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Supplements for Sports Dogs

The Active Dog Podcast – Episode 8

This is the transcript from The Active Dog Podcast – Episode 8: Supplements for Sports Dogs and has only been lightly edited so please excuse any spelling or grammar issues which may have been missed!

Welcome to the active dog Podcast. I’m Emily from online active dog retail store K9 Trail Time

Episode 8 Supplements for Sports Dogs

Today I’ve got with me Dr. Jacqueline Boyd, who describes herself as an animal scientist, but with a particular interest in canine nutrition. I’ve asked Jackie to talk to us today because there’s such a big thing surrounding supplements and sports dogs, because people always feel that they need to be doing more if their dogs are active and doing a lot more activity. But I know there’s a lot of miscommunication in the field of supplements. And so you have a very scientific approach to everything supplement-related. So just wanted to talk to you really about why you think that there’s such popularity with the supplements now these days?

Why are dog supplements so popular?

ET – I wanted to talk to you about why you think that there is such a popularity with supplements these days?

JB – The supplement industry, whether we are talking about human, horse or dog is huge and is a growing industry.  If you browse the shelves of any health food store, supermarket, or dog food store, you will see a whole range of different supplements, different packages, pouches, tins- the whole remit. My background originally is equine. And certainly, equine supplementation was reasonably common, and certainly started to increase in popularity, probably in the last twenty or thirty years, to the extent now that the equine supplement industry is huge. The dog supplement world has followed that, probably several years behind the equine industry. That is probably reflected by our different relationship with our dogs. It has probably also started to reflect the fact that we are learning much more about dogs and dog nutrition and what dogs need and starting to become a lot more critical about our dog’s health, longevity, trying to have as long and as active a life with our dogs as possible. It is a very human thing of trying to find, dare I say, quick fixes: trying to find the thing that will fix an actual problem, or a perceived problem. I am also very aware we have a close relationship with our dogs, there is a huge amount of emotional investment. Our lifestyle has a huge impact on the choices we make for our dogs. Because of that, we are hugely susceptible to those questions popping into your head.  Are you doing the right thing for you, your animal? Ultimately advertising picks up on those questions you ask yourself.

ET – I am a marketer’s dream: I have over the years, had so many different supplements for my dogs. Every time somebody mentioned something different to try, I’ve gone out and tried it. But I suppose it was a few years ago where I had dealings with yourself. I found out more about nutrition and what a balanced diet consists of. I then started to question whether the supplements were necessary or whether I was just doing it to make myself feel better. Some of my dogs were getting older and when, you have competed in dog sports for several years, you feel like you want to protect your dogs, and want to do as much as you can for them. When something says, “this can give your dog a longer life”, I’m there.

JB – Being a critical consumer is so important- I’m as susceptible as anyone.  I’ve done it when I have seen a pack of dog treats. It’s got a black working Cocker on the front and so I bought it without really thinking about it.  So first and foremost, why is it that you are potentially looking for a supplement?

A quick fix?

Is it a quick fix? Because the chances are, if you’re looking for a quick fix, a supplement is not going to do it. If it is a health condition, a supplement might help support certain conditions. But ultimately, first and foremost, you need to be speaking to your vet. You cannot diagnose or treat legally unless you are MRCVS qualified. That is an important thing to always acknowledge. I have worked with people who have always said, oh, you know, “you always say speak to your vet in the first instance” and that’s good and correct advice. If you have got a situation going on, you need a correct diagnosis. Being brutally honest, if a dog has a movement issue, or a muscular skeletal issue, you generally need some pain relief.

ET – We seem to have a real aversion to actual pain medication. I learned a lot about this when I did the Canine Arthritis Management Level One. We are all looking for something that’s more, “natural” which supplements are always sold to us as, but pain relief comes from natural sources too. Just because it has been formulated and sold does not make it any more unnatural than any of these supplements. There is a lot more evidence for it helping because it is regulated.  I think it is important not to say to people, it’s not a regulated industry, just you must be very aware of what you are looking at when you look at the package and the ingredients. There is no quick fix for things that are general health problems. We are talking about supplements, and we haven’t named any. I think it’s probably more important to talk about the actual ingredients that are in supplements.  I see a lot of people asking if they should be giving certain things for joints, MSM, Chondroitin and Omega 3 oils? Should I be adding these to my dog’s diet? We get told this because they are active dogs.

