Stirring the Food Pot with Supplements:
a dash of this, a pinch of that
By John Cargill, M.A., M.B.A., M.S. and Susan Thorpe-Vargas, Ph.D.

Supplements are here to stay, but are any of them any good? Can they do harm? Can they be safely used with commercial diets? Author Vargas, the scientist (Ph.D. immunology), leans towards the holistic and alternative side of medicine. Author Cargill, the number cruncher (statistician/science writer), leans towards the party line of the commercial pet food manufacturers and traditional Western veterinary medicine. This article will address nutritional supplements for the promotion and maintenance (prevention of illness) of good health rather than focusing on medicinal supplements targeting specific medical problems. Read on for our joint interpretation of the results of our investigation into canine food supplements.

Let's clear the decks. The dog food industry in general does not believe in supplements. The food supplement industry does not believe that the dog food manufacturers make complete and balanced dog foods. The American Veterinary Medical Association is embroiled in internal dissension and lawsuits concerning a recent position taken that there may be benefit in complementary and alternative medicine. The average body weight, numbers of players, numbers of academic degrees, etc., seem to be about the same on both sides of the issue. As for the dog fanciers, we have yet to go into any professional handler's home without finding supplements galore. Most of the dog show people we know, whether they deny the same or not, are guilty of possession of supplements in some form or other. So, what is the problem? For millennia, humans have been using supplements on both themselves and their domestic animals. Any town of 10,000 people or more is likely to have a healthfood store, and even in the smaller towns, food supplements take up a large portion of available shelf space.

Benefits claimed for supplements are unbridled or, at best, immoderately restrained. There is a supplement for just about anything you can think of, and for a number of conditions, real and imaginary, that you couldn't think of. Even dog food company researchers disagree with each other. Dottie LaFlamme (DVM, Ph.D.), one of the most respected people in canine nutrition, in personal conversation with author Cargill at the 1998 NAVC, said that if she could find a safe and efficacious supplement with the science to support it, she would see that it went into Purina formulations. Then she directed author Cargill to Susan Wynn's (DVM) lectures on holistic approaches to nutrition! If you are interested in supplements, we highly recommend Allen Schoen and Susan Wynn's Complementary and Alternative Veterinary Medicine.

Avi Deshmukh (DVM, Ph.D.) who works in regulatory affairs at Ralston Purina said: "I am a scientist. If these supplements are so good, do the research. Show me." In a number of sessions, author Cargill sat next to Dave Dzannis (DVM, Ph.D.) who used to be one of the pet food regulators at FDA. He felt that, from a regulation standpoint, the proponents of supplements and putting supplements in dog foods was pushing the envelope of what the pet food regulations allow, even if claims of health benefits were not made. One of both authors' favorite oracles in companion animal nutrition, Jim Sokolowski (DVM, Ph.D.) who works out of Waltham USA and Pedigree, was extremely skeptical of supplements, but allowed that virtually everyone was looking into the benefits of supplements.

On the other side of the fence, Rick Shields at Nature's Recipe has started putting herbal ingredients into their dog foods, but because of FDA regulations cannot make health benefit claims other than listing the herbs on the package ingredients label. Dan Carey (DVM) at IAMS has long decried the FDA prohibition against advertising the benefits of controlling the ratios of certain fatty acids, especially omega-3 and omega-6. IAMS foods contain both, but no claims are made, except in research and conference papers. You will find nothing about the benefits of controlled omega-6:omega-3 ratios on their dog food bags. Numerous digestive enzyme supplements are available but are not included as normal healthy dogs produce their own digestive enzymes in adequate quantity to properly digest their food. Thus, supplementation with digestive enzymes is not normally beneficial. This summarizes the state of the industry, and the general gamut of opinions concerning supplements. To this mess, we will now attempt to bring a measure of order and discipline.

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