You may not have heard the term nutraceutical before, but as pet parent, there is a good chance you have used one or been recommended one. Nutraceutical is a term used to describe compounds that are used to improve health but that are not technically a medication. Some common examples of nutraceuticals are glucosamine, chondroitin, fatty acids, probiotics, milk thistle (silymarin), and many, many more.
So, do they actually work? In many cases, nutraceuticals do have a positive impact in treating or preventing disease. There is a great deal of research, primarily on the human side, about the benefits of nutraceuticals in a variety of diseases. The quality of the evidence however, is quite variable between different studies.
As veterinarians, we operate under the tenet of “Above all, do no harm”. The beauty of many of the nutraceuticals that we use today is that, when used appropriately, they are a safe addition to most treatment plans. How successful nutraceuticals are however, often depends on the extent and severity of the disease we are treating.
It is important to remember that as with conventional medications, nutraceuticals should only be used based on a recommendation from your family veterinarian. It is important to use supplements from trusted sources and to ensure there is not potential interaction with other medications that your pet may be taking.