By Rania Gollakner, BS, DVM, MPH; Steve Marsden, DVM ND MSOM LAc DiplCH AHG, Shawn Messonnier, DVM and Cheryl Yuill, DVM, MSc, CVH

What are nutraceuticals?

A 'nutraceutical' is a type of dietary supplement that is not an essential nutrient, such as vitamins or minerals, but may provide other health benefits in addition to nutritional value. Common examples of nutraceuticals include glucosamine (used in the treatment of arthritis), omega-3 fatty acids (used to treat inflammatory conditions), and antioxidants (which may help prevent cancer).

Why would my vet recommend a nutraceutical?

"Nutraceuticals may to be beneficial in both the treatment and prevention of disease."

Nutraceuticals may be beneficial in both the treatment and prevention of disease. Nutraceuticals can be a valuable supplement to traditional medications. In some cases, they can even be used alone to manage a disease. Some nutraceuticals have fewer side effects than other medications used to treat disease. Nutraceuticals possess unique chemical actions that are unavailable in pharmaceuticals, such as the ability of silymarin (milk thistle) to protect liver cells from damage.

How much experience is there with the use of nutraceuticals in pets?

Some nutraceuticals have been used in pets for several decades, while others are only just being introduced to veterinary medicine.

What species of animals are being treated regularly with nutraceuticals?

Nutraceuticals are most often used in dogs, cats, and horses, although their use is being explored in most species of animals, including reptiles, marine mammals, and birds.

How much research has been conducted on nutraceuticals?

The type and quantity of research on nutraceuticals varies with the compound under study. The total number of studies on nutraceuticals in medicine numbers in the tens of thousands. In some cases, these studies include clinical trials in both humans and animals.

How can my pet benefit from nutraceuticals?

Nutraceuticals have a broad spectrum of effects, including immune regulation; anti-microbial effects against bacteria, fungi, or parasites; support of normal organ structure, function, or blood supply; and enhancement of normal metabolic processes.

How successful is nutraceutical therapy?

Success will vary depending on your pet’s unique situation, the nutraceutical being used, and the condition/disease being treated. In some cases, nutraceutical therapy alone can manage disease; in other cases, nutraceuticals may be of limited benefit or may still require other therapies.

How safe are nutraceuticals?

Nutraceuticals are generally considered safe, but it is important to always check with your veterinarian because some can have side effects or interactions with other medications. For some nutraceuticals, safety research is lacking in animals. In these cases, your veterinarian will discuss the risks versus the benefits of use.

Where do I obtain nutraceuticals and do I need a prescription?

Pet owners are cautioned against buying supplements without knowledge of the manufacturer, as supplements are not regulated. Quality may vary greatly from one manufacturer to another. Some poorer quality supplements may not contain the labeled type or amount of ingredients. Although a prescription is not needed for most nutraceutical supplements, your veterinarian may recommend preferred brands or reputable sources of nutraceuticals.

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