With the emergence of the functional food movement, people became more aware of how the food they eat affects their bodies. And it wasn't long before pet parents like us began questioning how the food our dogs eat — or don't eat — affects them. Vitamins for dogs became a way to fill in some of the nutritional gaps in our dog's diets or to provide a nutrient-based solution to common problems like joint or skin health issues.
Now, there are dog supplements for nearly every function, and it can be difficult to decide which ones are worth the investment — and whether your dog needs vitamins at all. Before you buy your first bottle or bag of pet supplements, get the information you need to choose high-quality vitamins for dogs, and find out which ingredients have the best scientific evidence behind them.
Should You Give Your Dog Vitamins?
A generally healthy dog may not need vitamins at all, or they may need vitamins to protect against future health issues. For example, a young Great Dane might not have joint health issues now, but because of their breed, we know they're likely to develop these issues as they age. Adding a joint support supplement now could help decrease their risk of future joint pain.
Your dog's diet can also influence whether or not they need vitamins. If you look at the ingredient panel on most commercial dog foods, you'll notice two things: a long list of highly processed ingredients (think corn gluten meal, pea starch, and caramel color) followed by a long list of vitamins and minerals. These diets come with pros and cons.
Commercial dog foods are extruded, which is a harsh process that damages a lot of the nutrients in the ingredients. But, manufacturers add those nutrients back in, in the form of a vitamin pack — it's like a multivitamin built into the dog food.
To be considered a complete and balanced diet, the vitamin pack must include the essential vitamins that your dog's body needs at the levels required by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
The vitamin pack used in commercial dog foods is primarily made up of synthetic vitamins, or vitamins that are manufactured in a lab. The same is true of most commercial multivitamin supplements, so there is very little difference between the bioavailability (how easy it is for your dog's body to absorb the nutrients) of the vitamins in a commercial food and the vitamins in a commercial multivitamin for dogs. So, while commercial dog food is highly processed, it will protect your dog from nutritional deficiencies, and your dog usually won't need a multivitamin supplement.
Some pet parents choose to feed their pet homemade meals instead of commercial dog food. While these meals can give your dog the benefits of minimally processed whole foods, they can also introduce nutrient deficiencies into your dog's diet if they're not carefully planned. Dog owners can prevent this problem by working with a veterinary nutritionist to design their dogs' meals, and by using an all-in-one dog multivitamin to fill in any nutritional gaps.
Make sure any supplement you give your pooch is formulated specifically for dogs. Never give your dog human vitamins. Dogs have different nutritional needs than we do and need different amounts of each vitamin and mineral.
Essential Vitamins for Dogs
These are the essential vitamins that dogs should already be getting from their diet:
- Vitamin A
- Folic acid
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
As long as your dog eats a complete and balanced diet, you shouldn't need to give them vitamins in supplement form — unless you're instructed to do so by your vet. In certain cases, a dog may have an underlying health condition that causes them to need more of a certain type of vitamin. Maybe their body isn't absorbing that nutrient properly or they need an added dose to address a health condition. In either case, a doctor of veterinary medicine (DVM) will need to diagnose the issue.
Dogs also don't need to take a vitamin C supplement unless it's recommended by your vet. Unlike humans, dogs' bodies produce vitamin C on their own, so our pooches don't need to get this vitamin from food or supplements.
What to Look for in Vitamins for Dogs
The FDA doesn't review pet supplements for safety and effectiveness (or human supplements, for that matter), which means it's up to us as pet parents to decide if a supplement is high-quality and safe for our pets. But, we have a few tips that can help.
There are two main categories of dog supplements: all-natural supplements and synthetic supplements. All-natural supplements for dogs use all-natural ingredients with proven health benefits, and they don't contain any artificial colors, additives, or preservatives.
Synthetic supplements, on the other hand, are made from vitamins synthesized in a lab. Sometimes, synthetic supplements come in a traditional or chewable tablet and don't contain any food-based ingredients. Other times, they come in soft chews and may include food ingredients to make them easier to feed — but the nutrients themselves will still be synthesized.
