Herbs, Supplements and Nutriceuticals - Dogs


Fish oils

Question: Dr. Richards,

My two Poms scratch themselves especially after waking up, but am unsure if due to fleas or some kind of food allergy, probably the latter since we can find no fleas. It was suggested that they be given omega 3 fatty acid via fish oil found in health food stores. Is there any credibility in giving them fish oil in order to cut down or eliminate scratching/itching? The skin appears to be on the dry side.

Tony A.

Answer: Tony-

Fish oils are recommended by many veterinary dermatologists, based on their impression that they are helpful when used at high dosage levels. A recent review of the literature supporting or refuting this opinion was done by the American College of Veterinary Dermatologists and the review group concluded that there was not enough evidence for or against the omega n3 oils to draw a firm conclusion about their usefulness. They are not likely to cause harm (other than bad breath) but are pretty expensive. It would be easier to justify the cost if we could be sure the fish oils were beneficial.

I used 3V Capsules (tm), which contain fish oil, in treating my rottweiler for itchiness and immune mediated thrombocytopenia this spring and I thought it might have helped but really can't be sure since we were doing a lot of other things at the same time.

Mike Richards, DVM 10/29/2001

Iron supplements and Beta carotene

Question: Dr. Richards,

Would giving iron supplements as a preventative be practical in staving off the onset of anemia? Or would there be harm involved in the form of an overdose? And how does one determine the dosage for something like this?

And, is beta carotene the same thing as vitamin A?

Tony A.

Answer: Tony-

Beta-carotene is a precursor of Vitamin A which is found in plant pigments that are in the yellow to red spectrum. There are other carotenes, but one beta-carotene molecule becomes 2 molecules of Vitamin A when cleaved by carotenase while the alpha and gamma carotenes can only be transformed into molecule of Vitamin A. Having adequate amounts of carotenes should ensure that there will be adequate quantities of Vitamin A.

Having iron in excess of the amount needed right at the time does not help in preventing future anemia. Chronic excesses in iron administration have been linked to lots of problems in many species, so I think it is best not to supplement iron without a demonstrated need to do so.

Mike Richards, DVM 8/30/2001

Flax Seed oil or something other for dry coat

Question: Dr. Richards,

How many mg. of Flax Seed Oil (capsules), per day, would you advise as a supplement for a 125 pound dog, with a dry coat? Also, do you believe Sunflower Oil is better than Flax, or not necessarily? Are there any unpleasant side effects of giving either?


Answer: Vox The best essential fatty acid source varies depending on the condition affecting the patient but at the present time, for skin disease, I have been using primarily 3V Capsules (tm), which are predominantly fish oil.

Mike Richards, DVM 11/29/2000

Glucosamine and chondroitin dosage

Question: we have a 13 yr. old maltese 11lbs who is in the beginning stages of arthritis,especially in his hind legs. we ave been told by friends that the above supplement with chondroitin sulfate is helpful in many cases. my question is the amount that should be given. he has cushing's and is taking anipryl(5mg). thanking you in advance for your prompt attention we remain,


Answer: Don-

The dosage for glucosamine is 500mg/25 lbs of body weight (or 20mg/lb) and the dosage of chondroitin is about 400mg/25 lbs of body weight, or about (16mg/lb) per day. These are pretty safe medications, so it is reasonable to use a dosage that gets close to a reasonable portion of a pill (like 1/4th or 1/2), even if you have to overdose some. At the present time, chondroitin appears to be the more active of these two substances, so it would probably be best to use a medication containing both ingredients or to use chondroitin if you choose between them.

Mike Richards, DVM 12/24/2000

Metabolic Accelerator supplements.

Question: Hi Mike

I would appreciate if you could give me your opinion on the Metabolic Accelerator supplements.

We have a 8 year old inactive Black (English) Lab that weights about 105 pounds and can not seem to lose weight, no matter what we feed, or do for her. This is why we were thinking of trying the Metabolic Accelerator supplement.

Would you recommend a product such as this? Is it SAFE? Do you foresee any side effects, or draw backs to using this product? If yes, what are they, any why? Do you have any alternative recommendations or suggestions that might help?

Thank you for your time, consideration, and cooperation.

I hope to gear from you soon,


Answer: David-

I don't have much faith in supplements such as Metabolic Accelerator (tm). I do think that if you follow the outlined steps:

1) feed a light formula dog food (or just less of the dog's normal food) 3) exercise with your dog at least 15 minutes twice a day 5) avoid table scraps and high fat snacks

that you have a good outline for how to get your dog to lose weight.

The supplements might help and they might not help. I can't tell you for sure. I would avoid using anything that claimed to be a fat absorber or fat blocker. There is a loss of fat soluble vitamins with fat blockers in humans and I presume that probably occurs in dogs, too. I don't see any reason to take this risk in dogs.