An active dog supplement

What should we look for in a supplement?

What are your views on the main things that we could potentially look at if we wanted to supplement or the dangers of looking at some of these things if they are not necessarily needed?

JB – Sticking with joint health for a moment, joint health is without a doubt, (I can say this based on some current evidence that we have not published yet from a dissertation from a student who did the project with me this year), surveying what supplements were most popular. Joint health supplements were streets ahead of any other potential use of a supplement in dog world. And that mimics what we see in horse world as well. There is deep interest in the use of joint supplements. Joint Health is an interesting aspect because there are so many other aspects, not least of which from a nutritional point of view is body weight. If you want to maintain good joint health for as long as possible, maintain a really lean healthy body weight. That is the one thing that we know as good protective factors. From a supplement point of view dogs are quite interesting because dogs are quite stoical. By the time you are starting to see physical signs of change, you have already got joint deterioration and you have possibly got an animal that is having a degree of pain. If you are taking a multimodal approach, ultimately supplements may be useful as part of solving that problem, we cannot say that they are going to prevent problems, we cannot say that they are going to treat problems, we cannot say that they are going to reduce pain or increase mobility. In terms of the ingredients that are most common, joint supplements are substances that are thought to help support the actual structure of the joint. Things like glucosamine and chondroitin, possibly MSM, and possibly collagen peptides, these other ones that we are starting to see coming through in joint supplements. Other things we will start to see in joint supplements might be the inclusion of perceived natural ingredients like turmeric, or the downstream metabolites of turmeric, you might see other herbal or plant ingredients with Devils Claw and the various other ones like this. These may have an anti-inflammatory benefit, possibly, there are lots of anecdotal reports about that. There are some little bits in scientific reports. But realistically, in terms of that, relating to dogs, it is quite minimal. A lot of it is extrapolation.

Omega 3 is probably the one supplement or the one nutritional addition that we can add, that has some robust evidence behind it. Omega 3 is becoming increasingly important for not just joint health, but potentially for a range of health conditions, including things like skin health, and supporting other health conditions, particularly ageing.

ET – The reason that I have chosen this is it is the only supplement that I still give my dogs that has Omega 3 fatty acids in and generally from a marine source. This has been proven to be the most effective and can help keep the brain healthy as well as improve brain and cognitive function in older dogs. Which is why my research went down that path, as you know, I’ve got a couple of dogs that are ageing, and you just want to do everything you can. It’s the only one that I’ve really stuck to over all the years.

JB – Omega 3s are beneficial.  I think the reason we are increasingly seeing that they are beneficial is because, our diets and our dog’s diets have an increasing imbalance between different forms of omega fatty acids, and particularly an imbalance between omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids. All fatty acids are useful. We even get Omega 9 fatty acids, which are of more and more interest. The Omega 3’s are the biggies. The interesting thing about the Western human diet, is it seems to be more omega 6s in that diet than omega 3s. Omega 6 is important and still has biological roles but can have negative consequences by promoting inflammation in the body. The Omega 3s counteract this. There is a definite move towards rebalancing the levels of Omega 6 and Omega 3 in the diet. Omega 3 supplementation is an easy way of doing that. From the dog foods perspective more and more manufacturers, (if you are using commercial dog foods) are reporting the levels of Omega 6 and Omega 3 in the diet.  There are certainly foods out there that are unbalanced.  Marine source is the key thing. There are lots of plant oils on the market that say,” great source of Omega 3” these are a parent molecule of Omega 3 that must go through a conversion process to be the active forms of Omega 3 that the health benefits appear to be attributed to. The two that you are looking for are called EPA and DHA. These are the ones that we really want to start looking for in plant oils. Dogs are not great at converting into either DHA or EPA. So that’s why the marine derived sources of Omega 3 are so good, because it’s preformed omega 3.

