In the first part of our weekly Ask A Vet series, Pawp interviews Dr. Laura Robinson on Instagram Live about dog supplements, mobility issues, skin conditions, and more. The questions we asked came from the Facebook group Pets Health In Quarantine. If you’d like a vet to answer your questions, join the group and post. This interview has been transcribed and edited for length and clarity.
Supplements are basically a nutraceutical. The word “nutraceutical” is a combination of “nutrition” and “pharmaceutical” so they’re usually different products that contain food products or isolated food products with the intention of providing some sort of health benefit to the pet. So not prescription medication but different things that can help or prevent certain health conditions.
In general, if your dog is on a good diet — supplements won’t hurt — but usually you should be good. There are certain reasons why you should be adding in supplements. There are supplements for behavior and anxiety, supplements for hips & joints, skin conditions, dental chews, digestive support — that kind of thing. If you know your dog or cat’s breed is more prone to certain issues, supplements can help. Like large-breed dogs, we know they’re more prone to hip issues like dysplasia or that sort of thing. Or if you have an allergic breed, it’s always a good idea to get them started on some extra things to help with anything they’re prone to getting.
It depends a little on why dogs have these health issues. If they’re genetically messed up in terms of, for example, orthopedic issues, they probably won’t prevent them, but they can help prevent further damage. They can sometimes prevent things like skin issues and things like that if you get on the right things. You just have to be a little bit careful as they’re not as covered by the FDA as regular drugs, so they don’t go through the same testings and regulations. You just have to do a lot of research on your own to make sure that what you’re doing is good and it’s providing good benefits and it’s backed by a company that has veterinary oversight.
It’s good to avoid certain known toxins to dogs and cats like xylitol or garlic. If there’s added vitamin D or iron or things that can be toxic in too high of doses, too high calcium levels. Onion and things like that. Certain mineral and nutrients you can overdose on if you take too much. Those are the first things that come to mind, obviously there’s a longer list, but these are the important ones. I would say xylitol is a pretty big one.
I would say if you notice with your dog or cat that they’re starting to have the same issue over and over again. For example, if they’re having allergies or skin issues over and over and if you feel like you’re at the vet all the time for your dog being itchy and nothing seems to help or it will resolve for a couple of weeks then come back. You know, that’s always a good time to start thinking about adding a supplement in. If you have a dog that’s diagnosed with something like hip dysplasia early on in life, it’d be a good idea to get them on a joint supplement as soon as possible. If you have a middle-aged dog, it’s the first sign of limping or difficulty getting up. The first signs of basically any issue, that’s always a good time to add in supplements to their diet.
They’re not as beneficial way down the road, like when your dog can barely move because he’s in too much pain from arthritis… then it’s probably a little too late, obviously there are still benefit, but you’re definitely going to get the most at the first signs of any condition.
You have to look at the ingredient list. If you’re giving too many things, with all those micronutrients in each one, and you add them up and you’re giving four or five at a time, you could have too high of levels. My dog, for instance, is on a joint supplement right now. She’s 11 and I don’t have her on anything else, but I would feel totally comfortable adding in a skin support chew or if they had digestion problems and are prone to a lot of GI issues. I think three to five is fine; you don’t want to go overboard with adding 10 different things in your dog’s food each day. I think that’s where it gets a little dicey, but overall I think you’re good with a couple for sure.
Unfortunately, when you’re getting down the road and your dog is limping a lot, this is when you get into the realm of needing stronger medication, like prescription anti-inflammatories and different things like that to help with arthritis. It’s a little limited. If he seems like he’s in a lot of pain, I know it’s a difficult time, but I would try to go see a vet. A lot of vets right now are being nice and reasonable. If you’ve seen your vet in the last year or have had recent bloodwork, they might feel comfortable prescribing something for you without being seen. I would talk to them and see if there’s anything they can do.
Adding in joint supplements, like the one on the Pawp website, are great. They won’t hurt and definitely are worth trying. There aren’t any over the counter pain relievers like humans would take. Don’t give your dog or cat ibuprofen, aspirin, Tylenol. All those things can be toxic to dogs and cats. So be very careful with administering medication on your own.
If he is limping a lot and you don’t want to go to the vet, I would say limiting the walks as much as possible. No more than 10 minutes a day. Just let them rest and take it easy for now until things get a little more back to normal.
The causes for joint issues are many and varied. They can have a genetic predisposition to developing them, like German shepherds. They can have a traumatic injury; dogs can tear their ACL. They can have a luxating kneecap where their kneecap kind of pops out of place, which is very common in small breed dogs. And if they’re not dealt with at that time, the joint is not as healthy as it should be. And over time, they can develop arthritis.
If they’re overweight, that makes them very predisposed to the issues that I’ve mentioned. So keeping weight off your dog is a huge thing in terms of orthopedic injury prevention. It’s just kind of repetitive loading of the joints that they shouldn’t have. Those are the main things. Some things are preventable, but if you have a dog with a genetic issue, especially if you’re rescuing, but even in you’re getting a purebred dog, it’s very important to determine if their parents are OFA-certified (which basically means that they’re healthy and passing on good genes). Some things are preventable, some are not.
