A Supplement Syllabus
by Debbie Ducommun
July 1, 2011
Providing shoppers with a list of small-animal supplements can educate them, simplify their choices and encourage sales.



Owners of small animals want to provide the very best diet for their pets and often want to give their pets dietary supplements, but they don’t always understand if and when supplements are beneficial.  Retailers can help by providing customers with a list of supplements that are available for small animals to help each pet owner decide what products might be suitable for their particular pet. This list can be provided in the form of a handout that shoppers can use in the store and then take home. The list can also be printed in poster form and hung in the small animal supplement section of a store. Here is an example of such a list:

Nutritional Supplements—Digestible elements meant to boost the nutritional content of the diet.

Vitamins and minerals are necessary for the proper functioning of the cells and organs in the body. Most commercial diets supply adequate amounts, but an additional supplement can help animals that are sick, injured, pregnant, lactating or aging.

Vitamin C—This vitamin is specifically necessary for guinea pigs, one of the only mammals that cannot produce its own. Guinea pigs love chewable vitamin C tablets which can be given as a daily treat.

B Vitamins—Necessary for the proper function of the nerves, a B vitamin complex supplement can help older rats with chronic degenerative hind-leg paralysis. The recommended amount to give is based on the B12; give 5 mcg/lb twice a day.

Antioxidants—Nutrients, such as selenium and vitamins A, C, E, that can protect cells against damage from free-radicals, which can help to prevent cancer. 

Essential fatty acids—Building blocks necessary for a healthy skin and coat, essential fatty acids cannot be formed in the body but must be provided in the diet. These nutrients are commonly marketed for ferrets, but can also be helpful for other animals with dry skin or fur.

High-calorie supplements—Products for pets that are losing weight because of problems eating. Most of the currently available products are made for ferrets and may not be palatable or suitable for omnivores and herbivores. An excellent calorie supplement for rodents is powdered soy human infant formula reconstituted with water.

Digestive Aids—A substance meant to help the proper operation of the digestive system.

Probiotics—These good bacteria for the intestines can help rebalance intestinal flora disturbed by antibiotics or stress, which cause diarrhea. Give at least two hours before or after an oral dose of antibiotics to prevent the antibiotics from killing the probiotics.

Hairball remedies—
Rabbits and ferrets can develop hairballs and cannot vomit them up. Anti-hairball supplements usually contain either psyllium fiber or petrolatum to help the hairball pass.

Digestive enzyme products—
These products are designed to help prevent hairballs in rabbits, such as papaya tablets, but they may also be able to help older animals of other species having problems digesting their food.

Specialty Supplements—
Products meant to reduce an annoying by-product of a pet.

Odor reducers—These supplements are made to be added to a pet’s food and work from the inside out to reduce the amount of odor produced by the waste products. They are mostly marketed for ferrets, whose waste is particularly offensive.

Shedding reducers—These supplements, mostly marketed for ferrets, include nutrients designed to promote a healthy coat and skin and reduce the amount of fur shed, which can help prevent hairballs.


Debbie Ducommun has a B.A. in animal behavior and has worked in the animal field since 1982. She is the author of the book Rats!, the booklet Rat Health Care and, her most recent book, The Complete Guide to Rat Training: Tricks and Games for Rat Fun and Fitness.