ET- On the flip side of that, through my experimentation with supplements in the past, I added a really good quality salmon oil at one point their diets. The problem that I had was that it put weight on them. I had a real hard time balancing the weight that they gained from me just adding a tablespoon a day and the benefit that it was going to have, I am very much aware of the fact that the dogs need to keep their weight down.  I think people need to be aware, if you are supplementing with oil, it can put weight on dogs so you need to keep a close watch when balancing a diet, as when you either add something in or you take something away, you can completely unbalance the rest of it- undo any good that you’re trying to do.

JB – It’s a great point because the questions often raised are “how much should I supplement with?”   I know from speaking to people, they want that black and white answer for their dog. It is quite useful to see the rest of your diet because you might not need to supplement with it you might already have a great level of Omega 3 in their diet. The big point there is you can offer supplement with Omega 3. It comes back to what you said earlier about the term natural.  Natural really feeds into one of those cognitive biases, the naturalistic fallacy it is very easy to see this term natural, global, naturally safe. I know when I speak to students, “arson, it’s natural but it is not safe”. Well, it is safe at very low levels, but you go slightly above those very low levels, and suddenly, you have a real problem. That term natural is a bit of a tough one. And you can overdo the Omega 3s and get health consequences because of too much. 

ET – I’ve learned the hard way about feeding and feeding too much. But it all comes back to that wanting to do something and trying out different things. If somebody came to you and said, “my dogs getting older, I’d really like to give them something to support them with all this activity that I’m doing, whether it was flyball, gundog work or Canicross. What would your advice be?”

Omega 3 oils derived from a marine source are best

What is your advice on supplementing sports dogs?

JB – The first thing I have to say; is this after a vet checkup? If there is any concern there, get a vet checkup, first and foremost.  Sometimes even chat to your vet about options. That’s the first thing if everything is hunky dory, and, there’s no specific conditions that needs specific veterinary intervention. supplements, may well be useful. If you are talking about particularly joint health, looking for a supplement that ticks several boxes is a good starting point. You can feed ingredients that may be useful to support the actual structure of the joint, and not just the cartilaginous and bone structure of the joint, which does go through a renewal process all be some faster than others, but also the joint fluid as well. Sometimes you will see things like how hyaluronic acid being used in supplements that can help support other aspects. The ingredients that might support collagen, glucosamine chondroitin is what you will see included. Thinking about ingredients that might support and help manage any inflammatory processes going on?  That’s where your omega 3s are the biggie and Green lipped mussel is quite rich in omega 3s. There is some good evidence trickling out, and there are a couple of manufacturers of supplements that have some evidence particularly relating to green lipped mussel.

ET – That’s where I’ve gone for my omega 3s because the oils didn’t really work, I don’t know whether it helps or not that’s why I say to people, I’m confident with the green lipped mussel. So, I’m also glad you said that.

JB – Green lipped mussel is increasing, and this is an important thing, because we can’t think about things in isolation. And we’ve got a responsibility, to think about sustainability as well. Some marine sources of Omega 3, particularly fish and oily fish, are sustainable, others are not. You mentioned salmon oil.   Salmon oil can be useful but, it can be unsustainable in some situations. And I’ve certainly worked with people who are reluctant to consider using salmon oil that might have come from farmed salmon because there are other issues associated with it. Green lipped mussels seem to be new in the industry, or the production agreements mussels for this is getting much savvier about sustainability. It also leads to this thing of how much you are getting of the actual ingredients as well. Is it a concentrated source, which picks up on the point you said about, you can give lots of oil to get a small amount of the EPA and DHA. If you’re giving the EPA and DHA and they are really concentrated, you are not getting those additional calories and some aspects of fish some dogs really don’t like.

