Should You Give Your Aging Pet Supplements?

Probiotics: We’re just beginning to fully understand the value of the bacteria that share space with our own cells. We’ve long been acquainted with bacteria that cause disease and fought them with antibiotics, our “silver bullet” (now tarnished by the rise of resistant bacteria). But now it’s not just enough to fight “bad” bacteria with the judicious use of antibiotics; we need to encourage the “good” bacteria as well. In fact, we can’t live without our internal bacteria, in large part because they break down our food into nutrients our bodies can use. Probiotics are doses of those “good” bacteria and they’re gaining acceptance in veterinary medicine. Supplementing probiotics (and “prebiotics,” which is food the “good” bacteria eat) can help older pets with digestion, fighting off disease and even the effects of stress. But be sure to use probiotics designed for pets, not humans — ask your veterinarian for a recommendation.

Don’t Waste Your Money

While the clinical and anecdotal evidence have made me bullish on these supplements, I am always looking to get the most bang for the buck when it comes to preventive treatments for my patients. In the case of some problems old pets have — most notably arthritis — the best and first thing you should do is get a comprehensive senior-pet examination, which in more than half of all cases will be followed by a plan to reduce your pet’s weight. As I’ve written before, having your pet at or slightly below ideal body weight can extend the animal’s life and help improve the quality of that life. In other words, throwing supplements at a fat pet isn’t very effective.

That’s why the best money you can spend on your pet is not on supplements but on that comprehensive senior exam, and on whatever diagnostics your veterinarian may recommend to help her get a good picture of your pet’s overall health. When you know what that picture is, you can work with your veterinarian to improve it. That’s where supplements come in. Because yes, these nutraceuticals really can make your pet healthier and more comfortable as he or she ages, but only when they’re part of an overall wellness strategy.

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