Neutraceuticals, a fairly recent term which was coined in 1989, refers to isolated nutrients, dietary supplements and herbal remedies, as well as dietary changes or eviction which offer added health benefits. There is very little legal definition as to what qualifies as a neutraceutical, and they may be regulated as a drug, supplement, food ingredient or food and subject to the laws surrounding this category. These laws can differ significantly in terms of safety data, proof of efficacy, requirements for quality control and quality assurance.
So what do you need to know?
First priority is to choose something that is both safe and effective. There is more and more research going into obtaining these proofs and many health professionals recognise the usefulness of these practices. When they are proven.
Frequently used supplements in conventional veterinary medicine are glucosamine, chondroitin, omega-3 and l-lysine, to name a few.
Safety data is often a challenge, as many of these products are studied in humans and animals do not necessarily have the same capacity to process certain things. An excellent example of this is a recent discussion with a client about oregano oil as an antibacterial in cats. There are many studies showing that there is clinical data to support using this method in certain cases, usually as a complement to conventional medicine. However, these oils contain a chemical family known as phenols which felines have trouble breaking down and can result in toxicity. Now it is not known if the levels or types of phenols in the specific product are harmful, as no studies have been performed, but a medical professional cannot in good conscience recommend something with potential toxicity.
Once a supplement is chosen, and we are confident that it is appropriate, the source needs to be assessed.
Laws are strikingly lax in quality control procedures around the world, and looking for a good product can be difficult for the average consumer. In Canada, we have some of the toughest approval laws for neutraceuticals. Company claims must have supporting safety and efficacy data, albeit minimal, as well as proof of quality control. Currently, all products must undergo an approval process, and when approved, print a Natural Product Number (NPN) or Homeopathic Medicine Number (DIN-HM) on the label. By looking for this number, you are given a certain assurance of quality, efficacy and safety as per the label directions. Any other uses of the product however, such as using a human supplement for a dog, has not been reviewed and approved, and therefore is at your own risk. Pharmaceutical grade neutraceuticals are subject to the most rigourous quality assurance laws, as they are produced in pharmaceutical factories and are often available through health professionals.
In conclusion, it is important to consult your veterinarian or a veterinary homeopath, who has direct training in both conventional and alternative medicine, to ensure that you have chosen a safe, effective route for your pet. We can help you assess proper dosages, proper chemical forms of certain supplements so that they are well-absorbed and reach effective levels, interactions with other treatments and potential health risks based on your pet’s individual health profile.