I would say it’s serious when your dog’s gait seems different. If they’re starting to get a little bit slower, getting up or lying down, or going upstairs, downstairs, jumping, that type of thing. Fortunately, with most orthopedic issues — unless it’s something like a bone tumor — I wouldn’t say they were dangerous necessarily, like some internal diseases are. They’re not necessarily dangerous, but it can be extremely painful for them. Dogs and cats have a very high pain tolerance. If they’re out living somewhere else and they get attacked and potentially die if they’re not able to get around. They have a drive to stay alive that will sometimes cover the pain so by the time we’re seeing obvious pain from them, it means their disease is pretty advanced. I would say the first sign of any lameness, limping, or slowing down, you want to keep them comfortable. Get them on medication at that time.
The term “arthritis” is a catch-all term for any disease that causes inflammation and stiffness of the joints. People can get rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis. Most of the time, in the veterinary community, people shorten the term and use “arthritis,” but we’re generally referring to osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is basically just a loss of cartilage in the joints, which causes inflammation and makes movement painful. It’s a progressive degenerative disease of the joints and it actually affects about 20% of dogs of all ages, so it’s pretty prevalent.
Older dogs are definitely the main ones we see this with. Although this is more common in older dogs, in cases where there is a genetic predisposition for it, it can start really young. Or if they tear their ACL really young, then they’re going to develop arthritis much earlier. The main breeds we see it in are German shepherds, labs, golden retrievers, Rottweilers, all of your large breeds dogs. Usually older animals.
The main thing that I see is dogs getting itchy. So they’ll start scratching themselves or licking themselves over and over in certain places. For allergies, usually they’re going to start licking their paws. Sometimes you’ll notice their paws turning brown and that’s actually their saliva staining their paws. So that’s a sign your dog is licking too much. But they can really lick or scratch anywhere. You know flaky skin, red skin, ear infections, skin infections, scabbing and redness other places. Those are all potential signs of an underlying issues.
Sometimes they can be related to an unhealthy diet, like having micronutrient deficiencies, like zinc or different oils. It can be diet-related, it can also be genetic or related to allergies. Sometimes breed. If they have an underlying endocrine issue, like something wrong with their thyroid or adrenal glands, this can also make them more prone to skin infections. It’s sometimes breed related, you think of dogs with longer ears like cocker spaniels or cavaliers, those breeds also happen to have more naturally greasy skin. So with those long ears, they’re constantly getting moisture trapped in there and not getting as much circulation. So it can be a breed issue.
It’s time to see a vet if you’re noticing anything but the occasional licking or itching. Especially if you’re looking at their skin and noticing that they have redness or scabs or puss or peeling or pimple looking lesions or weird looking little moles or bleeding skin tumors, it’s definitely time to see your vet. Also if you have the skin issues and you’re noticing behavioral changes, like your dog is starting to drink or pant more. Or their coat is thinning. Or they’re having accidents in the house.
All these things can point to an underlying endocrine issue. In those cases, it’s the time to do bloodwork to make sure there’s nothing more serious going on than allergies. Imagine if you have itchy skin all the time and you’re scratching yourself so bad that your skin is getting raw, I would say that even though it’s not life-threatening, it can be very painful. Something like an ear infection… if you’re lifting up your dog’s ear and there’s any type of smell, redness, discharge, or inflammation… those can be very painful and definitely would be a good time to visit your vet.
English bulldogs, French bulldogs, cocker spaniels, types of terriers, pit bulls, sharpeis, labs, cavaliers, different spaniels — those are your different poster children for skin issues.
I’ve seen really good results for dogs who get on supplements for skin. Pawp has a really good skin & coat supplement. It has fish oil, salmon oil, Omegas 3, 6, and 9, all different inflammatory agents that can help. When I did rotation during vet school with a dermatologist and they recommended fish oil for nearly every single one of their allergic dogs. That’s a big one, it helps protect the skin barrier. A lot of these supplements have a little bit of turmeric in them, that’s a good inflammatory agent. They’ll have zinc, vitamin E, and different things to help the skin barrier.
Weekly baths are really good one too. For allergies in particular, look for an oatmeal/aloe shampoo. I recommend staying away from warm water, even though it seems sad as they’re going to get cold, but if you can use lukewarm water, an aloe/oatmeal shampoo, and let it sit on them for 10-15 minutes before washing it off, that has a lot of benefits too.
In general, if your dog is not predisposed to any coat issues, you can bathe them once a month. If your dog has skin issues, you have to be careful with your shampoo choices. If it’s a medicated shampoo that has antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial stuff in it, that can really dry out their skin. If you’re doing that more than once a week, you may start to notice more issues, which is why I mentioned the aloe/oatmeal shampoo. You’re safe to use that one to two times a week.
But again, if you have a healthy dog: skin produces different oils on its own. They have all these natural things in their body to protect against skin issues. So if you’re bathing a healthy dog too often, different healthy oils may be stripped from the skin. If your dog is more prone to skin issues, once a week is fine; if you can get away with once every other week, it’s probably a little better. But if your dog is healthy, once a month is good.
Cats are much better than dogs with cleaning themselves. Usually if we have a cat that comes in with some matting in their fur and are unclean, there’s probably something going on. Usually they have arthritis and can’t turn around and clean themselves or they can be overweight. I usually say with cats, if they’re having a lot of skin issues, you might want to look into why they’re happening.
Most cats never need baths as they’re very good at keeping themselves clean. So if your cat does have issues, you can bathe them. I would say not to do your cat more than once a month as they can get extremely stressed out. With baths, most of them hate it. Sometimes, if they have underlying issues you may not know about, certain conditions can make a cat flip a switch and have medical issues, so you want to be careful. If your cat likes water, then great, you can do it every few weeks. But, in general, they’re really good at keeping themselves clean so not as often as dogs.