Dog vitamins and supplements: a vet's take

January 18, 2024 - 5 min read
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian with any questions you may have regarding your pet’s care, treatment, or medical conditions.
Guide to vitamin and supplements for dogs

Do you give your dog vitamins or supplements?

If so, you’ve got company. Estimates show that around 30% of pet parents give their dogs at least one dietary supplement to help with conditions ranging from itchy skin to diarrhea to joint pain.

But are vitamins and supplements necessary? And even more importantly, do they sometimes do more harm than good?

Let’s take a look at which dog vitamins and supplements are safe and effective, and how to make sure your pup gets what they need.

Dog looking up

Dog vitamins, minerals, and supplements 101

First, some definitions so that we’re all on the same page...

Dietary supplements are the broadest category we’ll address. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), dietary supplements are “products taken by mouth that contain a ‘dietary ingredient.’ Dietary ingredients include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs, or botanicals, as well as other substances that can be used to supplement the diet.” Omega-3 fatty acids and glucosamine are examples of dietary supplements that are not vitamins or minerals.

On the other hand, vitamins are a distinct type of nutrient. They are organic compounds, meaning they contain the element carbon, but unlike protein, fat, and carbohydrates, which also contain carbon, vitamins aren’t a source of energy for dogs. Different vitamins play specific roles in the body, but as a group, they are essential for growth, metabolism, and fighting off disease. Like vitamins, minerals are necessary for a dog’s body to function normally, but they are inorganic nutrients (i.e., they don’t contain carbon).

Vitamins and minerals can be dietary supplements, like the multivitamin you may have taken this morning, but they're also found naturally in food. By combining high-quality ingredients with any necessary supplements, good commercial dog foods should contain all the vitamins and minerals most healthy dogs need to thrive.

By combining high-quality ingredients with any necessary supplements, good commercial dog foods should contain all the vitamins and minerals most healthy dogs need to thrive.

Do dogs need vitamins or supplements?

Which dogs need extra vitamins? Any dog that eats primarily homemade dog food must take vitamin and mineral supplements.

These should be included as part of the recipes for the foods you prepare, but if not, ask your vet to recommend an appropriate product. If your dog will only eat the canine equivalent of junk food, supplementation might also be beneficial.

Some health problems are managed, at least in part, by giving dogs extra vitamins or minerals. For example:

  • B-vitamin supplements are often given to patients with gastrointestinal diseases

  • Vitamin A and zinc are used to treat certain skin conditions

  • Iron may be prescribed for some types of anemia

  • Vitamin E and selenium can reduce inflammation

  • Vitamin K is used to treat dogs after they’ve eaten certain rodenticides

  • Vitamin D, in the form of calcitriol, may be given to dogs suffering from chronic kidney disease

  • Choline may help dogs with seizures or canine cognitive dysfunction

On the flip side, if your dog is healthy and eats nutritionally complete and balanced, high-quality commercial dog food, adding a vitamin and mineral supplement could do more harm than good.

Sometimes getting too much of something can be just as bad as getting too little. Talk to your veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist before giving your dog a vitamin or mineral supplement.

Which vitamins and minerals do dogs need?

While supplements aren’t always necessary, vitamins and minerals themselves are!

Deficiencies can cause a variety of health problems, depending on which nutrients are involved. The first symptoms that develop are often non-specific and can include weight loss, a poor-quality coat, and low energy levels.

Here’s a list of vitamins and minerals that are an important part of a healthy diet and a few of their roles in the body.

Vitamins dogs need

  • Vitamin A for skin and eye health

  • Vitamin D to keep bones and teeth strong

  • Vitamin E as an antioxidant

  • Vitamin K for normal blood clotting

  • B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine, pantothenic acid, and cobalamin) to catalyze chemical reactions needed for dogs to harness energy from food

  • Other B vitamins, like folic acid and biotin, help with cell growth and cell maintenance

  • Choline, often classified as a B vitamin, is important for fat transport, the transmission of neurologic signals, and as a part of cell membranes

  • Vitamin C is used as an antioxidant and for immune system support. Dogs can make all the vitamin C they need in their liver, but extra may be added to some foods.

Minerals dogs need

  • Calcium and phosphorus for bone growth and maintenance

  • Magnesium for a healthy metabolism

  • Sodium and chloride as electrolytes

  • Iron to carry oxygen

  • Zinc for healthy skin and immune function

  • Copper for normal coloration and red blood cell formation

  • Selenium as an antioxidant

  • Iodine as a part of thyroid hormones

  • Chromium for energy production

Natural ways to include more vitamins in your dog’s diet

If your veterinarian has diagnosed your dog with a vitamin or mineral deficiency or a health problem that responds to supplementation, by all means, give your dog what the doctor ordered!

