It’s Dangerous to Give Supplements on Your Own to a Sick Pet

If you’ve been listening to my radio shows and reading my blogs, you’ll know I am a big believer in the use of natural supplements for overall health and wellness — and to address behavioral/emotional issues, often paired with training techniques. I’m proud to have NaturVet as a sponsor of DOG TALK (and Kitties, Too!) and really love their innovative supplements, and Halo makes a couple of excellent supplements for dogs and cats along with their  pet foods. However, I would never recommend that someone give supplements to a pet who is seriously ill, without their veterinarian’s express involvement in the decision and dosing.

The following story is a good example of what not to do with supplements — especially randomly choosing to give a supplement not even intended for pets — as this lady did in trying to do the right thing for her very sick kitty.

Lela is long time listener to CAT CHAT® and blog reader who wrote me with a thorny problem:

“Years ago you told me to contact you if I had any questions about my cats and now I find I have an important one. I have a 14-year-old cat who has large mammary tumors. I took her to the vet and they won’t do the surgery because she is weakened with a low red cell count, high white cell count, and a possible tumor on her liver. I know that she will probably die, but I want to give her a fighting chance. I asked about iron and the vet told me that she felt it was too easy to give her a toxic overdose, but, as my cat is facing death, I don’t find that a very good answer. The vet offered a blood transfusion, but I think that might not be a great idea. I need to give her something that will help strengthen her. I did a little reading and I have found that l-arginine might be the answer, but I need to be quick about it because of her condition. I can’t find one specifically for cats, so I will have to get one from the human store. I have a nutrition store near me, but I need to be able to at least ballpark a dose. Have you heard anything about l-arginine and do you have any ideas about the dosage for a 6 to 7 lb. female cat?

My reply was “Please hold off doing anything until I ask a couple of trusted vets if they have any thoughts about this. Supplements are not something to experiment with on your own”

“I didn’t want to wait, so I gave a bit of iron supplement dissolved in filtered water today. Several hours later, she perked up enough to jump down from her blankie nest on top of a plastic storage tub and drink some water on her own.  She won’t eat the wet food tuna on her own, but seems perfectly willing to eat the bits I feed her every few hours. I am encouraged. I have arranged with a friend of mine to get the l-arginine supplement for her (I have no car) and should have it for her by tomorrow afternoon. Like the iron, if it is in tablet or capsule form, I will dissolve it in filtered water and give her a bit.”

Despite Lela’s impatience, within less than 24 hours I had a thoughtful response from Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins, my trusted frequent co-host on CAT CHAT, and Dr. Donna Spector, a board certified veterinary internist in Chicago, who is my co-host on THE EXPERT VET, who concurred with Dr. Elizabeth’s comments.

Dr Elizabeth wrote:

This lady seems — and I emphasize seems because I don’t know for sure — to be in the hands of a vet who doesn’t understand how to manage a cat this sick. The majority of veterinarians know how to do spays and neuters but not what to do about  really sick cats, which need specialists). Now, it may very well be that this cat is terminal, but it doesn’t seem much actual diagnostic work has been done other than, I presume, some blood tests and palpation. How do we know what these lumps she is calling tumors are? Has there even been a chest x-ray on this cat before she starts offering supplements in a vain hope that one will be helpful? (I am, as you know, not against supplements at all, quite the contrary, but you have to have a good understanding of what you are dealing with to select one or more that have any rational chance of working at all.) Lela needs to see a good cat specialist, or at least a good internist who likes and has experience working with cats. I believe this cat needs to be worked up properly. Her money will be much better spent getting some more information about what is really going on with her kitty than just reaching for arginine because it is on the internet. If this cat has malignant mammary tumors, arginine isn’t going to do anything. If it would, it would be part of oncology protocols as a routine for mammary cancer. To my knowledge, it is not.

The “take-away message” here is that you need a thorough veterinary examination of a pet who has any medical condition. After that you should only give that cat supplements with the full cooperation and support of the doctor.


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photo credit: Pittou2 Tête de Chat via photopin (license)