Whether they will tolerate on or in their food? The acceptability of anything being added into a diet is a really important point, you can be doing all the best in the world and if your dog doesn’t eat it, it is not great. The other ingredients that are worth looking at, because they’re appearing more and more in supplements are things like turmeric, the turmeric itself is quite interesting, because it’s not actually very bioavailable, or the metabolites, i.e., the compounds in turmeric that are potentially useful and not necessarily bioavailable, so that’s why providing turmeric or curcumin for its low side coil is important or fat. It is the thing that we are seeing used quite a lot in the new supplements, both human and horse and increasingly dog is black pepper which can help improve the bioavailability of some of these.

ET – I’ve been there: I’ve cooked it. I’ve cooked it on my stove, melted down the oil put in the black pepper and turmeric, and you ended up with yellow hands.  I don’t want to go back there. But it is something that I think a lot of people do use now. I see it coming up in groups a lot.

JB – The point about cooking at home preparing it is an important point and, I will never not acknowledge the fact that for some canine caregivers, the idea of prepping something is part of the process, that feeling of I’m engaged with this and I’m doing something.   Preparing food is an important aspect as well, you have the human dog relationship. For other people, it’s much more convenient to buy a tab, or a pack, or a pouch. That’s almost pre prepared. And you will usually, because there’s still legalities, with labelling, often have much more consistency in terms of the quality of ingredients and the amount of ingredients if you are buying something off the shelf.  So that’s another aspect to be aware of.

ET – So, to sum up then, we’ve got lots of supplements that are available for sports dogs that were sort of marketed out. You have said the ones to look out for, are there any final words of advice that you would have for anyone?  In terms of general advice about supplements that you would give to people if they were looking at supplements and their dog’s diet?

JB – General ones are, look for a company that produces based on a good science. Whilst the science about supplements is a tricky area now, because we don’t have huge amounts of peer reviewed evidence, there are companies and manufacturers out there that are using the evidence that’s available. So, ask, “do you have supporting evidence?”

Can you give me supporting evidence as to why those ingredients are there? Or why you haven’t included some ingredients?  Ask more distinct questions or look for somebody that can give you more distinct answers. The other thing is you have got to think about is we have mentioned acceptability, and will your dog accept it? Supplements come in pills, powders, potions, oils, they are not all the same for all dogs. That’s important. Look at costs. And by costs, that’s even how much of each ingredient is there? Are they reporting levels of the individual ingredients, or the “active levels”? Are they just saying it contains X, Y, and Z? I think the other thing is, if you feel railroaded, into using a supplement, or you are hearing, this idea of the testimonials, oh, I fed my dog this for three days and their quarters now gleaming. Be very aware as that is a tricky aspect, because a supplement, if is genuinely going to have benefit, you are probably talking four to six weeks minimum. Too many people will use a supplement maybe for three or four weeks and go, “Oh, it’s not working” and then just stop using it possibly at the point where it might be having benefit. Those testimonials, where it is two days later, and a photo showing something different. I’m not saying it can’t happen. But it would be very, very rare for that to happen. You know that an awful lot of supplements that are out there have no real robust evidence behind them at all. So, ask the questions and be aware of those kinds of biases that are being tapped into.

That’s ultimately it you know what works, what works for you and for your dogs could well be different for what works for me and my dogs, somebody listening to this knows, it’s feeling comfortable in your choices as much as anything.

ET – Thank you so much for coming and talking to me today about supplements if people want to follow you, how do they how do they get in touch with you?  You do canine nutrition consults, and you do an awful lot of other writing and research in your professional life. So how do people follow you if they want to?

JB – The easiest thing is to find me on Facebook. I have a professional Facebook page, which is Dr. Jacqueline Boyd, Animal Scientist and Canine Consultant.

ET – If anyone does want any more information or have personalised tailored information about how they can help their dog, Jackie is fantastic at offering that advice on a sort of a non-biased level by looking at the science, thank you again. That’s it for this episode. I hope you’ve all enjoyed it and we’ll be back soon with another episode on the active dog podcast. Until then, remember, active dogs are happy dogs!

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