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The Most Important Supplements and Winter Health Tips for Pets

The Most Important Supplements and Winter Health Tips for Pets

Dr.Jessica Vogelsang

Pets are family, too—which means we want the best products available for promoting their health and wellness! When it comes to health supplements, we often look for pet versions of the products we use and love for ourselves.

Although it may be tempting to use a product meant for people on your dog or cat, it’s best to choose products specifically designated for pets, 

as both the dosing and the ingredients themselves may differ between species. In addition, many supplements exist to address pet-specific problems. Here are four of my favorite pet supplements:

Supplements for Tear Stains

If you have a lightly coated, short-muzzled, or long-haired pet, you may be familiar with tear stains: dark reddish-brown streaks of color extending from the inner corners of the eyes. Dogs create excessive tears for a variety of reasons such as ingrown hairs irritating the eyes, shallow eye sockets, or anatomic defects in the tear ducts impeding normal draining of the tears. If your vet has ruled out a treatable condition, tear staining is usually managed as a long-term, chronic issue.

The reddish color of the stains is due to porphyrins, a naturally occurring molecule in tears that turns red when exposed to sunlight. While unsightly, the red itself is not indicative of blood or infection! However, a wet face is prone to secondary yeast infections, so you should keep your pet’s face clean and dry. In addition to cleaning the face, a tear stain formula supplement may be helpful in reducing the amount of porphyrin in the tears. It won’t reduce the tearing itself, but it can make the staining less severe.

Supplements for Hairballs

If you’ve ever had a cat afflicted with hairballs, you know the horrific hacking noise they make right before spitting a slimy, hairy glob onto your carpet or shoe. Since cats swallow a small amount of fur each time they groom themselves, it’s not surprising that hair can accumulate in the stomach. While vomiting that is frequent or accompanied by changes in weight, appetite, or coat condition can indicate a medical problem, one or two hairballs a month in an otherwise healthy cat are not normally a cause for concern.

In addition to regular brushing to reduce the number of loose hairs ingested, a hairball control supplement can help move the fur along the GI tract by acting as a fiber supplement. The gastrointestinal tract is intended to be a one-way system! Fiber is one of the most gentle and effective ways to promote healthy GI motility.

Calming Aids for Pets

It’s hard being a pet sometimes! Between doorbells ringing, vacuums roaring around, and strangers in the house, life can get stressful. And that doesn’t even touch on the holiday season! Anxiety and stress raise cortisol levels in the blood and can manifest in a variety of behaviors such as hiding, increased aggression, inappropriate elimination or even destructive behaviors such as chewing and excessive barking.

For mild to moderate stress, you may want to try a calming formula. A specific ingredient, L-theanine, is an amino acid found in green tea and thought to reduce cortisol levels and anxiety. Although severe anxiety cases or specific phobia-inducing events such as hearing fireworks might require behavioral modification training and prescription medication, these milder supplements may be just what your pet needs for day-to-day stressors when you don’t want a sedated pet.

Supplement for Scooting

Few things are as awkward as sitting in your living room with friends and family while your itchy dog scoots his rear across the carpet right in front of the assembled crowd. It’s not their fault they’re itchy, but no one needs that image in their head before dinner!

While pets can have itchy behinds for reasons varying from parasites to allergies, one of the most common reasons for scooting is inflamed anal glands. These small, raisin-to-grape sized sacs sit just inside the rectum and produce an oily, pungent secretion whose scent you will recognize forever once you’ve experienced it. The glands empty into the rectum through small tubes, which can become inflamed and then itchy, hence the dragging rear. Many people find a psyllium-based product helpful in maintaining a healthy colon!

Winter Health Tips

As a veterinarian, I have lots of opportunities to observe the most common pet complaints from season to season. Like us, dogs and cats experience different health needs over the course of the year. Knowing what to expect can help you anticipate your pet’s needs as the weather cools to ensure their transition is a happy, healthy one.

Maintain A Shiny, Healthy Coat

Although we associate spring and summer with allergies, many pets experience seasonal symptoms that worsen in the fall or winter. Pets allergic to dander or dust flare up during the colder months when they spend more time inside. Allergic pets are often itchy and may experience a thinning or dull coat.

Allergic disease in dogs and cats is managed with a combination of home care, nutritional support, and medical management directed by your veterinarian. Choosing an appropriate, gentle pet shampoo and conditioner is a must when it comes to skin and coat health. In addition to keeping your pet’s coat shiny and clean, regular bathing washes away minuscule allergens that sit in the coat and can trigger allergy symptoms such as itchy or red skin. Look for products free of sodium lauryl sulfate, or SLS, and alcohol to avoid drying out sensitive skin. Aloe is especially soothing!

Keep Skin in Tip-Top Shape

The skin is the largest organ in the body and, as you can imagine, plays a vital role in health. Skin in poor shape is prone to infection and less effective in its job as a barrier between the world and all the organs within.

Cold air can be drying to the skin. While we often attend to our own dry, chapped limbs with soothing balms, rubbing lotion all over a pet’s fur-covered skin isn’t something most pet owners want to deal with. To help the skin from the inside, look for pet supplements with the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.

Why are fatty acids so important? These fats are essential components of cell membranes, helping to ensure the cells are impervious to the bad stuff while letting the good nutrients through. While you see skin supplements utilizing essential fatty acids from a variety of plant sources, the best ones for pets are made from fish.

Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are divided into two categories: omega-6 and omega-3. Many sources of EFAs are very high in omega-6 but are significantly lower in omega-3s, which are essential for both dogs and cats. Without going into too much detail, fish is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and contains these in much higher quantities than other types of fatty acid supplements.

Manage Stress and Boredom

As the holidays approach, pets may be affected by unfamiliar house guests and altered routines. Separation anxiety or boredom can result in destructive chewing, excessive barking, or house soiling.

Attention and reassurance can be very helpful for stressed-out pets, who thrive when owners maintain a predictable routine. Take some time every day for exercise and playtime.  If you know ahead of time that your pet is about to experience an anxiety-provoking situation, consider having some calming supplements on hand to help take the edge off. Of course, the best approach to anxiety in pets is to get to the root cause, but a multi-pronged approach to reducing stress can provide both them and you some much-needed relief!

Calming herbs and supplements may include chamomile, St John’s wort, valerian, melatonin, or other combinations; each one works differently so you may need to experiment to see which one is most helpful for your pet. If you are giving a supplement, make sure it’s one specifically for pets!

There’s no reason the changing seasons need to be a source of stress for pets. With a little forethought and lots of love, your pets can enjoy winter right alongside you.

Keeping your pet healthy takes time and effort, but it’s well worth it for all the love we get in return. that’s all the more time you have to enjoy your pet!

This article was written by Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, a veterinarian and bestselling author from San Diego, California.

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