What Are Cat Supplements and How Do They Work?

Barri J. Morrison, DVM
By Barri J. Morrison, DVM on Sep. 6, 2023

Supplements and vitamins have become more popular for dogs and cats. Never give your cat a supplement you find at the pharmacy that is meant for people. It’s very important that you find something formulated specifically for your cat’s health; otherwise it could be potentially harmful. Even supplements formulated for dogs can pose risks to cats.

Commercially available cat foods that are approved by the Association of American Feed Control (AAFCO) contain necessary nutrients and vitamins that a cat needs to grow. But if your cat is managing a health issue, they could benefit from an added supplement boost. Those who have cats that eat raw or homemade diets should consult with a veterinarian to discuss if supplements are needed to complete their nutrition.

What Are Cat Supplements?

Supplements are often recommended for cats by vets to support mobility issues as well as digestive and joint health, immune support, and skin health. The National Animal Supplement Council (NASC), a nonprofit organization, was created to regulate dietary supplements for animals and to ensure supplement safety for pets.

The NASC Quality Program provides strict guidelines by regulating the raw materials and the manufacturing standards of nutritional supplements. As a result, products that are approved by the organization have the NASC Quality Seal. When choosing a vitamin or supplement for your cats, look for this seal.

Why Do Veterinarians Recommend Cat Supplements?

If your cat is prone to or develops a medical issue, your veterinarian may chat with you about adding a supplement to support their health. Even with no medical concerns, giving your cat a supplement is typically fine, but always talk with your veterinarian first to determine the best supplement. 

How Supplements Work for Cats

Depending on your cat’s health and life stage, and even if they are on an AAFCO-approved diet, the use of supplements and vitamins might be beneficial. Supplements and vitamins contain ingredients designed to boost different parts of the body and their associated functions.

Even after you have chosen a supplement for you cat, always check with your veterinarian to ensure it is safe and appropriate.

Common Types of Supplements for Cats

Multivitamins for Cats

Common ingredients in multivitamins for cats include:

    • Taurine: an amino acid that promotes heart health
    • B vitamins: help the body’s production of red blood cells as well as aid in digestive and nervous system health
    • Prebiotics and probiotics: consist of healthy bacteria used to improve the gastrointestinal system
    • Electrolytes: help regulate nerve and muscle function and help to maintain adequate hydration in cats
    • Omega-3 fatty acids: help with skin, kidney disease and joint disease, as well as improve heart and brain function
    • Iron: crucial for red blood cell development; without adequate iron levels in the body, cats can develop anemia.

Joint Supplements for Cats

Joint supplements are used to maintain joint health, reduce pain and inflammation, and repair cartilage. They can be used in preventative care and as part of a treatment plan for arthritis, autoimmune disease, and other chronic conditions affecting joints in cats.

Common ingredients

  • Glucosamine: protects the cartilage cells, provides support, and acts as a building block to repair damaged cartilage cells
  • Chondroitin: protects cartilage cells and helps repair damaged cartilage cells

  • MSM (methylsulfonylmethane): a source of sulfur with all-natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties

  • Green-lipped mussel: provides pain relief and prevents chemicals in the body that produce inflammation

  • Omega-3 fatty acids: found in certain fish oils that offer anti-inflammatory properties

Skin and Coat Supplements for Cats

  • Omega-3 fatty acids such as alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)/ ALA are found in certain fish oils such as salmon oil
  • Omega-6 fatty acids like linoleic acid and arachidonic acid help maintain skin cell health

  • Fatty acids are great in moderation, but they must not be overused because they are high in calories and can cause significant stomach upset if given too often

Stress and Anxiety Supplements for Cats

Calming supplements for cats are increasing in popularity. Common ingredients include:

  • L-tryptophan: an amino acid that helps produce serotonin, which regulates mood, helps to improve sleep, and can help decrease cortisol (stress hormone).

  • Alpha-casozepine: a supplement that is derived from a milk protein, it can help your cat relax and reduce stress

  • Synthetic pheromones: available as diffusers, sprays, or a collar. They send signals to a cat letting them know they are safe. A recent study showed that these pheromones are helpful, especially with stress related to a vet office visit.

  • B vitamins: play many beneficial roles in the body, especially helping brain function and improving mood

  • Gamma-aminobutyric Acid (GABA): a neurotransmitter in the brain that helps create a calming effect

  • Herbal supplements: used to help provide a calm mind. These herbs are derived from plants and are used in modern medicine and in supplements formulated for cats

Immune Support Supplements for Cats

  • L-lysine: an amino acid supplement that can help with clinical signs from feline herpes virus infection

  • Antioxidants: include vitamin E, vitamin C, selenium, and glutathione peroxidase. Antioxidants protect the body against damage from free radicals, a byproduct produced when your body creates energy from ingested food.  

Digestive Supplements for Cats

  • Probiotics are live microbes, usually from bacteria and yeast, which can help restore and improve the gastrointestinal system. Probiotics can help decrease gas and bloating from an unhealthy GI tract as well as help chronic diarrhea, chronic vomiting, inability to maintain weight, and restoring gut health.

  • Hairball control supplements (in gel form) offer lubrication to help excessive hair pass through the digestive tract. Some hairball remedies also contain herbs to help support a healthy gastrointestinal tract.

Senior Supplements for Cats

Senior supplements and multivitamins are aimed at helping decrease health effects due to the natural aging process in cats.

These supplements often include ingredients like glucosamine for joint support, antioxidants to help improve memory and cognitive function, omega-3 fatty acids to help with arthritis and brain health, and probiotics for digestive support.

Talk To Your Veterinarian About Supplements

It’s always best to discuss any supplements or vitamins you want to give your cat with your veterinarian. Your vet will be able to help you find a supplement that fits your cat’s health needs and will be able to provide you with extensive information and education on the supplement.

Featured Image: iStock.com/ILIA KALINKIN


Barri J. Morrison, DVM


Barri J. Morrison, DVM


Barri Morrison was born and raised and currently resides in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. She went to University of Florida for her...

Help us make PetMD better

Was this article helpful?

Get Instant Vet Help Via Chat or Video. Connect with a Vet. Chewy Health