Whenever you have the option, choose all-natural supplements over synthesized supplements. But, if you're choosing between synthetic supplements, look for the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) seal of approval. This seal means the supplement has been independently tested to verify the quality and quantity of its active ingredients.
You should also look for supplements formulated for your dog's life stage. Puppies, adult dogs, and senior dogs can all eat vitamins that say "all life stages" on the label. You can also find formulas made specifically for puppies or older dogs.
Some supplements come in pill form that you might want to hide inside cream cheese, peanut butter, or a pill pocket to encourage your dog to consume it. To make your life easier, choose a functional treat instead. Supplements formulated as soft and chewy treats and flavored with all-natural ingredients like real chicken will be easy to feed.
The 6 Best Vitamins for Dogs
Now that you know which supplements your dog doesn't need and what to look for in the supplements they do, here are the six best options, based on scientific evidence and your dog's individual health needs.
1. Fish Oil
All-natural fish oil is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which studies show can help promote heart and brain health. In a meta-analysis, fish oil was also found to be more effective for promoting joint health than glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM (the three most common ingredients in joint supplements).
Fish oil is an ideal everyday supplement to promote your dog's health and wellness. Look for fish oils made from wild-caught salmon or pollock to give your dog the highest levels of omega-3s.
Studies have linked probiotics to improved skin health, coat health, digestive health, and overall health. Other research has shown that probiotics can boost the immune system and may even help improve allergy symptoms.
Probiotics for dogs are another good choice if you want a well-researched supplement to support your pet's overall health.
3. Bone Broth
Bone broth is a natural source of collagen, a protein found in the skin and the body's connective tissue. The amount of this protein in the body slowly decreases as our dog's age, so bone broth may be especially beneficial for older dogs.
Studies on the effects of collagen have linked it to improved skin elasticity and faster wound healing. It was also connected to reduced joint pain and bone density loss. And in one study, bone broth was even found to have neuroprotective qualities that help ward off migraines.
Because of its long-term health benefits, bone broth is a good daily supplement to add to any dog's diet.
4. Allergy Chews
Environmental allergies are common among dogs. If your dog suffers from them, they can benefit from an allergy supplement. Designed to boost your dog's immune function, allergy supplements can contain a wide variety of ingredients. Look for one that has probiotics to get the benefits we mentioned above, plus spirulina, which studies have shown can significantly improve allergy symptoms.
5. Bladder Chews
Older dogs, female dogs, and certain breeds, like Shih Tzus, Bichon Frises, and Yorkshire Terriers, are more likely to suffer from bladder issues. You can support their bladder and help prevent potential issues by choosing a bladder supplement made with cranberries. Not only are cranberries a natural source of antioxidants. In scientific studies, they've also helped eradicate the bacteria that cause UTIs.
Bladder supplements should be used as a preventative, not a treatment. If your dog already has a UTI, take them to your vet to be treated.
6. Hip & Joint Chews
Hip & Joint Chews are among the most popular supplements for dogs, but most formulas available in the USA rely on glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM — ingredients with limited scientific support. For a more proven and natural active ingredient, look for a formula with green-lipped mussels.
Green-lipped mussels are a natural source of glucosamine and chondroitin, plus they're rich in all-important omega 3s, which studies have shown can improve mobility in arthritic dogs. If you have a large breed dog, start giving them our Relief Chew to improve pain management.
Vitamins for Your Best Friend
Your dog's health is essential for them to enjoy a long, active life with you. And certain vitamins are essential for keeping your dog healthy. However, dogs should get all the essential vitamins from their diet. (If you feed your dog homemade meals, work with a veterinary nutritionist and add a multivitamin to their diet to make sure they aren't missing out on any essential nutrients.)
Any other vitamins you give your dog should be based on their needs. For proven supplements that can support your pet's everyday health, try fish oil, probiotics, and bone broth for dogs. Then add healthy treats — like our air-dried chews for allergies and bladder health — as needed.
But remember to check the active ingredients. Pet supplements can rely on any ingredients they choose, and not all formulas are based on strong scientific evidence. Support your dog with all-natural supplements backed by solid research.For more information on your dog's health and wellness, check out the Native Pet blog.