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Alternative and complementary supplements for pets

Val Cairney April 2, 2021 171

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Hello everyone, and welcome to this episode of Val Talk’s Pets.  In this episode, I am going to look into the world of alternative and complementary supplements for our pets.  Just like humans, dogs, cats and small animals, suffer often from very similar maladies.  From itchy dry skin, to reactions to food, to anxiety, to weakened bladder function, to senior on set issues, to aches and pains from over exertion or getting old, our pets can suffer just the same as we do.  As humans, we look to something that will help alleviate the pain, manage pain, and possibly get rid of the issue.  We do this a variety of ways by going to a doctor to get prescriptions or going to the health food store to see if there is something alternative, more organic that we can take that will help and support our body to deal with the issue.  When it comes to our pets however, do we explore all the avenues?  Do we visit the vet and then call it a day?  Do we not address some of the issues at all?  You would be surprised how many people actually do not address issues their pets are having and just chock whatever symptom up to aging.  Some people will go to the vet and get the help that they needed, but I often hear a pet parent saying, “well, we went to the vet, but what we were given, doesn’t help and I don’t know what to do now”.  Well this is where some natural supplements, or treatments can really improve the quality of a pet’s life.  And to be clear, some of the additions that can be given to pets is actually quite inexpensive, so the fear that going into a complimentary direction is going to cost a fortune, can be dispelled right away.  Of course, a pet parent can end up going all out with every possible help available and yes, that would add up, but maybe there is that one supplement that can really help.  So, I’m going to explore some of the options, some that I have personal experience with and maybe as pet parents listening you might just find the answer you have been looking for.

Hip and Joint Care

So, let’s start with something familiar.   One of the most well- known and accepted supplements is something for hip and joint care.  There are so many supplements for pets that are for hip and joint care it is unbelievable. There are treats, liquids, powders, sprays it is almost quite endless.  There is formulations that include exclusively glucosamine and then there are formulations that include glucosamine with chondroitin and then some that add MSM, Vitamin C, and hyaluronic acid.  Let me see if I can define some of these for you quickly.  Glucosamine is a sugar protein that helps the body build cartilage.  It is a naturally occurring substance found in bones, bone marrow, shellfish and fungus.  Chondroitin is a compound that is a major constituent of cartilage and connective tissue.  It is believed that chondroitin helps the body maintain fluid and flexibility in the joints.  MSM is a sulfur-containing compound found naturally in plants, animals and humans.  It is often used to treat arthritis and helps support healthy maintenance of joint tissue.  Hyaluronic Acid is a naturally occurring substance in the body.  It is found in its highest concentrations in fluids in the eyes and joints.  It works as acting as a cushion and lubricant in the joints and other tissues.  It might also affect the way the body responds to injury.  

Large dogs are often thought of first for this kind of supplement but little dogs should also be considered as they advance in age. And do not forget your cats.  Cats as they age can also take advantage of these supplements. A lot of large dog pet parents will think about hip and joint supplements preventively as well as into aging.  Although there are quite a lot of ways to give hip and joint supplements to a dog, the question is whether you are getting the right levels needed to make any difference.  A veterinarian can help with coordinating the needed dosage for your pet, but according to average dosing is 5 – 20 pound dog, 250 – 500 mg of glucosamine daily, 21 – 45 pounds, 500 mg. 46 – 90 pounds, 1000 mg. and 90 pounds plus, 1500mg.  Cats, generally range between 120 milligrams and 500 milligrams per day.  Higher doses can create diarrhea in some cats, so if you need to go higher, speak to your veterinarian. As for rabbits glucosamine and chondroitin can be given to relieve arthritis, and the feline protocol is used for dosage. So this is when although some treats may say hip and joint on it, does it have the levels needed to actually make any difference?  If not, then looking to the specific supplements that have the proper levels is needed.  Of course there are other factors to look at too.  The quality of the product is also something to consider.  A lot of companies feel that the best source of glucosamine for example comes from shellfish.  The best bet is to make sure you are buying a hip and joint supplement from a reputable pet retailer and have a conversation with your vet to make sure you know what levels your pet requires or contact directly one of the supplement companies and ask to speak to their registered holistic nutritionist or natural products advisor.  If they don’t have one, red flag!


