We get a lot of questions about which supplements are best for your dog or cat’s raw food diet. Which natural pet supplements are necessary for a balanced meal? How do you choose quality, whole food meal toppers? This week, we’re looking at our four favourite essential raw food supplements for cats and dogs and their benefits as the perfect addition for a truly balanced raw food diet.
Just because it’s a cliche doesn’t mean it isn’t true: everyone is different, and we all eat differently! A healthy and active 25 year old has different nutritional needs than, say, a toddler or a senior. The same is true for our pets: there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to nutrition. Even the most well-rounded meals can use a little extra pizzaz to make them perfectly suited to your perfectly unique pet—so let’s dig in!
Our Supplement Philosophy
We like to keep it simple: just like we think the foundation of a healthy diet for pets should include as many whole foods as possible, we believe the best supplements come from whole foods. Think about it: would you rather eat a powdery, artificially-flavoured vitamin C tablet or a fresh orange? We’re not just being food snobs—we’ve got the science to back it up. A 2013 study found that while you can get the same amount of synthetically derived Vitamin C as from the whole food, you’d be better off ingesting the natural source. It’s not just for the incomparable flavour (but we think that should count too), but because you’re getting an assortment of macro, micronutrients, and phytochemicals from the whole orange, all of which will have additional health benefits of their own!
Some pets, especially those with underlying diseases, can be sensitive to adding anything new to their diet. As a general rule, we suggest starting with one supplement at a time and giving ¼ to ½ of the recommended amount. Increasing the dose slowly over a few days gives their gut time to adapt to the changes.
That said, once your pet has been on a regular schedule of supplements, it never hurts to mix it up, though slowly and with careful observation. Giving your pet a variety of supplements and rotating through them broadens the nutritional profiles, especially when you’re already providing a diverse diet. For example, not all probiotics are created equal; many of them feed different bacteria, so don’t limit yourself to one type—maximize the variety your pet gets by switching up the sources every few months!
4 Essential Dog & Cat Supplements To Add To Your Raw Meals
There are hundreds of different supplements—without even going into specific brands—but we can’t imagine you’d want to read through a list like that. Below, we go through what we believe are the essential supplements to a balanced raw diet.
1. Essential Fatty Acids
A smarter pet with a healthy brain. A strong heart. A resistance to arthritis. We’re not talking about the future of super-pets here: it’s some of the amazing benefits of high-quality omega fatty acids! We recommend Omega-3s to every pet (young and growing pets in particular) because they have an insane amount of benefits: they support the heart, brain, kidney, and liver functions and decrease—or potentially prevent—gut, skin, and joint inflammation!
These essential fatty acids (EFA’s, if we’re being casual) are best added fresh, as they tend to degrade quickly with exposure to air or freezing temperatures. Adding it to your pet’s diet—even if their meal already indicates it’s included—can boost potential health benefits when added in amounts appropriate to your pet’s weight.
The next best thing is to include a rotation of different omega-rich oils, which bumps up the amount of received omega-3s. That said, we have to admit: while some of these oils appear naturally in whole foods, it can be easier (and less messy) to serve as an oil, not necessarily from a whole food item (gasp! We know, after all that talk of whole food items—but there are exceptions to every rule, and this is one of them).
Omega-Rich Supplements for Dogs and Cats:
Raw or Canned Fish: herring, salmon, or mackerel and sardines (**canned in water with no added salt**).
Omega Rich Oils: Mackerel, sardine, flax, chia and hemp
How-To Find the BEST Omega Fatty Acid Supplements:
Use oils in glass amber bottles (the coloured glass means the product doesn’t degrade as quickly from exposure to UV light).
Source from a reputable company that does quality and purity testing, manufacturing via cold-pressed methods without the use of chemicals for extraction. Look for a purity claim, or 3rd party quality verification
Purchase small amounts and refrigerate once opened; use them often in order to finish the product quickly (within approximately 1–2 months).
Choose oils with natural preservatives and antioxidants such as lignan, vitamin E (tocopherols), rosemary extract, or citrus extract.
2. Trace Vitamins, Minerals, and Antioxidants
They’re small but mighty: micronutrients are an all-encompassing term for trace minerals and vitamins, and they come from feeding a variety of raw foods. “Trace”, meaning our pets (and ourselves, for that matter) only need a small amount of them—but those small amounts are integral for a healthy system!
On the other hand, some of the best sources of antioxidants come from phytonutrients; for our pets, that usually comes in the form of ground vegetables. An adequate amount of trace minerals from micronutrients and antioxidants from phytonutrients can help prevent inflammation and increase immune function. In the long term, they can potentially even prevent cancer and auto-immune diseases!
And yet, due to modern day farming practices, much of the naturally occurring trace minerals and antioxidants from whole foods are appearing in less than ideal amounts. This means that a small amount of a smartly-sourced concentrated supplemental product can go a long way for promotion of optimal health! By choosing a rotation of whole food supplements and concentrated supplement products that feature these trace minerals and antioxidants, you’ll help broaden the micronutrient profile of your pet’s diet. As a bonus, it’ll keep them interested in their food—they’ll always be wondering what will be for dinner that night!
