ABSTRACT: The prevalence of feeding practices and supplements for dogs used in private practice (PP) and the non-profit-making People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) was evaluated. Questionnaires were completed by 400 PP clients and 400 PDSA clients, of which 27·2 per cent and 29·8 per cent, respectively, gave supplements to their dogs. Fatty acids/oils were given by 10·3 per cent of PP clients and 11·5 per cent of PDSA clients, glucosamine and/or chondroitin by 10·5 per cent and 5·8 per cent, and vitamins by 6·8 per cent and 19·3 per cent, respectively. The supplements were provided daily by 17·8 per cent of the PP clients and 14·3 per cent of the PDSA clients, and the PDSA clients were 50 per cent more likely to provide the supplements only weekly or monthly than the PP clients. A commercially available maintenance or dietetic diet was fed by 98·8 per cent of the PP clients and 94·2 per cent of the PDSA clients. (R. M. Thomson, J. Hammond, H. E. Ternent, P. S. Yam. Feeding practices and the use of supplements for dogs kept by owners in different socioeconomic groups. The Veterinary Record, November 22, 2008)
COMMENTARY: This study compared the supplementation practices of low income pet owners attending a 'free' veterinary clinic vs supplementation practices of owners attending a private practice. Interestingly, about the same percentage (almost 30% of owners) were supplementing their dogs' diet. However, the private practice clients were supplementing significantly more glucosamine and/or chondroitin, probiotics and fatty acids. The low income pet owners were giving vitamin supplements more than any other type, despite the fact that most of they were feeding complete and balanced diets.
Now, the suitability of commercial diets vs homemade aside, one thing that commercial diets do pretty well is to prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Worse, these low income clients (most of whom were making less than $20,000 per year) would probably be better served by spending their few pounds on better commercial diets, or supplements that were better designed to make up for deficiencies in those diets, even if their dogs needed supplementation more than their families need other items.
Most studies of alternative medicine in developed countries has shown that those who take nutraceutical and herbal supplements are more educated, with higher incomes, than those who don't. In addition, these people seem to be self-treating more chronic disorders. This study seems to reflect that trend, in that the higher income owners are spending money on nutraceuticals targeting chronic problems. But then why are the lower income clients buying vitamin supplements? Really good advertising by those companies?