A young, healthy dog on a high quality diet probably doesn’t need a daily multivitamin. But there are times when such supplementation is necessary. Here’s what to look for when choosing a product.

Melissa takes a daily multivitamin. Lately, she’s been wondering if her dog should also be taking one. “I try to feed him a good diet, but I still don’t really know if he’s getting everything he needs to stay healthy, or if he might be deficient in one or more nutrients,” she says.

In my veterinary practice, this is a question I commonly hear from clients. The answer is never a one-size-fits-all response, because many factors of a pooch’s particular state of wellness, illness, and life stage must come into play to ensure that additional vitamin supplementation is beneficial and non-harmful.

Vitamins are essential for promoting specific and diverse chemical reactions in our dogs’ bodies. Cellular activity relies on the interactions between vitamins, enzymes and minerals. If this complex relationship is left unfulfilled, then many normal bodily functions, including tissue growth (muscle, bone, skin, hair, etc.), digestion, blood clotting, nerve and spinal conduction of electrical impulses, the immune system’s safeguarding from infectious organisms, and others, will not be properly carried out.

When it comes right down to it, however, not all dogs have to take a multivitamin. The need for a vitamin supplement varies, depending on the vitamin content of the dog’s current diet, his age, environmental factors, and the degree of disease in the body for which management could be enhanced through supplementation.

Whole food vs. synthetic vitamins

Vitamins come from whole foods, are added to commercially available foods, or are even produced by the body (e.g. dogs produce their own vitamin C). According to Judith A. DeCava’s Good Foods/Bad Foods: A Little Book of Common Sense Nutrition, whole food-based vitamins are the most chemically appropriate for absorption, as they contain irregular edges that better bind to receptors inside the body than their synthetic counterparts do. Synthetic vitamins (those created inside a laboratory or manufacturer setting) have smooth borders that less efficiently bind to the body’s receptors than natural vitamins.

Whole food-based vitamins don’t provide the same degree of dose certainty in comparison to synthetics. Yet, an awareness of the exact quantity of a particular vitamin in a supplement seems less important than the ability of the vitamin to better bind inside the body and be efficiently absorbed. This is why I am more a proponent of animals (and humans) getting their vitamins, minerals and other nutritional substances from whole foods (human-grade meat, vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, etc.) instead of low-grade processed foods that contain added vitamins.

When is a multivitamin needed?

Consuming vitamins is necessary for all life stages, yet a multivitamin supplement may not be necessary if the dietary supply is sufficient, and there are no to few disease processes occurring that require nutritional support. A multivitamin may also be inadvisable when a dog is having digestive tract upset (decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea).

  • Growing puppies and highly active adult dogs have a greater need for calories from fat, protein, carbohydrates and vitamins to support normal tissue development and repair, so they may benefit from a multivitamin.
  • Geriatric animals and those affected by disease may also benefit from multivitamin supplementation to help combat the effects of age-related, degenerative, infectious and cancerous ailments. Vitamins having an antioxidant effect, such as A, C and E, can potentially benefit the body by slowing the aging process associated with tissue and cellular oxidation and disease processes.

Shopping for a product

It’s best to ask for a specific recommendation from an integrative or holistic veterinarian so an appropriate multivitamin can be chosen for your dog. This will help you avoid over-supplementation and potentially harmful substances in poor quality products (e.g. xylitol, meat/bone meal, protein/grain by-products, artificial colors and flavors, propylene glycol, etc.). Some supplements can potentially irritate the stomach and intestines or damage other internal organs (liver, kidneys, pancreas, etc.).

Beyond this, when choosing a multivitamin, look for an animal-appropriate product providing a wide breadth of vitamin types. Decide what format will best suit your dog (see sidebar) and consider the difference between water and fat soluble vitamins.

Water soluble vitamins

Water soluble vitamins are minimally retained within the body and are excreted within a short time after their consumption. As a result, water soluble vitamins need to be taken on a daily basis, either from a whole food or supplement source. Examples include many forms of vitamin B, such as B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine) and B12 (cyanocobalamin), along with biotin, vitamin C, and folic acid.

Fat soluble vitamins

Fat soluble vitamins are stored within the body in the adipose (fat) tissue and liver, and therefore don’t have to be consumed on a daily basis. Examples include vitamins A, D, E and K. There is a greater chance that fat soluble vitamins can have a toxic effect as opposed to water soluble vitamins, due to their accumulation in the body. Recommended dosing guidelines for supplementation should always be followed.

I always suggest to my clients that they choose products made in the US or Canada, with ingredients also sourced domestically. Labels that indicate US Food and Drug Administration’s Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) were followed can also increase confidence in the product’s efficacy and safety.

Before giving your dog a multivitamin, get veterinary advice on whether or not he actually needs one. If he’s eating a high quality balanced diet, and is in overall good health, then he may not require one. If his diet isn’t up to scratch, and/or he’s very young, highly active, geriatric or ailing, then a daily multi may give him just the nutritional boost he needs.