Bodybuilding Supplements and Pets

By: Annie Asplen, Paramedic
Senior Health Information Specialist at SafetyCall International/Pet Poison Helpline®

Pills HeartLots of us want to lose a few pounds and build a little muscle, and look to bodybuilding supplements to give us a boost. In fact, according to Consumer Reports, bodybuilding supplements are a 2.7 billion dollar-a-year industry. With a business that big, it stands to reason that a lot of people are keeping their muscle-builders and fat-burners at home with their pets. What we might not be thinking about is how attractive those supplements might be to our pets.

What could happen if a pet gets hold of a health supplement? It depends on the formulation of course, but there are multiple things commonly found in bodybuilding products that could get your pet in serious trouble. Including…

CAFFEINE.  Many products use caffeine to give users the energy to work out, but it is not as well tolerated by animals as it is by people. Consider that an average cup of coffee has 50-100mg of caffeine. Fitness supplements can have quite a bit more than that. For example, C4 Extreme and Hydroxy Hardcore Elite contain 135mg and 270mg per serving respectively, and have dozens of servings per container. Exposure to those kinds of amounts can lead to hyperactivity, elevated heart rate, seizures, and even death.

XYLITOL. Xylitol is a sweetener that is added to some fitness supplements to make them taste better without adding a bunch of extra sugar and calories. This is great for humans, but can be very dangerous for pets. In fact, as little as 0.5mg/kg of xylitol consumed by a pet can lead to liver failure.

IRON. Iron is essential in combating fatigue, and is particularly popular in fitness supplements for women. An overdose of iron in pets can lead to multiple organ system effects, including internal bleeding and shock.

5-HYDROXYTRYPTOPHAN (5HTP). This is another ingredient marketed in weight-loss and bodybuilding supplements, and is supplied in 50-500mg capsules. Animals do not process this as well as people. As little as 23.6mg/kg in pets can be toxic, and 128mg/kg can be fatal.

EPHEDRA. Known as Ma Huang in Chinese medicine, ephedra is an ingredient thought to enhance athletic performance and aid in short-term weight loss. It is also often combined with guarana, which contains caffeine. As of 2004, the sale of supplements containing ephedra has been banned in the United States, due to concerns with safety. However, it is still sometimes used by athletes and in Chinese medicine. The safety margin with this substance in pets is very narrow, with death occurring at doses as low as 5.8mg/kg. Some supplements still available for purchase on the internet contain 25, 50, or even 100mg ephedra per capsule.

These are just the more concerning ingredients that are typically found in bodybuilding and weight loss supplements when it comes to accidental ingestion by pets. It is not to mention other lesser but still real concerns, like potassium, sodium, calcium, and vitamin D. Bottom line: Even if a product is advertised as being beneficial to your health, it can be very dangerous for your pet. Please keep these products well away from your animals, and if an accident happens, contact your vet or the Pet Poison Helpline® right away.