Unfortunately, a startling trend in the raw feeding world is to suggest that providing supplements as a part of a homemade diet is unnecessary or dangerous; often times, the same individuals who claim that supplements have no place in a homemade diet prefer to suggest that “whole foods” are always superior. It makes sense on the surface- “wild dogs” don’t get a vitamin E capsule drizzled over their daily food intake, do they?
There are a few things wrong with this mindset. The first is the “naturalistic fallacy”, which essentially states that anything from the ground is “natural”, and thus better for you. The second has to do with bioavailability, or an animal’s capability to derive nutrients from an item. The third is, quite simply, a failure to grasp how interconnected nutrients are, and why you cannot add a food item based on its, say, level of zinc, without also having it add other nutrients. And nutrients interact. Some bind to others, thus canceling them out; some amplify the absorption of others; some impede the absorption of others; etc.
At the surface, the concept of “there is a whole food that can provide the same thing as a supplement!” is great. And, indeed: if a formulation is possible with whole foods only that are also bioavailable, synergistic to the recipe, and that do not have to be provided in staggering numbers, I will absolutely utilize whole foods (such as oysters and beef for zinc; tripe and quinoa for manganese; sardines for iron; pork kidney for selenium; and so on). But there are certainly times during formulation where using a supplement is not only easier, but better for your dog.
Concerns With Supplements
Supplements are not always failsafe. In instances when whole foods can’t be used (or can only be used to meet a certain amount of a desired nutrient), it is important that we utilize supplements from trustworthy brands, such as Solgar, NOW, Thorne, and Pure Encapsulations. Quality control and company transparency are extremely important.
For many nutrients, there is a preferred version (chelated zinc over non-chelated zinc, for instance; or calcium carbonate over calcium citrate). For vitamin E in particular, we must watch out for supplements containing dL-alpha-tocopherol. While not toxic, it is significantly less bioavailable and only half as potent as d-alpha-tocopherol.
We only want to add a supplement when it is necessary– that is, when you know that your diet is lacking in a particular vitamin or mineral. For similar reasons, we do not add multivitamins! If your dog’s diet is only lacking in magnesium, then would you want to add magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, vitamin A, potassium, and selenium? Of course not! You would only want to add the magnesium.
Understanding possible interactions is also important when adding a supplement. For example, vitamin E in very high doses can have an anticoagulant effect that can be compounded when other anticoagulating non-essentials, such as turmeric or garlic, are included in the diet.
Supplements in Fed to Thrive Formulations
As previously stated, the goal is always to utilize whole foods first, and supplements second. However, if there are limiting factors to the ingredients we can utilize (such as sourcing, consistent availability, caloric limits, intolerances, etc.), and if I feel that a supplement is the better option, then a supplement will be used in the recipe. Please rest assured that I would not recommend a supplement brand or supplement type that I would not use with my own dogs!