So, let’s look at some other supplements we can give to our pets to improve or enhance quality of life.  Let’s look at aging specifically.  Apart from the hip and joint formulas, there are also formulas from natural pet supplement companies that are specific to aging pets.  For example, a company that I use fairly often is Omega Alpha.  They make a Pet Vitality formula for senior pets.  In this formula not only are there the vitamins and minerals needed, but the formula includes herbs and botanicals that have very tried and true results.  For example, there is devils claw which we know helps with inflammation, milk thistle that supports the liver, reishi mushroom that helps boost the immune system, fights fatigue and can have anti-cancer properties.  This list goes on with this product and every one of the ingredients has benefit to an aging pet.  Both cats and dogs can take this supplement.  Another supplement that can really help with aging pets is a formula specifically to support the renal system.  A kidney supplement for pets can help cats with preventing and clearing crystals, help with problems peeing where they shouldn’t, and for me, I use the Omega Alpha Kidney Tone with my little stage 3 renal cat.  It’s been a year since she was diagnosed and so far no medication has been required, she’s staying stable and I keep up with her kidney tone daily.  Also, as pet’s age, incontinence can become an issue and a formulation that supports the kidneys can really make a difference with regards to accidents.  I also find that adding a multi vitamin to an older cat or dog just gives their body that little extra boost needed to help maintain optimum function.  


Other supplements that may be used on an as needed basis are ones that particularly deal with pets that in recovery.  When a pet has to have surgery, particularly some kind of bone or hip surgery, there are supplements that can help with the healing process.  A company called Aviva has been making a product called Recovery for horses for quite some time and then they created the same product formulated for dogs and cats.  Recovery has two main mechanisms of action to reduce inflammation, is a powerful antioxidant and cell repairer.  EnduraStress by Omega Alpha is used for pets that are athletic and working but because of its formulation to support physical and mental stress it works great for surgery recovery.  They also make Sinew Pet that contains a recovery and structural development formulation.  

Yeast Infections

Now, another direction we get asked about with regards to a pet’s health is when there is constant ear infections and yeast issues.  When a dog gets an ear infection it is important to have the vet diagnose whether the infection is bacterial or an infection caused by an overgrowth of yeast.  Dog’s will often rub their ears or tilt their heads if there is an ear infection and if it is yeast there could be a waxy residue or scabbing and we find that most pet parents that have a dog with an ear yeast infection they say there is a significant odour.  If the dog has been swimming or is subjected to a fair bit of allergens like pollens, mold, cigarette smoke, cleaning products etc. this can lead to a common yeast infection of the ear.  However, chronic yeast infections are often a result of an underlying issue.  We often get pet parents that have had drops from the vet more times than they can count and they are getting frustrated because the infection keeps recurring. 

So, this is where looking at some alternative methods may be helpful.  First, it is recommended to eliminate starch and sugar from your pet’s diet.  These two items are seen as feeding the yeast.  Now, that is easier said than done, because even the best food may have sweet potatoes or millet or peas so finding food that eliminates fully starch and sugar is a tall order. A raw diet may be the only alternative here if nothing else is working.  Okay, let’s go back saying that a food has been found that is pretty good with regards to lower carbs and sugar so what can we add to fight the yeast?  A supplement that is very easy to get is digestive enzymes.  Digestive enzymes help a dog digest food but it also goes after the biofilm that makes up yeast which is mainly made of fiber, fats and proteins.  Also, easily available at the health food store is Goldenseal.  Goldenseal has a compound called berberine, which is an alkaloid that helps plants defend themselves from fungus and bacteria.  Therefore Goldenseal is well-known as an antifungal that has been shown to fight yeast in studies.  Adding good probiotics to a dog’s diet is also recommended. 

There are some great probiotics available for dogs and if you wish to go the goats milk route with this, your dog will probably love the added treat to his food.  And one of my favourite yeast busters is Olive leaf.  Olive leaf is believed to break down Candida’s cell membrane and has shown to prevent and manage yeast in multiple studies.  Our Tundra has blastomycosis which is a systemic yeast infection that in his case imbedded in the bone of his paw.  Well as I’ve mentioned before, Olive Leaf powder has been a wonder as it has kept him from having a relapse for 5 years.  I can also tell you a quick story as well about yeast.  I had a customer a few years ago, who had a dog that had the worst yeast that presented itself in the dog’s paws where in between his toes it was like cottage cheese.  She had to rinse his paws in this special solution, every time he went outside and then use this spray and his paws were so red and sore and had this horrible cottage cheese build up every day.  Anyway, I listened to this in horror and I suggested the olive leaf power.  The owner decided to speak to the company that made it which at the time was True Raw and she got advice from them.  She started the dog on it, and about 6 days later came in with photos of what the dog’s paws looked like before and what they looked like now that he had taken the olive leaf powder.  His paws were still red, but the yeasty build up was gone and I can tell you, the owner was over the moon.  So, sometimes looking outside the box and to something alternatives can be the answer. 

