Even when you give your pets an all-natural, high-quality food, there is still a possibility that they aren’t getting all the nutrients they really need. That is why many holistic veterinarians recommend giving dogs and cats dietary supplements—not just for maintaining overall health but also for fighting disease.

Pets all-natural, high-quality food

There are diseases that have been linked to previously unrecognized deficiencies of certain nutrients, says Dr. Scanlan. “For instance, the recommended minimum amount of taurine in cat foods had to be increased in recent years because cats weren’t getting enough and were developing blindness and heart disease.”

While some dietary supplements are used simply to improve your pet’s diet, they are being used more often to treat specific conditions. Pets with arthritis are sometimes given supplements made from green-lipped mussels. They contain compounds called glycosaminoglycans, which can help heal and rebuild damaged cartilage. “And using omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids together in the right ratio can reverse skin problems like dandruff and reduce itching caused by allergies,” adds Dr. Scanlan.

CBD Pet Chews, Veritas Farms, Calming Chews, 30 count
CBD Pet Chews, Calming Chews

Nearly all holistic veterinarians and an increasing number of mainstream vets are now recommending that dogs and cats be given vitamin C and E supplements. Both of these nutrients are powerful antioxidants that help reduce the effects of free radicals, harmful oxygen molecules that are naturally produced by the body. Supplementation with these nutrients can help slow the aging process so that pets live longer, says Dr. Scanlan.

Dietary supplements don’t give fast results, she adds. Fatty-acid supplements may take a month or more before they cause noticeable improvements in skin conditions. Other supplements, like vitamin C, work slowly over a lifetime. You may not notice any difference at all in how your pet is acting or feeling. But at the cellular level, changes will be happening—changes that will help keep your pet healthy and strong for the rest of his life.

Even though many dietary supplements are quite safe, they shouldn’t be used indiscriminately. For one thing, supplements may interfere with other medications that your pet may be taking. More important, every dog and cat has different needs and will require different amounts of various substances. Don’t assume that the human doses listed on labels are appropriate for dogs and cats. “Supplements are like any other medicine,” says Dr. Scanlan. “You shouldn’t use them without talking to a veterinarian who is knowledgeable about nutritional therapy.”

CBD Pet Chews, Veritas Farms, Joint Care Chews, 30 count
CBD Pet Chews, Joint Care Chews

Water: The Liquid of Life

Water is so common that it is strange to think of it as medicine. But holistic veterinarians believe it is one of the best “drugs” for protecting your pet’s health. Water does much more than quench his thirst. It regulates his body temperature, aids in digestion, and lubricates his tissues. More important, it is the body’s mass-transit system. It is constantly transporting oxygen and nutrients to cells throughout the body and carrying away the wastes.

Holistic veterinarians don’t write prescriptions for water, but it is an essential part of many treatment plans. Pets with constipation are often encouraged to drink more because water lubricates the digestive tract and helps stools move smoothly, says Carin A. Smith, D.V.M., a veterinary consultant in the state of Washington and author of 101 Training Tips for Your Cat. Water can also flush away bacteria that cause urinary tract infections, and a high-water “diet” is often recommended for pets with urinary stones. For pets with arthritis or hip pain, using water externally—in the form of a good swim—will strengthen the joints and help prevent pain.

You can’t force your pets to drink more water. What you can do is make water more appealing. Here are a few tips veterinarians recommend.

Buy bottled water. Many pets dislike the smell (and taste) of chlorine and other substances in tap water, says W. Jean Dodds, D.V.M., adjunct professor of clinical sciences at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in Philadelphia and owner of Hemopet, a national nonprofit animal blood bank in Irvine, California. Bottled spring water is inexpensive, and most pets prefer it to tap water, she says.

Add a little flavoring. When you want your pet to drink more, try adding a little flavor to his water bowl by pouring in a small amount of juice from a can of clams, for example. “My dog loves the water that’s left after boiling meat or chicken,” Dr. Smith says.

Put gravy on the menu. One of the easiest ways to help your pets get more fluids is to moisten their dry food with a little water, says Dr. Smith. Or give them moist or canned foods, which contain a lot more water than dry kibble.

Change the bowl. Dogs and cats are extremely sensitive to odors, and plastic water bowls may develop “off” smells that discourage them from drinking more. Switching to glass or ceramic bowls will prevent odor buildups, Dr. Smith says.