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The Ultimate Guide to Nutritional Supplements for Dogs

a woman feeding a Dalmatian in a a pink room

Healthy food has become all the rage for humans — avocado toast graces the instagram feed of every young person, and grocery stores like Whole Foods continue to rise in popularity with their many organic, non-GMO, non-fat, natural, fresh options. With so much focus on human diets, it’s only natural to wonder if your dog’s diet might need to be spruced up as well. In this article, we’ll cover:

  • Why your dog probably doesn’t need dietary supplements
  • The situations in which your dog will need supplements
  • The different kinds of supplements

pills in the shape of a plate with a question mark
Does your dog actually need supplements? The answer is probably no

No Supplements Needed

Most dogs lead very boring lives, eating the same food day in and day out, which is much different to the widely varied diet of humans. Most dog foods are formulated with this fact in mind. However, as you may have surmised from advertisements for different brands of dog food, not all dog foods are created equal. The best foods are developed using feeding trials, in which the food is given to actual dogs and their responses are monitored to see if the theory of nutrition that created the food works when actually put into practice.

Another element to look for is food that caters to the different life stages of a dog. Of course, if you have puppies, they will need puppy food, but adult and senior dogs also have their own nutritional needs. It’s usually the best policy to avoid food that is labeled as appropriate for all ages, since this may not meet the more specific needs of each age group.

If you are already feeding your dog a nutritionally complete dog food, there are still some supplements you can add on to that to help your dog stay healthy — as long as you keep in mind that you should always check with your vet before making any significant changes to your pet’s diet. Some supplements, especially multivitamins, could combine with the nutrients already in your dog’s food to create a toxic amount of that substance in your dog’s body — your dog’s nutrition is not a matter to take lightly.

When Your Dog Needs Supplements

Perhaps you have a pup in a special situation. Dogs with sensitivities or allergies to certain foods often have to go on special diets, as do pups with other health problems. In this case, you should always ask your vet what you should be feeding your dog, though some supplements we mention may still be valuable to them. Or, perhaps, it’s not the pooch that’s the problem — it’s the owner. Although I would recommend that you feed your dog regular dog food — it actually does the job quite well — some owners may still be determined to feed their dog an all-natural diet. If one of these cases is true for you, just make sure your dog gets these main nutritional groups:

water faucet
Water is important for the existence of all life — so your pup needs it too!
  • Water - dogs self-monitor their own intake of water, so all you have to do is put down a bowl of the stuff and not worry about it
eggs in a carton
Eggs, meat, fish, nuts, and beans are all great sources of protein
  • Protein - this provides essential amino acids that dog’s bodies don’t naturally produce, allowing them to build many essential parts of a functioning body
Fish or fish oil are the best sources of fat
  • Fat - although often thought of as the enemy, fat is actually the body’s most effective source of energy and serves many other functions, such as conserving body heat and promoting a healthy nervous system
vegetables in a basket
Many vitamins come from plant-based foods or organ and muscle meats
  • Vitamins - bodies can’t make enough vitamins, so having these in your dog’s diet is essential to keep their metabolism functioning. Most dog foods contain all the vitamins your dog needs, but these are a must if your pup’s diet is prepared at home
dog chewing on a bone
Different minerals come from different foods — bones are high in calcium, for example
  • Minerals - again, your dog’s body will be unable to make these inorganic materials on its own, so you’ll have to provide them for your dog’s metabolic function, as well as the many other jobs they perform throughout the body
fruits and vegetables
Fruits and veggies are the best sources for carbs and the more vital nutrients that accompany them — but make sure that they’re dog-friendly!
  • Carbohydrates - another ugly word for human diets, but carbs are great fuel for the body. They are not actually required for dogs, but highly recommended, as many high-carb foods contain other essentials, like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants

Supplements That Might Up Your Dog’s Diet

Although your dog’s diet is likely complete without added help from you, there are a few supplements you can add to depending on the status of their health. Often, as dogs become older, they will have more health problems, and you may feel more inclined to include more of these helpful nutrients in their diet. As always, ask your vet before you make any serious changes to your pet’s diet, and don’t forget that these are not a replacement for any pharmaceutical treatment that your vet may suggest.


Like humans, it is common for dogs to become arthritic in old age, which can make it difficult and uncomfortable for your once-playful pup to move around like she used to. This may be prevented with the use of glucosamine, which supports the joint health of your dog. Because glucosamine is used as a preventative measure, you would likely want to include it in the diet of a middle-aged dog — don’t wait until your dog is diagnosed with arthritis, as medical treatment will be far more effective at that point. Be sure to use the version specifically for animals since it will be more easily absorbed into your pet’s body than glucosamine for humans.

a bacteria culture on a petri dish
Despite bacterias’ nasty reputation, these microorganisms are essential to the health of both humans and animals


With all the buzz about gut health, you have probably been advised to eat probiotics before — but your dog could use some healthy gut bacteria too! You may want to especially consider adding these foods to your dog’s diet if she has been vomiting or having diarrhea, as these can be signs of an unhealthy gut flora. Probiotics can help restore your dog’s internal bacterial population, making her more healthy and comfortable. There are plenty of probiotic supplements on the market, but if you’re going for a more natural approach, you can also add fermented vegetables or raw goat milk, or even just let your dog play in the dirt — lots of microorganisms there!

fish oil pills
Although real fish is always better, fish oil supplements can also be a great source of omega-3 and fatty acids

Fish Oil

Although fish oil can be used simply to give your dog’s coat a healthy shine, it is also used to manage skin allergies. The best source is, of course, any type of fish, which can also fulfill your dog’s need for fat and protein. If perhaps you don’t want to spend time preparing fish for your dog, or buying fish for your dog regularly is too much of an investment, fish oil supplements will do the trick as well.

a milk thistle
Extracted from the milk thistle, this supplement works wonders for your pet’s liver

Milk Thistle

Packed with silymarin, a compound that promotes liver health and can prevent liver disease, Milk Thistle may be the savior of your pets’ liver. It can also help with kidney disease, and if your dog happens to get into something particularly nasty, it can be used to treat toxicities and lead poisoning as well. However, this treatment is still controversial, both for humans and for pets, so be cautious with it and always listen to your vet.


This treatment has various benefits for your pup, including boosting the immune system through the creation of anti-bodies, hormones, and enzymes, as well as strengthening the bones and skin. This supplement may be especially effective if your dog is struggling with a chronic viral infection, since it can give the immune system that boost it so desperately needs in order to fight back.


We all want our pets to stay young forever, and antioxidants are said to help make that dream a reality. They support your dog’s brain function, preventing memory loss and cognitive dysfunction, as well as keeping your pup’s heart healthy and reducing any sort of inflammation. Vitamins C and E contain antioxidants, as does coenzyme Q10, though there are often enough antioxidants in your dog’s food to sufficiently support them. There are also some more natural ways to squeeze more antioxidants into your dog’s diet, though they can be somewhat strange.

Whether your dog needs supplements or not, it’s really up to you and your vet to decide. When thinking about your dog’s diet, it’s important to remember that they need basically all the same food groups as humans to remain healthy, and outside of that, you should consider your dog’s individual health situation before you decide on any supplements. Always speak to your vet about your pup’s diet, and if you’re really concerned about nutrition, speak to a pet nutritionist — yes, they do exist. Either way, remember that your dog’s life is in your hands, and you shouldn’t take that responsibility lightly.

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