Now another alternative product I like to use is Colloidal Silver.  Colloidal silver has microscopic flakes of pure silver suspended in demineralized water or another liquid.  It is used as an antibacterial agent and topical wound dressing.  There is some controversy over colloidal silver because the FDA Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. issued a press release saying that there was no evidence of suggest a clear health benefit of colloidal silver.  I wander where the studies are that concluded that?  In Canada we did have a recall on Colloidal Silver for a time and that was so that any distributor could make application to receive DIN numbers.  The Drug Identification number is an 8 digit number for prescriptions and over the counter drug products that have been evaluated by the Therapeutic Products Directorate and approved for sale in Canada.  We then started receiving the approved Colloidal Silver.  So, I’m comfortable with that.  And I have seen many, many examples where colloidal silver was the only thing that worked for a wound, or skin issue.  I know there will be some nay sayers out there and that is fine, but all I can say is, from personal experience, I have had great results using colloidal silver.  

Flea and Tick

So, let’s talk about flea and tick.  Ticks have become a real concern in the last 2 years where I live and we have had to use our tick key to remove ticks from both Tundra and Rory.  I decided to give Tundra one of the large named flea and tick preventions last year and I can say that he did not have any ticks after he received the doses.  It’s one where you squeeze the liquid onto their backs.  So, I’ll be honest, if ticks were not an issue, I don’t think I would be doing this.  First, when I gave Tundra the first dose he was not happy and I figured it had an odour he didn’t like and it made his fur kind of sticky where it was applied and basically he just didn’t like it.  But, the first 12 hours after the application had him sleeping more than usual, not eating and really, really down.  So, the next month I brought out the vial and he knew exactly what I was going to do.  The look on his face just begged me not to do this, but it’s one of those things where you know it’s for their own good.  Well same thing happened, sleeping, not eating, feeling unwell.  So, I can only surmise that this stuff makes him feel really awful and considering what it is designed to do, it probably does.  So, there is some natural flea and tick prevention products on the market.  Some experts will say that essential oils work just as well as the marketed flea and tick products.  I don’t have any experience with this, but I do know that essential oils if they are not diluted can be toxic to cats in particular.  So in this case using essential oils for flea and tick prevention needs to be diluted in sweet almond oil or olive oil.  Cedarwood, lavender, lemongrass, citronella and geranium oils are recommended.  So, you would create this solution and spray in on your dog.  I would assume that you would need to do this almost every day.  Now, if your dog is anything like Tundra, trying to spray anything on him is a no go.  Where Tundra came from the community dogs were often chased off of school yards and homes by spraying them with hoses.  Tundra was extremely fearful of the hose when he first came to us.  He’s better now, but keeps a healthy distance when I am watering the garden.  So, this makes it tricky when I am trying to get some natural bug repellant on him to stop the mosquitos from bugging him.  Anything with a spray is a no go, and he really doesn’t like it when I spray my hands and then wipe it on his fur.  I once tried this completely natural bug repellant that was mostly citronella oil, I thought he was going to lose him mind.  He went crazy trying to rub it off rolling all over.  I eventually just gave him a bath to get it off.  So, for me, using an essential oil alternative I don’t think will work.  But, it may be just the ticket for another dog.  


Okay, let’s talk worming.  Where I am, all worming medicines were delisted from retail, so if you needed to worm your cat or dog you would have to go to the vet to get the medication.  There are natural wormers on the market.  Some natural worming suggestions include pumpkin seeds, carrots, coconut, apple cider vinegar and chamomile.  It is best to stay away from Wormwood, despite its name and Black Walnut.  Just a quick look at a natural wormer ingredients often include, pumpkin seeds, slippery elm bark, fennel seed, ginger rhizome, thyme leaf etc.  Most often used is diatomaceous earth.  Now, in my episode on fleas, ticks, and worming, I go into detail about diatomaceous earth, so access that episode for more info.  Diatomaceous earth can eliminate roundworms, whipworms, pinworms and hookworms.  It is also stated that it can eliminate tapeworms.  The most important thing however about diatomaceous earth is that it must be the food grade kind.  The other thing is to make sure you have the dosing correct based on the worming you are doing.  This means that depending on the brand you buy, you will need to read the info carefully or contact the company directly.  Worms are tricky.  I have used diatomaceous earth when Tundra drank water that had swimming parasites in it, and he did not develop any worms.  Cats can often get tapeworms from eating rodents and if this becomes an issue you can try the diatomaceous earth or visit the vet for a pill.  Most people are just looking for a convenient way to worm their pets and if in your area you can still get over the counter wormers, then great, but if not as where I live, pet parents are often looking for a way to avoid an extra visit to vet just for worming.  In this case going the natural worming route may work.  