The biggest problem with weight control in dogs is that people have a hard time feeding smaller quantities of food to their dogs. I am the same way. When I cut the amount of food down to the amount I know is necessary for weight loss it just doesn't look like enough food to keep my dog happy. So I cheat on her diet. One way to compensate for this is to add string beans or carrots to the dog food. They add bulk without many calories and most dogs tolerate them pretty well. Some dogs even grow to look on carrots as a treat.

I wish I did have an easy solution to this problem.

Mike Richards, DVM 1/26/2000

Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate supplements for dogs

Question: Dear Dr. Richards:

I am a subscriber to VetInfo, and I have a quick question about Glucosamine and Chondroitin Sulfate supplements for two of my dogs. One dog is a mixed breed and is 11 yrs old he is just starting to show signs of stiffness, and the other is a German Shepherd about 90 lbs. (though not overweight) who does agility.

My questions are: 1) Have you found that these supplements help at all? 2) Would you give these supplements to a dog (my shepherd in particular) even though he is showing no signs of stiffness or arthritis. (I guess as a preventative). 3) How much would you give a dog of 55lbs (my mixed breed, Dandi), and one of Rommel's size 90 lbs. (the shepherd).

Thank you for your help. Tina

Answer: Tina-

I am still in the skeptical mode when it comes to glucosamine and chondroitin but enough of my clients feel that their pet improves on these medications that I am giving them the benefit of the doubt and do often recommend trying them to see if they work. There are dogs that do not seem to respond at all to glucosamine and/or chondroitin but nothing else I know of works all the time. These are safe products and as long as the money being spent for them doesn't use up the pet's whole health care budget I think it is reasonable to try them and see if they help. While there are studies that both support and question the efficacy of these medications there are some good double-blind (neither doctor or patient knows if the patient is getting the medication or a placebo) studies in humans that suggest that these medications are effective for arthritis affecting knees (primarily).

I don't really see any reason to give glucosamine or chondroitin the absence of signs of arthritis but I do think they are most likely to work well if you start them at the first sign of problems.

The recommended dosage of these products is about 20mg/lb of body weight for glucosamine and 15mg to 20mg/lb of chondroitin per day. So this would be around 1000mg of each component for Dandi and 1800mg for Rommel. In most cases it is recommended that the dosage be split and given half in the morning and half at night.

Mike Richards, DVM 6/28/2000

Vitamin injections

Q: Dear Doctor: My 15 year old female cookapoo was treated for peritonitis recently which included antibioticorally), fluid injection and a vitamin injection. May I ask if vitamin injections are normal for this problem or is my bill being "padded"?

Thanks for your reply. Bob


I do not use vitamin injections very often but there are veterinarians who really believe that they are useful in many situations and tend to use them a lot. Their theory is that the body won't heal if it is vitamin deficient. While I believe that most dogs are not vitamin deficient because I think that most of the dog foods are OK, there are plenty of people who argue that point.

Peritonitis doesn't usually occur as a primary disease. Most of the time it is secondary to a problem like pancreatitis, intestinal obstruction or ulcers. It is necessary to treat the primary condition and some of them actually do require vitamin therapy. In order to answer your question it would be necessary to know what the primary problem was thought to be.

Mike Richards, DVM

Vitamin C and seizure

Q: I have a 2.5 yr old mixed aussie and golden who has had four seizures - I am very concerned as they are becoming more regular in occurence. Have you heard anything about treating this condition with Vitamin C.? A friend mentioned reading an article somewhere that claims it can be effective..... Thanks!

A: Lisa- I have not heard of the use of vitamin C for seizure control. The most consistently successful seizure control medication in veterinary medicine is phenobarbital. If it doesn't work potassium bromide can be used to supplement it or in some cases as an alternative treatment. Primidone (rx) is used by some vets but it is more likely to cause liver damage than phenobarbital and is rarely any more effective. These are the most common anti-seizure medications. Your vet can help you determine when seizure control is a good idea.

It is not harmful to administer Vitamin C to older dogs but I honestly don't think this will help.

Mike Richards, DVM

Vitamin E

I am not well versed in herbal medicine and can not make recommendations in that regard. If you do elect to use herbs please consult with a veterinarian familiar with their use as there are potential interactions with medications in some instances.

Vitamin E is reported to have moderate anti-inflammatory properties and it does seem to help several of our patients. We use 2000 IU/day/dog for dogs over 50 lbs. It is a good idea to take a week or two to build up to this dose, though.

Mike Richards, DVM

Folic Acid

Q: Dear Dr. Mike, I have a Brussels Griffon bitch who is currently bred. (should be about 28 days.) I was told by knowledgeable toy breeders that giving folic acid during gestation would help in the avoidance of a) cleft palate and b) resorbtion (sp?). I'm giving her 200mcg of folic acid daily ....she weighs 10 lbs. Is this a reasonable dose for her size? Do you think there might be a connection between this nutrient and the problems mentioned? I'm aware that this is just anecdotal evidence I'm going on, and have no idea if there is a more scientific basis. Thank you for your time and knowledge. Joan

A: Joan- Folic acid can be given in dosages up to 5mg per day so the dose you are giving certainly seems to be in the safe range.

