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Nutritional Supplement Therapy for Dogs and Cats - Part 1

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I find it so difficult to understand when my pet is in pain.  Sometimes I am in pain but I still manage to look fine and even continue to work and live my active life.  Still, I am constantly aware of my discomfort and this has to be true for my pet as well. 

My own dog has a chronic injury due to an accident, yet except for a limp, I cannot gauge the amount of pain she feels.  Animals by instinct are a lot more self-controlled than humans.  They suffer without complaint because if they were still in the wild any sign of weakness would signal a predator and would be the end of them. Unfortunately, this instinct works against them in the home where we humans often can't perceive their distress and then wait far too long to intervene.

When we finally figure out they are hurting, we wind up at the vet trying to fix the problem medically, often needing prescription drugs and follow-up visits.  If you are like me, you also worry about the long term effects of these medicines just as you worry whenever a medicine is prescribed for you or your other loved ones.  Like many of you, I have had pets injured and arthritic pets.  I know how costly the medicines, surgeries and vet visits can be.  I also knew that the growing field of nutritional supplements for humans was providing safer and highly effective treatments for all kinds of conditions.  If we could do it for ourselves, then why not do it for our pets?

I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't seek the opinions and necessary treatments of our veterinarians.  It is really in the area of prevention that I believe we can make a difference in our pets health.  When appropriate nutritional supplements are taken early we can prevent many age related joint discomforts and common skin problems and even boost our pets immune system to fight off potential illnesses.  If a pet already has some health problems, supplements support their immune systems and help speed up the healing process.  The result is an active, healthy and happy pet and isn't that the goal we seek for everyone we love.

Many people ask me what the differences between drugs and supplements are.  Think of it this way.  Drugs are used to treat the symptoms of a disease to make them go away. Unfortunately, this does not restore the body system to balance and health. The weakness may then show up as a symptom somewhere else, or as another body system failing under stress.  For instance, arthritis may show up in an animal with a weak immune system.  Treating the pain with pain killers is immediate, but only gets rid of the pain for a short period of time. It does nothing to make the joint healthier, and the pain will come back once the treatment stops. Use of steroid pain killers  may cause potentially fatal problems and should be avoided at all times. Even non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) may have serious side effects, including many reported incidences of liver failure, Cushing's syndrome, diabetes, and reduced resistance to infections. They provide temporary pain relief, but do nothing to correct the problem.  Your pet may get other problems through overuse while in a drug-induced pain-free state. 

If you are looking for safe and effective alternatives to traditional pet medicines then I am sure you will be very excited to learn more about the many nutritional supplements. Look for this information in future articles. Usually supplements work in the same way as veterinarian drugs from a pharmacological point of view, but they belong to a totally different class of compounds.  They do not require FDA (Food and Drug Administration, the US regulatory approval agency) approval, but federal regulations strictly prohibit the manufacturer from claiming any health benefits. On the labels and in advertisements you will only find vague statements such as 'supports joints', or 'for optimal health'. Basically, you need to research the supplement yourself and frequently your veterinarian is not familiar with these products.  This is true of our own doctors when it comes to human health supplements.  Luckily, information about pet supplements is readily available on the Internet, in pet magazines and on popular radio and tv shows too.

Remember that the word supplement means just what it implies.  Although they may be very effective in treating certain diseases or conditions, they should be considered supplemental treatment rather than replace medical attention. I want to stress the importance of not skipping a visit to a veterinarian when a disease is suspected.  Veterinarians are rigorously trained in the diagnosis of disease and the practice of medicine and can determine the best approach for an individual patient. For example a broken leg often requires surgical intervention, although nutritional supplements can concurrently be used to increase healing, and decrease pain and inflammation. The addition of a supplement to help heal your injured pet, in this case, will complement the traditional treatment and give you the best of both worlds.

The next time you see your veterinarian for a routine visit, you might want to ask him or her about the common diseases for your particular breed of dog or cat. Then you can be on the look out for symptoms of illnesses they may encounter later in life. This can help you to better diagnose your pet and catch the illness before it becomes severe, and start adding appropriate supplements on a daily basis to your pet's diet.



By Dr Ronald Breteler
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