Anxiety and Fear

One other area I’d like to explore is anxiety and fear.  Dogs in particular may react quite panicked when there is a thunderstorm.  Cats don’t seem to react as much to this, but if so, these methods work just as well for cats.  Some dogs have extreme reactions to thunderstorms and if this is the case it’s possible that a prescription from the vet may be the only recourse.  But, there are a lot of very effective natural and homeopathic remedies available for pets that are experiencing fear and anxiety.  One of my favourites is Bach Rescue Remedy.  This homeopathic works wonders for pets in distress.  We use it by putting a drop on a finger and then rubbing it gently just inside the ear near the tip.  Orally is also a very effective method to administer the liquid.  Rescue Remedy will not make your pet woozy or pass out, it’s a homeopathic so the pet’s body will take what it needs.  The reaction will vary, but the ultimate conclusion is to have a pet that is calm and can wait out whatever is causing the fear.  Some dogs and cats have had to use Thundershirts.  Thundershirts are used for storms, separation anxiety, excessive barking, fear reactions, etc.  If you are not familiar with a Thundershirt, it is a stretchy type sweater for lack of a better term, that swaddles the pet and in most cases creates a calming very quickly.  Sometimes a thundershirt in combination with Rescue Remedy works very well. There are many natural calming products on the market, so it will be a bit of trial and error to get the one that your pet reacts to the best.  And it’s best to remember, these are not drugs, so usually one dose is not going to work and don’t expect your pet to pass out.  

Well I think that has covered the main of alternative and complementary supplements we can get for our pets.  So that leads me to my pet peeves section.

Pet Peeves

I think my biggest pet peeves when it comes to alternative and complementary products is the pet parent that is just completely closed minded to even considering that some of these products could really enhance or even eliminate some ailments a pet is experiencing.  When someone says their aging dog yelps when he tries to get up or stumbles as he is getting moving, the first things we think of is how to help this pet be in less pain and have more mobility.  But, if we get met with a brick wall when we suggest some products that can really help, I just don’t get it.  Wouldn’t you want to try something to ease the pain and help with their daily life?  As I said, in this area there a lot of options that are not expensive.  And when we say, have a conversation with your vet, they are also not keen because they chock the whole thing up to aging.  Well maybe your pet is aging, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to have something that makes them more comfortable. 

The other thing that bugs mean is when I know someone who is quite keen on giving their pet supplements that help with hip or skin or whatever it may be and they tell me that their vet rolls their eyes at them.  Now that really bugs me!  A vet’s job is to care for the pet, the whole pet and if that means that adding a supplement enhances that pet’s health, one that has been tested and researched mine you, I do not see how that reaction is in any way appropriate.  When Tundra was going through is medications for blastomycosis and he was then into recovery, the first thing I knew I needed to do was boost his immune system and get some probiotics into him to get back the good bacteria’s after his medications.  The next thing I did was get him onto the olive leaf powder and a krill oil for the high levels of antioxidants.  When I took him to the vet for a check, I told the vet was I had been doing.  He said, whatever you are doing, keep doing it, because he is recovery very well”.  Now, that’s the kind of vet I want, one who works with me and see’s outside the box.   

So, not every available supplement is meant for a particular pet and veterinarian care is utmost, but that doesn’t mean we can enhance or complement our pet’s care.  There are some great holistic nutritionists available as well as those certified in alternative medicines that can be consulted if a pet parent is needs advice and direction.  There is nothing wrong with exploring this world, but as always, do your homework, ask questions because as I say, knowing is caring!

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Val Cairney

Hi everyone, and welcome to Val Talk’s Pets, the forum for pet parents and enthusiasts alike. So, I have been working in the pet industry now for almost 10 years and, on a daily basis, I handle a lot of issues and questions arising from pet parents. I am not a veterinarian but I do have certifications in Canine, Feline, Small Animal, Fish and Herptile and Avian Health and Nutrition from the University of California, Davis Extension, the Vet College.

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