Conventional medications are sometimes necessary for pets and can be life-saving in an emergency. But when it comes to conditions like allergies, arthritis, or infections, natural supplements can often be used instead of drugs.

While conventional medications have their place in dog and cat healthcare, holistic alternatives also support healing. Drugs tend to be more important for an acute crisis rather than for chronic maintenance. Unfortunately, veterinarians often prescribe these medications “for life”, and this causes all sorts of problems, including increased costs, and more drugs to treat the side effects arising from the original prescriptions. Thankfully, many supplements can replace drugs for treating various common conditions afflicting pets, such as allergies, arthritis, and infections – without the negative side effects. This article looks at some of the supplements I find helpful for my own patients.

Allergies – Antioxidants, Omega-3s, Herbs

Allergic dermatitis is the most common skin problem seen by many veterinarians. Standard therapies include steroids to reduce inflammation and itching, antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections, and antifungals to treat secondary yeast infections. While many of these therapies can be temporarily helpful, they all have side effects and don’t address the underlying problem. I find several supplements to be helpful for pets with allergies.

  • To reduce itching and inflammation, I rely on antioxidants (I use a product called Advance Antioxidant Formula). Antioxidants fight oxidizing chemicals that are released as a result of inflammation.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically fish oil, also serve to reduce inflammation in the body. One of their mechanisms of action is to become incorporated into cell membranes and produce fewer of the inflammatory chemicals released when cells are damaged.
  • I love using herbal remedies to help counteract the effects of inflammatory chemicals. Herbs such as anemarrhena, burdock, Rehmannia, and Dong Quai are contained in a liquid supplement I like to use, called Xiao Allergy Drops. This supplement works so well that I call it a “natural steroid” since I find it as effective for many pets as prednisone and other steroids.

Arthritis – MSM, Glucosamine, Chondroitin, HA

Joint problems occur frequently in all dogs and cats, especially as they age, and arthritis is the most common inflammatory joint disorder. But supplements are helpful for pets with any joint issue, including hip dysplasia, back problems (disk disease), and cruciate ligament injuries.

Drugs used to reduce pain in inflamed joints include NSAIDS and opioid-like medications. While these can be helpful, they do have side effects. NSAIDs in particular can damage the GI system, liver, and kidneys, and cause further damage to joint cartilage. They are best used for acute flare-ups in pets maintained on joint supplements, and for end-of-life pain control in pets in a hospice situation.

Some of my favorite supplements for arthritis again include antioxidants and fatty acids, for the same reasons as discussed above. Joint-specific supplements, meanwhile, provide “food” for joint constituents such as cartilage:

  • MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) provides sulfur to allow collagen healing, strengthening, and maintenance, and may have anti-inflammatory activity.
  • Glucosamine sulfate also provides sulfur to allow cartilage healing; in addition, it prevents the destruction of cartilage and other joint components.
  • Chondroitin sulfate offers anti-inflammatory activity, stimulates the synthesis of proteoglycans in cartilage and hyaluronic acid, and reduces damage to the cartilage.
  • HA (hyaluronic acid) is an important component of joint cartilage and provides a lubricating action on joint surfaces.

I tend to prefer joint products that contain multiple ingredients, including those listed above. These combination products contain several ingredients and are cheaper and easier to administer than if the ingredients are given separately. My favorite products include Megajoint (a tasty inexpensive treat), Cosequin, Glycoflex, and Megaflex. Keep in mind that holistic doctors rarely use joint supplements by themselves, and prefer to add homeopathics, acupuncture, cold laser, and/or chiropractic for a truly functional approach.

Infections – Olive Leaf

Since becoming a holistic vet, my use of antibiotics has decreased by about 90%. This is due to two things: correcting the underlying problems that predispose an animal to infection and using herbs and homeopathics to eliminate all but the most stubborn and serious infections.

Olive leaf is one of my favorite supplements, especially for pets with yeast infections. It’s great for pets with arthritis and cancer too! Olive leaf extract (as well as olive oil) contains oleuropein (OLE), a polyphenol that protects against oxidative damage and can prevent the production of inflammatory cytokine chemicals. Studies have shown that OLE has antimicrobial activity against various bacteria, yeasts, and fungi, including E. coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, S. aureus, K. pneumonia, Trichophyton mentagrophytes, Microsporum canis, Trichophyton rubrum, and Candida albicans.

Olive leaf is one of my favorite supplements, especially for pets with yeast infections.

  • Herbal AM is a powerful herbal antibacterial formula that I find useful for treating any type of infection, especially those of the skin and bladder. I use it with immune-boosting supplements for extra punch and often combine it with olive leaf to get broad antibacterial, antifungal, and even antiviral activity. Pets whose infections do not respond to this regimen will typically need antibiotics. Even when I use antibiotics, however, I always include Herbal AM for prolonged bacterial-fighting action that continues even when the pet has finished his short-term antibiotic regimen.

Supplements for Basic Health

Don’t forget about the importance of “basic” supplements that not only maintain health but produce an added effect when used with any of the supplements described in this article. These include topical products to heal skin, and enzymes and probiotics to promote a healthy GI tract (often damaged due to the drugs used for many diseases) and healthy immune system (a large part of the immune system is associated with the GI tract).

Before trying any supplement on your pet, make sure a correct diagnosis has been made by a veterinarian. Once that’s done, you’ll likely discover that some of the most common problems afflicting dogs and cats can be easily solved with few to no conventional medications. Last but far from least, for the best results, make sure your pet has a healthy lifestyle that includes a high-quality diet and minimal vaccines.