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Vicarious Self-Care Through Pet Care

A few famous studies have found that we are consistently better at administering medicine to a sick pet or companion animal, than we are at administering medicine to ourselves. In many cases, the (human) medicine is life-saving, and completely understood to be vitally important, and the medicine for our pet is just your average deworming pill. Why then does this apparent paradox exist? We need to allow ourselves to practice self-care. In this article, we look at how allowing yourself to fully embrace caring for your pet, and not holding back, can bring you a sense of love and compassion: it can be a form of self-care.

Dog shampoos exist, dog beds, dog clothes, and dog supplements too. We allow ourselves to spoil our dogs and cats, while we may not allow ourselves to spoil ourselves. Let’s not brush it aside as silly, let’s dive into the topic. Some may ask, does the supplement that I give my dog really matter? Don’t they all do the same thing? The simple truth to these questions is that yes, it matters, and no, they don’t all do the same thing. Not all supplements are created equal, for humans, and so it is with dog supplements. There are many brands of dog supplements on the market that are cheap and ineffective, and are sometimes even harmful. Even scarier, there is little, by way of regulation, to prevent an unscrupulous person creating an untested product and selling it as an animal supplement. Our dogs are more than just our pets. They’re our companions, friends, and furry children. We want the best for them—whether it’s food, grooming, or doggie daycare. From puppyhood to old age, we want vibrant health and energy for our best friends, and we want them to feel great while living their best life. 

Give yourself permission to treat your pet

We should allow ourselves to send that same good will and compassion towards ourselves. It’s okay to spend money to get the medicine or supplement that we want. You shouldn’t buy cheap medicine for yourself and risk your own health. And like human supplements, dog supplements have become big business, and the market has become flooded with a glut of competing brands that offer everything from skin and coat support, to eye health maintenance. There are a bewildering variety of supplements available for dogs these days. Even certain dog foods tout that they are designed for “Joint Health”. Buyer beware: neither dog food nor dog treats are allowed to make supplement claims, or even include supplement ingredients in their products. However, that has not stopped dog food companies and treat manufacturers from trying to get their slice of the growing pie. It is far too easy to take advantage of a consumer who is searching for the best for their dogs’ health. If you’re intent on taking care of your dog (which we fully support), here are a few points to consider.

  • Identify the product. Is it a supplement, or is it a treat making unapproved claims? There is no such thing as a biscuit or rawhide that is allowed to claim that it offers “joint-support”. The FDA has a term for this – adulterated products. An acceptable supplement has specific dosing instructions and active ingredients measured down to the milligram. You won’t find these in dog food, because too much of a substance can cause severe adverse effects. So, if these active ingredients are even contained in a treat or food, it’s more likely that the product does not contain enough of the active ingredient to be effective.
  • Read the claims on the packaging. Specifically, the words “treat”, “cure” or “prevent”. Those are red flags, and only belong on medications or drugs. 
  • As the age-old advice goes: You get what you pay for. Supplements (especially good supplements) are not cheap. Cheap supplements are a waste of money, and you are better off not buying them altogether. Good products contain a large amount of active ingredients, and good ingredient sourcing is expensive.  Although you will pay more up front, it is far less expensive than treating chronic infections or knee surgeries.  “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” rings true. Good quality supplements contain ingredients that have been scientifically proven to help maintain cartilage, reduce inflammation, control over-active immune responses & histamines, and slow the onset of conditions that all dogs will eventually develop with age, such as osteoarthritis, cataracts, and macular degeneration. 
  • Use as directed. It can be easy to overfeed dogs – especially if the products taste good. But supplements are not a treat, and quality supplements may contain ingredients which can cause adverse effects, if given in excess. If your dog eats too many, you should call the number on the packaging, even if your dog seems ok.
  • Look for the seal of approval. Only purchase a supplement that bears the coveted quality seal of the National Animal Support Council (NASC). This regulatory board is made up of veterinarians and animal professionals dedicated to protecting and enhancing the health of companion animals.

 The National Animal Supplement Council is the only regulatory body that watches over animal supplement products; however, companies in general are not obligated to pass legal requirements to sell supplements. That is why the NASC implemented their quality seal program. Companies that bear the seal are not only NASC members, but they earn permission through a set of strict quality standards and audits to ensure the manufacturing practices will produce products that meet claims made on their label. Without the NASC seal of approval, anyone can claim anything on a package without being held accountable.

No two humans are alike

Similarly, no two dogs are alike. A question remains; how can a supplement that is advertised for “dogs” in a generalized way, meet the needs of all dogs? It can’t. A generic supplement that is labeled “joint health for dogs” can’t possibly meet the needs of every dog. Most supplements that claim to work for all dogs instruct the owners to administer their product based solely on how much the dog weighs. Simplifying the dosing instructions based only on a dog’s weight is irresponsible if not dangerous. Despite similarities within the canine family, each and every breed of dog has a different physiology and a different set of needs. Dog breeds vary widely in size and shape, as well as in their propensity for certain food sensitivities. What may be an appropriate amount of glucosamine per pound for a German Shepherd Dog may not be appropriate for a Yorkshire Terrier. This is where breed-specific dog supplements come in. Breed-specific supplementation allows for the active ingredients to be measured for maximum efficacy for each dog while eliminating the possibility of creating toxicity due to an unnecessary amount. Additionally, it provides the opportunity to omit or substitute ingredients appropriate for each breed.

No spoonful of sugar needed

If you’re supplementing your dog’s diet, you don’t want it to be a stressful ordeal that makes you feel bad. That would defeat the purpose for both dog and owner. Perhaps ask yourself; will your dog take it willingly? Will you need to mix the powder into their wet dog food? Will you need to cover a pill in peanut butter? The more difficult it is to deliver a medication or supplement; the less likely owners will be to use them. As with human medicine. Since supplementation requires consistent dosing, if every mealtime turns into a battle, then it is only a matter of time before owners will give up. The best way to get a dog to take a supplement is in chew form. They think they’re getting a treat; and you know they’re getting nutrients that support their health, so you feel good. It’s a win-win.

Summary of advice

After examining all the facts, there’s only one clear suggestion we can make, when it comes to finding the best supplement to support your dog’s health.

  • An NASC quality approved breed-specific supplement that addresses the specific deficiencies of your dog’s breed. 
  • A supplement that does not contain fillers like wheat, corn, soy, or harmful preservatives, plus no artificial colors & flavors.
  • A product that doesn’t make unsubstantiated claims.
  • A supplement that is easy to administer.

Certain breed-specific dog health supplements check off every one of these requirements.

Self care and your pet

Remember, the goal of this exercise is to practice self-care, and make yourself feel good, while at the same time making your dog (or other pet) feel loved, cared for, and (as an additional benefit), achieve the health benefits of supplementation and improved nutrition. By allowing yourself to take care of the dog and spoil it, you’re allowing yourself to take care of yourself, too. You just need to take the first step.