However, if you have concerns about your dog’s vitamin or mineral intake, it’s safer to make sure your dog is eating high-quality dog food.

You can also give healthy people food from your kitchen as treats. Lots of fruits and vegetables—like carrots, cooked sweet potatoes, green beans, and apples—are safe for dogs and rich in vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients.

Dog with banana

Pet food safety

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Dog with banana

Best supplements for dogs and puppies (when needed)

Most dogs don’t benefit when extra vitamins and minerals are added to an already healthy diet, but the situation can be different for other types of supplements.

Some of the most useful dietary supplements for dogs include:

  • Glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), avocado and soybean unsaponifiables (ASU), and hyaluronic acid for inflamed and painful joints

  • Omega-3 fatty acids improve the skin and coat and reduce inflammation

  • Common probiotics for digestive health

  • Specialized probiotics to relieve stress

  • Herbal remedies for liver support

  • Antioxidants for canine senior citizens or dogs in poor health

While supplements like these are available over-the-counter, it’s still best to speak with your veterinarian before giving them to your dog. They are generally quite safe but can have a negative effect when used in the wrong situations or at the wrong doses.

While supplements like these are available over-the-counter, it’s still best to speak with your veterinarian before giving them to your dog.

Joint supplements for dogs: do they work?

Approximately 30% of pet parents give their dogs joint supplements to help with such problems as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and arthritis or simply to optimize joint health.

Joint supplements often contain several active ingredients (glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, MSM, ASU, and hyaluronic acid, for example) that can protect and heal cartilage, improve the amount and quality of joint fluid, and reduce inflammation and pain. Veterinarians also often recommend that dogs with arthritis or other joint problems take omega-3 fatty acids or vitamin E because they can further reduce inflammation.

But keep in mind that supplements, including joint supplements, usually work best in combination with other forms of treatment. For arthritis, this might include other dietary supplements, weight management, anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving medications, acupuncture, therapeutic laser treatments, massage, physical rehabilitation, stem cell therapy, platelet-rich plasma injections, and surgery. Your veterinarian can recommend just the right combination of treatments based on your dog’s unique situation.

How to choose dog vitamins and supplements

Under the right circumstances, dog vitamins and supplements can play important roles in your dog’s health care. Use them carefully, though.

Dogs should get just what they need, no more and no less. For example, dogs who have been diagnosed with zinc-responsive dermatosis should be on a zinc supplement, not a multivitamin that contains zinc as well as a laundry list of other vitamins and minerals.

Don't give your dog human supplements (unless your vet recommends it)

And again, never give your dog vitamins or other supplements designed for people without first talking to your vet. This can't be stressed enough: human nutrient requirements are different from canine nutrient requirements.

If your vet has recommended a specific vitamin, supplement, or diet, don’t make a change without first running it by the doctor.

Never give your dog vitamins or other supplements designed for people without first talking to your vet. Human nutrient requirements are different from canine nutrient requirements.

You might think that your work is over once you and your veterinarian have come up with a detailed plan to help your dog, but that’s not the case.

The quality of supplements varies tremendously. Some have been shown to provide much less of their active ingredients than their label claims. Others contain potentially dangerous contaminants.

Your veterinarian can recommend trusted supplements from reputable manufacturers. Also, look for products that are labeled with the National Animal Supplements Council's (NASC) Quality Seal. The NASC is a nonprofit industry group that sets standards for pet products.

Dog looking sideways

How a Wellness Plan can help

Now, are you ready for some good news?

You can get help paying for the vitamins and other supplements your pet needs to stay healthy.

Dog insurance often covers products that your veterinarian prescribes if your dog is sick or injured. In addition, some pet insurance companies offer Wellness plans that will help reimburse you for vitamins and supplements that fall under the category of preventative care.

Dog being cleaned

ManyPets Wellness Plan for Dogs

Save on preventative care for your pup

The non-insurance ManyPets Wellness Plan can help reimburse you for the cost of routine and preventative care, including routine vet visits and certain over-the-counter products.

Dog being cleaned

So don’t delay! Talk to your veterinarian if you think your dog could benefit from supplements of any kind.

Jennifer Coates, DVM
Veterinarian, Veterinary Writer, Editor, and Consultant

Dr. Jennifer Coates is a writer, editor, and consultant with experience in veterinary medicine, science, animal welfare, conservation, and communications. She has written for outlets including petMD, Chewy, and ManyPets.