Are Over-the-Counter Supplements and Herbal Formulas Safe for Pets?

The over-the-counter (OTC) supplement market has boomed in recent years as consumers seek alternatives to traditional health care for both humans and animals. But how do we know that dietary supplements and herbal formulas bought over the counter are effective or safe for our pets? While some things may be perfectly safe for us to take, they may be very dangerous - sometimes deadly - to our pets. For this reason, and others we'll discuss below, it's critical to discuss any supplements or herbal formulas you want to give your furry friend with your veterinarian.

One problem is that, often, the manufacturers of these products are not overseen unless adverse reactions are reported. Studies show, however, that most consumers don't report such events. Even if they did, it can take years before the FDA receives enough complaints to warrant an investigation of the product.

Prior to release into the market, the manufacturer is responsible for the safety and efficacy of each product. Can we trust every manufacturer? Some are trustworthy but, unfortunately, many are not. For example, studies have repeatedly shown that many OTC products don't contain some of the ingredients listed on the label. In fact, some don't contain any of the listed ingredients. Even more dangerous is the fact that fillers and adulterated products, such as metals or pesticides, are often sold to unsuspecting consumers. 

In a recent study done on popular supplement brands in the U.S, it was found that one third of the 44 supplements tested showed outright substititution, with no traces of the primary ingredient claimed to be in the supplement - an entirely different plant was used in place of the one advertised. While it's relatively easy to find out if listed ingredients are safe, if ingredients have been replaced with others, it becomes impossible to know if a product is safe for your pet.

Another reason to avoid these products is that some contain xylitol to sweeten them. Xylitol, as you may know, is highly toxic to both dogs and cats.

In short, we simply don't know whether OTC supplements and herbal formulas are safe without more analysis and study. During vet visits, always let your veterinarian know which supplements, if any, your pet is taking and ask for recommendations based on his/her condition.

Remember, there are many useful products available, but it is truly a “buyers beware” market. For more information about the safety of OTC supplements and herbal formulas, check out these resources:


If you're concerned about something you're giving your pet or are considering adding supplements to your pet's health regimen, please make an appointment first to ensure that anything you give your best furry friend is safe.


This blog post originally appeared on The Drake Center and has been modified for re-posting.

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