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A vitamin supplement is a concentrated source of vitamins that is given in addition to the basic diet.
Vitamins are essential to life and biological processes within the body. With a few exceptions, the body is not able to manufacture vitamins and therefore they need to be supplied by the food. When a food contains inadequate amounts of a certain vitamin the deficiency disease can result. Likewise, long-term ingestion of too much of an individual vitamin can cause illness.
When feeding a balanced diet, most dogs take in adequate amounts of vitamins. Food packaging labelled "A complete and balanced food" has undergone testing by the AAFCO (American Association of Food Control Officers) and certified to contain adequate nutrients for the life stage on the label. These foods do not require supplementation.
The first step is to work out if a vitamin supplement is warranted. To do this, check the food packaging to see if it is AAFCO approved and says "complete and balanced" on the label. If your dog is not pregnant, nursing puppies, ill, or has unusual demands on them (such as a working dog) then a supplement is not needed provided the food is stored properly.
If the dog is fed a home prepared diet or fits in one of the categories above, then a supplement is advisable. Ideally, speak to a veterinary nutritionist about which vitamins or what sort of supplement to give.
Once the type of supplement has been decided, weigh the dog. Then closely follow the dosage instructions on the label. Administer the recommended amount, rather than exceeding it. This will reduce the risk of disease caused by over supplementation.
Take care to store the supplement correctly, since some vitamins are not stable molecules and will degrade when exposed to extremes of heat.
The idea of providing a vitamin supplement is to make up for a deficiency and return the dog to a state of normalcy. When used correctly, supplements are extremely effective.
However, the other side of efficacy is "doing no harm". Indeed, when given to excess, vitamin supplements have the potential to be harmful. For example:
Vitamins are not a treatment in themselves and giving a supplement is more about giving the body everything it needs to function properly.
For animals suffering from deficiency disease, correction of that problem can take a significant amount of time and may never fully recover. For example, dogs suffering from rickets as a result vitamin D deficiency will continue to have distorted bones and poor teeth, because the damage has already been done.
Vitamin supplements are widely available from a variety of outlets such as big box stores, pet stores, vets, and online. The prices vary depending on the manufacturer and the quantity, with an average being around $10 to $20.
When a dog is sick, is pregnant, or fed a poor diet, then a vitamin supplement may be a good idea. It is best to consult with a veterinary nutritionist before starting a supplement, in order to check it is warranted. Giving the wrong type of supplement can cause health problems, especially when given to excess.
Both deficiency disease and over supplementation tend to be develop slowly, so the results may not be immediately obvious. In almost all cases, it is preferable to feed a good quality diet that provides for all the dog's needs, than to give a supplement.
Deficiency disease can be avoided without the need for a vitamin supplement simply by looking for foods that are AAFCO approved. In addition, make sure the food stuff is stored in line with the manufacturer's recommendation. Extremes of temperature can degrade the nutrients inside the bag.
Be aware that once a bag is open, the contents may degrade. With this in mind if you own one small breed dog, it's best to buy smaller packs of food rather than large bags, so that it stays fresher for longer.
When considering feeding a home-prepared diet or raw foods, be sure to give plenty of variety. That way if one food is deficient in a particular micronutrient, another food may make up for this lack. Even so, home-prepared diets are one of the biggest indications for giving a vitamin supplement -as advised by your veterinary nutritionist.
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