owners regularly, to promote healthy muscles, bones, and joints.
2. DIY-ers, beware.
Even with safe, commonly used supplements like omega-3s and glucosamine, it’s best to get your vet’s consent, says Sherry Sanderson, DVM, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine. Your pet’s doc can also help you steer clear of unapproved boosters. “Supplementing with calcium and vitamin D may increase the risk of developing orthopedic diseases,” Sanderson says. Vitamin C is another potentially harmful supplement—high doses can contribute to the formation of painful bladder stones in certain dog breeds and in cats.
And as convenient as it would be to administer vitamins to your pets as often as you pop one yourself, their smaller bodies and varied, commercially produced diets make determining the right amount of each ingredient tricky, says Cailin Heinze, an assistant professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. Your best route? A vet who can suggest supplements based on your pet’s specific needs.