What’s Up with Supplements? Challenges and Tips for Choosing a Quality Product

By Hannah Albright, DVM

Owning a pet has evolved from providing simple necessities such as food, water and basic healthcare to becoming overwhelmed walking into a pet store and seeing the plethora of joint supplements, dental chews, treats and other supplements being marketed by companies and corporations. With these marketing techniques, we often find ourselves roped into the belief that in order to be a good pet parent, we need to give them everything available on the market. Giving supplements to dogs and cats is not necessarily wrong. In fact, veterinarians often recommend certain supplements to help with ailments such as arthritis, allergies, and anxiety. However, with every additional supplement that is added to our furry friend’s daily routine comes another cost. This can unfortunately lead to shopping around and trying to find the best price, a seemingly equivalent product with a better value or a different product altogether. The downfall: what you see isn’t always what you get.

Have you ever looked at the bottom of your daily vitamin bottle? We often find a few sentences reading “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnosis, treat, cure or prevent any disease.” The FDA does regulate these products, but not as strictly as a prescription drug and other over-the-counter medications. Although there are recommendations regarding what should be followed, there is minimal follow-up ensuring the statements made on the labels are correct. In 2015, the New York Attorney General performed an investigation into human herbal supplements being sold at four major retailers (GNC, Target, Walmart and Walgreens). They discovered that 79% of the store brand products did not contain any of the active ingredients the labels claimed to have. In fact, some of them showed contamination with ingredients NOT listed on the labels. Unfortunately, this same principle applies to dogs and potentially to a greater degree.

There is still a light at the end of a long and complex tunnel. Because of inconsistencies with animal supplements, the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) was formed. This council allows companies to make a commitment to provide high quality products to our furry friends. In order to display the quality seal on their products, companies go through a biennial audit and undergo random product testing to ensure consistent, high-quality products. Additionally, these companies maintain the following criteria in accordance with the NASC:

  • Have a quality control manual in place that provides written standard operating procedures (SOPs) for production process control, which helps ensure the company is providing a consistent and quality product.
  • Have an adverse event reporting/complaint system in place to monitor and evaluate products in real time.
  • Comply with stringent labeling guidelines for all products and all forms of labeling.
  • Include on product labels any specific warnings and caution statements for particular ingredients that are recommended by the Food & Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (FDA-CVM) and the NASC Scientific Advisory Committee.
  • Submit to random product testing by an independent lab to ensure ingredients meet label claim.

To add to this confusion, there are some larger companies with very reputable products that do not carry the NASC quality seal. This is due to them having their own internal quality control system. One such company is Nutramax, which has been around for over 30 years. There are many Nutramax products that can be found in veterinary clinics including probiotics, joint supplements and fish oils. I myself have my dogs on their fish oil, Welactin, and their probiotic, Proviable Forte. Although this seal is not present, Nutramax products do go through extensive testing to ensure proper levels of ingredients in each batch and to make sure there are no contaminants present.

Examples of nutraceuticals displaying the NASC seal of certification.

It may sound as if your veterinarian is just giving a sales pitch when recommending you purchase a product they carry in their clinic. The truth is, most veterinary clinics do put quite a bit of time and consideration into the products they sell to their clients in order to ensure a high-quality product that has every chance as possible in benefiting your pet. Not only will the company typically guarantee the
product, but we can also guarantee the product is being purchased directly from the supplier, instead of risking counterfeit products. In addition, we are better able to vouch for the effectiveness of products when we see them used in our patients on a regular basis.

The next time you are considering starting a supplement for your pet, please reach out to your veterinarian on recommendations for high quality products that are backed by research and strict testing protocols.

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