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How to discuss supplements with clients


Nutritionist Dr. Susan Wynn shares her expertise on supplementation communication.

Dr. Susan Wynn, a nutritionist with Georgia Veterinary Specialists in Sandy Springs, Ga., often counsels pet owners about nutritional supplements. In general practice, she's usually the one to bring the subject up first. "Pet owners often don't think to involve their veterinarians in this discussion," Dr. Wynn says. Here's some input from Dr. Wynn, who answered our questions to help clarify the occasionally murky sea of communicating about nutritional supplements.

How often do clients ask about nutritional supplements?

Dr. Wynn: My practice is unique because most of my clients come to me with questions about supplements, but I asked a general practitioner how often people asked her about them, and she said almost never! When I've worked in general practice, I've found that many clients give supplements to their pets, but veterinarians don't know unless they're proactive and ask. Some clients are surprised to find out there are doctors who are knowledgable about supplements and want to help them.

What supplements do you recommend most often?

Dr. Wynn: I see many arthritis patients whose owners want to avoid NSAIDs. For these pets I recommend glycosaminoglycans, fish oil, antioxidants, and herbs. I also see atopic dermatitis almost daily (fatty acid supplements, herbs), cancer (fish oil, glutamine, herbs, or antioxidants, depending on the case), and odd immune-mediated diseases and other conditions not adequately treated by conventional medication. Supplements can correct basic physiologic imbalances and delay use of drugs that have more severe side effects. While we need our pharmacy to manage animal disease, nutrition can sometimes provide a "background" treatment that allows us to use lower doses and fewer drugs.

Do you offer clients any warnings?

Dr. Wynn: Yes, including these in my discharge instructions:

  • Dogs and cats are physiologically different from humans. Some drugs and herbs that are safe for people are potentially fatal when used in cats, and there are other substances for which dogs require much higher doses than people. Never depend on the advice of someone without veterinary training. There are veterinarians who can help you design a treatment regimen.

  • Most nutritional supplements are not regulated for efficacy, quality, and safety in the same way that drugs are, so quality control can make results of treatment unpredictable. If you desire more detail about products that have been tested for quality, talk with your veterinarian.

Do you stock products you recommend, refer clients elsewhere, or both?

Dr. Wynn: It's dangerous to send clients out for supplements unless you can give specific doses and brand names, because they may pick up a "similar" product that really isn't similar or, worse, take the health food store employee's opinion. So I stock what I recommend—fish oil, a probiotic, digestive enzymes, joint supplements, an antioxidant, a "liver" supplement, and, because I'm an herbalist, a large stock of tinctures.

Click here to download the above handout designed to give clients an overview of supplements.

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