Supplements for Puppies and Kittens

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

What is a supplement?

A supplement is a concentrated ingredient that is added to a diet for either a nutritional or a therapeutic effect. Examples of supplements include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs, botanicals, and enzymes. There is a great deal of confusion that surrounds the terminology of food additives, and sometimes terms are used interchangeably. For clarity, the following terminology will be used in this handout series.

Dietary supplements or dietary nutrients are substances that are added to a food, usually to make it nutritionally complete and balanced. Therapeutic supplements, also called nutraceuticals or animal health supplements, are foods or food nutrients that are taken orally to provide a health benefit, either for the prevention or the treatment of disease. To have this therapeutic effect, a supplement is usually taken in a larger dose than the daily requirement of that same ingredient when used as a nutrient.

What special nutritional requirements do puppies and kittens have?

Puppies and kittens grow and develop rapidly. They have higher caloric requirements than adults, and require increased levels of fats and proteins in their diet in order to grow and develop both structurally and physiologically.

"Optimal nutrition is critical in the development of a healthy immune system."

Optimal nutrition is critical in the development of a healthy immune system. Puppies and kittens require more calcium and phosphorus than adults, and these minerals need to be supplied in the correct ratio. Both over- and under-supplementation can be harmful.

They are subject to a lot of stressors, both physical and mental, including weaning, separation from their littermates and mother, and introduction into new environments. These stressors may also increase nutritional needs.

Should I give my puppy or kitten additional calcium or mineral supplements?

There is a growing body of research documenting the adverse effects of calcium excess in dogs, especially in large and giant breeds. There is little information available about the effects of calcium excess in kittens. Excess calcium intake may lead to a magnesium deficiency and also may be associated with the development of orthopedic problems, such as osteochondrosis and hypertrophic osteodystrophy in susceptible breeds.

"Excess calcium intake may impair the availability of magnesium."

Calcium deficiency is a common problem in kittens and puppies fed an all meat or a home-prepared diet without appropriate supplementation. Calcium deficiency can lead to osteomalacia (rubber jaw syndrome) or other metabolic bone diseases.

Although calcium absorption is dependent on both calcium requirements and dietary intake, puppies have an impaired ability to regulate their calcium absorption. As a generalization, the ability to regulate calcium absorption does not develop until the puppy reaches at least ten months of age. This means that puppies are more sensitive to slight imbalances in calcium and other vitamins when compared to adults. Smaller breeds of dogs appear to be less sensitive to slight imbalances in calcium levels than large and giant breeds of dogs.

"...risks associated with both calcium excess and calcium deficiency..."

Because of the risks associated with both calcium excess and calcium deficiency, supplementation should only be given under the guidance of a trained veterinarian. In general, feeding a commercial puppy food should not require additional calcium supplementation. Your veterinarian can evaluate if there is a need for supplementation and can provide advice about amounts and optimal sources, including recommended brands.

Are there supplements that may provide health benefits to my puppy or kitten?

The stresses associated with growth and development may lead to increased requirements for vitamins, especially B vitamins. Digestive enzymes and probiotics may enhance the availability and absorption of essential nutrients. There is also some evidence that probiotics support the immune system and may have other positive effects such as reducing anxiety.

How do I know if a supplement is safe for my puppy or kitten?

The best source of information about the safety of supplements in pet animals is a veterinarian trained in, and receptive to, their use. In some cases, conventionally-trained practitioners may not be aware of some of the safety issues surrounding specific products or their use in various conditions.

The quality of supplements can vary depending on the source and the manufacturer. Reputable manufacturers will provide detailed information about the product on the label or in a package insert. Veterinarians are often a good source of information about quality issues for individual products.

How do I know whether a supplement is effective?

Very few supplements have been subjected to scientific trials to determine their efficacy. Indeed, much of the information about the use of supplements comes from anecdotal or testimonial evidence (someone tells you about their personal experience or about another patient who showed some benefit while taking the product).

A great deal of information has also been obtained from the use of supplements in human medicine or from laboratory research. Some of this information can be found by referring to the website Although this information may be of help, it may be incomplete and may not represent what effects the supplement could have on your pet.

With respect to young growing pets, enhanced appearance, especially of the skin and coat, normal development of bones and teeth, and growth rates consistent with the pet's breed and age suggest the effectiveness of a balanced and nutritious diet.

" is advisable to have regular assessments of the pet's progress by a trained veterinary professional in order to detect problems or concerns in a timely manner."

Since puppies and kittens mature at a rapid rate, it is advisable to have regular assessments of the pet's progress by a trained veterinary professional in order to detect problems or concerns in a timely manner.

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