I am not aware of the benefits from it you mention (protection from losing litters and cleft palate) but that doesn't necessarily mean they aren't real benefits.

Mike Richards, DVM

Vitamin Therapy for Arthritis

Q: Dear Sir, If I want to try some vitamin therapy for for my dog's arthritis, what are appropriate amounts of vitamins C and E, and Selenium to administer for a 85 pound husky/doberman mix? Thanks

A: Vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin and is generally considered to be very low in toxicity, so there is not much chance of toxicity using it. Beyond that it is hard to answer your question. To the best of my knowledge there are no scientific studies supporting its use for degenerative joint disease in dogs. Most references advocate 500 to 1000mg/dog/day for Vitamin C usage (for other conditions), though.

There is an approved Vitamin E/Selenium product for dogs, Selotoc (Rx). Following its dosage guidelines it would be necessary to give 34 IU of Vitamin E and 0.5mg of selenium per 10 lbs. of body weight, or about 5mg of selenium and 300 IU of Vitamin E for your size dog. The dosage may vary according to the formulation of the product, so I am not sure this is a universal dosage. I can't find really good guidelines for this mineral in any other formulations except for a general recommendation for minimum daily requirement which was 0.1mg/kg of body weight/day (about 4mg/day for your size dog) and it is toxic in overdosages. I have seen no references that suggest that selenium is helpful in degenerative joint disease from referred journals.

Vitamin E is thought to be helpful by some authors and has been studied more than the other things you mentioned. The most consistently recommended anti-inflammatory dosage I have seen is 2000 IU/day/dog for large dogs. It is usually necessary to build up to this dose over a few weeks to avoid inducing diarrhea or other side effects. Since this is a fat soluble vitamin excessive dosing could lead to problems so it would be best to stick to this level, or less, when supplementing.

I'd use Vitamin E and skip Vitamin C and selenium usage if you want to try vitamin/mineral therapy.

Mike Richards, DVM

Glucosamine and Chondroitin for arthritis:

Q: Dear Dr. Mike, I have a 10 year old Lab who has osteoarthritis, after walking a couple of miles she usually will carry her hind leg. We have been to the vet several time in the last couple months and she has had X-ray done on her hips to determine the severity of the arthritis. The vet doesn't believe that she is dysplastic nor does she have any problem with her spinal cord or elbows. We have tried several drugs such as asprin, phenylbutozone, and now we are on Rimadyl. This seem to eliminate most of her pain. I have recently read about some clinical trials with glucosamine and chondritin on humans suffering osteoarthritis and was wondering if you would suggest this as an additional method of treatment. I was also wondering if it was available without a prescription since it is a food supplement and would you suggest administering it concurrently with the rimadyl.

A: It is hard to tell you much about glucosamine and chondroitin that is scientifically validated. These products are used widely in veterinary medicine and it seems likely that that work for at least some dogs based on their popularity. Unfortunately, when evaluating medications for pain relief and for for chronic debilitative conditions there is a strong desire for the medications to be effective and a high "placebo effect". As an example, in the clinical trials for Rimadyl (Rx) the placebo group was estimated to have improved by 15% of the veterinarians and 25% of the clients. On the other hand, these products appear to be safe to use, so why not try? That is the basis we work on in our practice. To the best of my knowledge there should be no problems using these products in conjunction with carprofen (Rimadyl Rx). My personal experience with glucosamines (we have not used chondroitin) is that about half of the owners feel that it makes a significant difference. This seems a little higher than one might expect with a placebo alone so I tend to think they work for some dogs - but have no real proof of this.

Mike Richards, DVM

Cosequin with Rimadyl

Q: Dr.Mike, I would like your opinion on cosequin & rimadyl. My peek-a-poo is 15yrs old and has a hard time getting out of bed and overall just getting around. My vet has suggested to me cosequin and explained the benifits and also explained that there is a possibility that it won't help him. She also suggested combining the cosequin with rimadyl to ease his pain. What are your thoughts ? Thank you for your help.

A: I have not used Cosequin and it is therefore hard for me to tell you how well it might work from a personal perspective. In the scientific literature there are just now starting to be scientific studies on this product. Cosequin (Rx) is not an FDA approved medication because it is considered to be a food product. Therefore, it was possible to get it on the market without extensive testing. Now that there are a large number of veterinarians who support the use of the product (sincerely believe it works, based on their anecdotal reports), there is a rush to get some sort of scientific testing done. Soon there may be objective information on this product. There has been at least one study on the safety of administering Cosequin and it does appear to be safe. There is no reason that I know of not to use it in conjunction with carprofen (Rimadyl Rx).

We have used some Rimadyl at this time. So far, most of the dogs seem to be benefiting from the medication but we have had one dog that did not seem to respond to it at all. It is possible that we are not correct in our assessment of what is causing this dog's apparent pain or that the medication just doesn't work for this dog. Overall, I'd say we are very happy with the effect of carprofen but we have had some complaints about the price -- not many, but some.

Mike Richards, DVM


Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...