Herbal Supplements… All Hype or Worth A Try?
Alright, let’s get to the “root” of the matter of herbal supplements. There is a plethora of natural and herbal supplements available, both prescription and over the counter. Many ailments, particularly chronic diseases, have been shown to benefit from natural treatments. In veterinary medicine we look for alternative treatments for certain conditions, but they do need to be restricted to a proper dose and safety protocol for each breed and pet. If you are interested, please speak to your veterinarian.
It is important to note that there is a big difference in over the counter and prescription products. Studies have repeatedly proven that not all bottles are consistent in the amount of supplement present in over the counter products. The only regulation of these remedies is within an approved ingredient list, but does not dictate the exact amount present within the medication. Prescription products are tightly regulated, meaning they analyze what is in the pill to ensure it is indeed what the bottle says it is in the correct amount. This requires a lot of studies and approval by the FDA, hence why these products are typically more expensive than their less regulated counterparts. If you are not sure about your supplement, please call your veterinarian to discuss this further.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin
Glucosamine and chondroitin are natural components found in cartilage, which is a normal part of joints of all animals. The purpose of these two components when taken as supplements is to help maintain the original cartilage in the joint and decrease inflammation, which is a major component of osteoarthritis. Both glucosamine and chondroitin can naturally be obtained from shellfish, or can be synthetically created in a laboratory, and therefore come in different forms including pill, capsule, powder, and injection. Studies with these supplements have been variable, and traditionally are no different than the placebo. However it does have benefits for some animals and is completely safe given at an appropriate dose. It is important to note that unfortunately nothing, even prescription medication, can completely prevent or stop arthritis formation. Additional medications may be recommended if your pet does not respond to these supplements.
The most common veterinary products recommended include Dasuquin and Cosequin.
Omega Fatty Acids/Fish Oil
There are many types of omega fatty acids, the most common ones discussed within the medical community being Omega-3 and Omega-6. These are categories to describe multiple types of polyunsaturated essential fats that fall under each category. Dogs and cats can produce some types of essential fats that the body needs in order to survive, while others are obtained through diet. Studies have proven that additional supplementation of these fats can be therapeutic for certain conditions including helping with inflammation, skin conditions (especially allergies), and dull hair coats.
Omega fatty acids are available at The Pet Hospitals in both liquid and capsule form for supplementation.
There has been a lot of discussion lately as to the benefits of coconut oil, which was initiated by the use of it in human medicine. Unlike omega fatty acids, this is a type of saturated fatty acid, which until recently had received a negative connotation. Coconut oil is naturally obtained through mature coconuts, mostly the flesh or inner part. This has been proposed to help with skin conditions (allergies), dull hair coat, and inflammatory bowel disease. There is no scientific evidence to support the claims at this point in time, but anecdotal evidence shows some benefits. The only recommendation is to be very cautious if your pet has a sensitive GI tract, has hyperlipidemia (high fat content in the blood) or is prone to pancreatitis, as this particular type of fat could cause a flare-up. It also may cause weight gain in some pets, so it is recommended to be used sparingly.
Milk Thistle is an herbal antioxidant that has been used as an alternative Chinese medicinal treatment for multiple ailments, but the most traditional use is to decrease inflammation in the liver. Research surrounding this herb has been variable, but it is still widely used and has been found to be beneficial in some cases. It is said to release toxins that can build-up in the liver through a substance called Silymarin, so may be recommended for use if your pet has chronic liver enzyme elevation, hepatitis, or has ingested a known liver toxin (some medicines, blue green algae, sago palm, and heavy metals). It is a widely recommended herbal supplement and has scientific support for its benefits.
The most common veterinary recommended products for milk thistle include Denamarin or Adenosyl.
-Dr. Kassie Newton