Micronutrient & Antioxidant Supplements for Dogs & Cats:
Organic, free-range egg yolks
Whole canned sardines (**canned in water with no added salt**)
3. Calcium & Phosphorus
We’ve gone over micronutrients, but let’s swing to the opposite end of the spectrum: micronutrients, so called because they’re needed in larger amounts in the body than other nutrients. While they are included in commercial raw diets, they may not appear in quantities sufficient for growth, so careful supplementation is generally required.
The main micronutrients we focus on supplementing are calcium and phosphorus; they’re essential for bone and joint health, especially in larger breeds and younger animals—it’s when they need it most! The amount of calcium and phosphorus you supplement your pet with will change throughout the course of their lifetime—particularly with dogs—so stay curious and engaged with how much you supplement your growing pet.
Both of these micronutrients appear in high quantities and in perfect balance in bones; eggshells are also an excellent source of calcium, but low in phosphorus. Therefore, be cautious if you choose eggshell powder to supplement your young pet’s diet, as you’ll likely have to do some investigating into how much phosphorus is already in your chosen diet to balance it out properly with calcium. Raw diets do not tend to have a problem meeting the phosphorus requirements, but getting the right amount of calcium can sometimes be a struggle, particularly for growing pets. The current recommendations for adult dogs is 1:1 to 2:1 ratio calcium to phosphorus for adult pets.
An important note: calcium and phosphorus are essential components of a balanced diet, but this isn’t a free-pour kind of situation. It’s important your growing pet (especially in large breeds!) doesn’t receive too much calcium or an incorrect balance of calcium and phosphorus. Mixing up or freestyling these portions can be significantly detrimental and cause growth deformities in your young pet. Always consult with your vet or a veterinary nutritionist before adding calcium supplements to any diet.
Want to dive deep into the world of bones? Visit our article Bones 101: Bone Feeding Basics to get the low-down on bones for your pet!
Calcium & Phosphorus Supplements for Dogs & Cats:
3P Naturals Steamed Lamb Bone Meal (we recommend 1–1.5 tsp per 200g of meat).
Irrawsistible Eggshell Powder (best used for adult animals only due to the low phosphorus levels)
DIY: The best part of whole food options is you can usually make them yourself! Make your own eggshell powder at home by rinsing and drying your used eggshells thoroughly (we’re talking a few weeks to dry) and grinding them in a coffee grinder. (You can also bake them at 300° F for 5–7 minutes to dry them faster, because who likes waiting?). One large eggshell finely ground will make approximately 1 teaspoon of eggshell powder (about 2000mg of calcium). Add 1 tsp of eggshell powder per 200g of meat. Need to fine-tune that amount to your pet’s specific needs? An easy amount to remember is that ⅛ of a teaspoon will provide approximately 250mg of calcium.
Finding the Best Calcium Supplements:
When choosing a bone meal supplement, be sure that it is:
Food grade (not the kind from the garden store!)
Made in a USDA or HACCP-approved facility, has been tested for heavy metals, and is safe for your pet.
Doesn’t have anything else added, like vitamin D.
You’ve heard of cat culture and dog culture, but have you heard of gut culture? There have been so many studies done in recent years about the different strains of flora living in the gut—almost as many studies as there are different strains! These bacteria play unique roles in digestive health, immunity, and metabolism, but they need to be maintained in order to host a healthy diversity of strains. This is easier than it sounds: it all comes down to probiotics!
Probiotics are a BIG topic, but we’ll give it to you straight: probiotics are an essential part of a healthy diet. Just like we recommend rotating your pet’s meals, gut bacteria also likes to be fed from multiple sources. Since each probiotic supports a specific set of bacteria strains, mixing it up means your pet has a broader diversity of gut flora—and the benefits are immeasurable!
These bacteria cultures can be disturbed by several things: a poor diet, exposure to toxins, emotional stress, antibiotics, and other drug therapies are all potential triggers. Whatever the precipitating factors may be, they can result in major health issues; some common issues that may be related to an imbalance in gut bacteria include:
Irritable bowel disease (aka IBD or IBS)
Diseases involving the heart and the brain, like dementia
Decrease in immune system functions, raising their susceptibility to infections and diseases
Weight loss or obesity
If your pet suffers from any of these illnesses, consult your veterinarian for advice and a treatment plan, but don’t discount working on creating a healthy microbiome as part of this treatment—you might be surprised by the results!
Probiotic Supplements for Dogs and Cats:
We weren’t joking when we said probiotics can be a huge subject. If you want to delve more into the nitty-gritty of gut health, click here for a fantastic TED talk by microbiologist Jonathan Eisen on the potential health benefits of balancing the microbiome! Looking for an animal perspective? Check out AnimalBiome for some excellent information on your pets’ particular microbiome.
Investing in Long-Term Health for Your Pet
Working out a supplement regiment for your pet is an investment in their health, happiness, and longevity. If your pet is already healthy, the results may be subtle. Conversely, if your pet struggles with chronic diseases, adding supplements to their diet can have a dramatic effect on their overall wellbeing. If you’re still sitting on the fence about which supplements or how much to give, or you have specific concerns about the health of your pet, don’t hesitate to visit your vet to discuss how supplements can benefit them going forward.