Veterinarians and pet care professionals find a high rate of house pets lacking vital nutrients. Sometimes an underlying health condition is the issue where nutrient absorption in the dog's body has been interfered with, but often the deficiency is the result of a poor, unsubstantial or unbalanced diet.
While it seems the best course of action to treat a vitamin deficiency in dogs would be to routinely feed your pet additional vitamins, if the proper dosage isn’t known or used, more damage may be done. In fact, an excess of vitamins can create a plethora of other symptoms and health issues in an animal just as lacking vitamins can.
Always communicate concerns to a veterinarian before diagnosing or attempting to treat your dog yourself, as their perceived vitamin deficiency symptoms could be the result of other underlying issues. Never drastically change your dog's diet without the approval or guidance of a veterinarian or canine nutritionist.
The four most common vitamin deficiencies in dogs are:
- Vitamin A (Beta-carotene) deficiency
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Vitamin E deficiency
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) deficiency
Below we'll take a look at all four of these and talk about the most apt treatment.
Remember that when addressing this issue through dietary change, a dog’s stomach can adversely react to completely new foods if they aren't properly introduced. If a change in their usual diet is suggested by a professional, then be sure to change it incrementally over the course of a couple of weeks to a month, depending on the dog’s response to the changes.
6 Reasons Your Pet May be Vitamin-Deficient
1. Homemade meals are not properly balanced or prepared
During the raw food craze, some pet owners are choosing to administer a completely raw, human-grade diet to their dogs. While a raw based diet may be the best option for some dogs, if not properly balanced, an excess of vitamins or lack of vitamins can adversely affect the dog. Additionally, if a pet wasn’t raised on a raw diet and is introduced to it suddenly, this can cause stomach issues and even shock and stress for the animal.
Dog owners who prepare homemade dog food meals and cook vegetables and meats for their canine companions may make the same mistakes as an owner who chooses raw vegetables and meats. Whether cooked or not, the diet should have a wide variety of whole grains, vegetables, healthy fats and oils, and nutritional meats, such as chicken, beef, turkey, and fish.
Another potential issue for home cooked dog food meals is that the nutritional value of many nutrient and mineral rich foods dissipates when heated. Dogs normally not fed a raw diet should receive some raw veggies from time to time. Canine nutritionists recommend lightly seared meats that are safe when eaten on the rarer side, such as beef, to be added to the diet as often as is affordable to the household.
2. Poor canned or packaged dog food
Pets fed pre-packaged commercial dog foods that are lower-quality and lacking in nutritional content may experience symptoms linking them to vitamin or mineral deficiencies. While it’s true that many pet foods advertise and are, indeed, “packed” with vitamins and nutrients, these products are typically synthetic. You can feed your pet a few fresh, home-created meals a week to supplement a usual diet of kibble or wet food.
3. No routine observation of daily food intake
Dogs who spend most of their time outdoors or whose food bowls aren’t somewhere that’s routinely visited in the household may not be eating enough or eating too much. Pet owners must always pay attention not only to what type of foods they're feeding dogs, but also how and when a dog consumes said meals. Regularly observing your dog and weighing them will also help in noticing any issues early on.
4. Response to certain medications
Some medications can affect the balance of vitamins in the dog's body. For example, medications that help with common issues, such as seizures, sugar levels (diabetes), and several forms of steroids which help with anything from allergies to inflammation may affect Vitamin D levels.
Most veterinarians are aware of these side effects and will mention if this issue exists when prescribing something; however, if you suspect your dog is vitamin deficient, you should ensure the vet and staff are extra aware before administering any medications.
5. Parasitic infection
Even the most commonly occurring parasites can affect your pup's ability to absorb nutrients if they are infected. Tapeworms and ringworms, for example, live off your dog’s health, stealing nutrients from them and can cause malnutrition (although this is more common in strays or abandoned canines).
6. Medical conditions
Other health maladies such as anemia or diabetes are known for both causing and being the result of nutritional irregularities. Your dog’s veterinarian will run appropriate tests to rule out medical conditions such as these.
How to Respond to Vitamin Deficiencies in Dogs
After a visit to the vet reveals vitamin deficiencies in a dog, you’ll leave with a greater understanding of not only how your pet was affected by this but how to correct the issue.
It’s likely your vet may recommend a prescription medication to get your dog’s vitamin levels where they should be. While this can be a great start, the treatment is continued by the pet owner at home by supplementing a dog’s diet. When supplementing, keep in mind that vitamin-excess is just as much of a threat to a dog’s health as vitamin deficiency is.
To avoid toxicity or other symptoms, follow this basic rule of thumb:
1 milligrams (of vitamin) per pound (of dog)
Please keep in mind that if your lifestyle or budget prove to make building your dog’s diet too difficult or not possible, there are several “all-in-one” vitamins on the market that are specifically designed with canines in mind.
Depending on the age and weight of your dog, one to four of these treat-like vitamins will help them stay healthy and happy. Otherwise, below are some of the most common dog vitamin deficiencies and the dietary supplements that are available as a correct and effective response to the disorder.
- Cause: Lack of Vitamin A
- Symptoms: Routinely ill (weak immune system), prone to itchiness and rashes (dry, irritated skin), nighttime blindness (this is sometimes an inherited trait), weight loss
- Studies: Raila, et al. 2000; Riu, et al. 2014; Barber, et al. 2014; Grilo, et al. 2015.
If your dog is lacking Vitamin A, you can supplement their diet with egg yolks, liver, liver oil, or even veggies (kale, carrots, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes). While liver oil, especially from fish, can be quite pricey, your local butcher’s shop is likely to have an affordable selection of beef or poultry livers when you’re in a pinch.
If your dog is acclimated to digesting raw foods, you may choose to serve the liver raw. However, lightly cooking or even boiling it is also acceptable and recommended if your pet has never been given raw meat.
Please note that liver is so rich in Vitamin A and other nutrients that it can cause adverse reactions in dogs if they’re given too much, including joint tenderness and swelling and dehydration. Animal care professionals recommend giving your dog just a few nibbles at first and waiting to see how it affects their demeanor and stool consistency. If their stool remains solid and healthy, then you can feed them liver once a day.
A good rule to follow:
- 5 ounces to dogs 80 pounds or more
- 1 ounce to dogs between 40 and 80 pounds
- 5 ounce to dogs 40 pounds or less
Vitamin D Deficiency
- Cause: Lack of Vitamin D2 and/or Vitamin D3
- Symptoms: Weak bones, joint inflammation, bone deformities, lethargy, loss of muscles, stunted growth in puppies and young dogs, rickets disease, may be linked to serious heart conditions
- Studies: Dittmer, et al. 2010; Quarles, et al. 1985; Oldham, et al. 1979; Kealy, et al. 1991.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient, which could equate to toxicity in dogs if given too much Vitamin D. In fact, many veterinarians find not so much a deficiency in this vitamin but an excess, with canine patients coming into their office with a loss of appetite, a case of vomiting, and excessive drooling. There's even been a recent massive dog food recall by the FDA of many brands, all due to excessive levels of Vitamin D.
While many food items that help with Vitamin A deficiency will also help with Vitamin D deficiency (egg yolks, fatty meats, and fish), it’s important to not double the quantity of these items unless your dog is especially active and is a larger breed.
Instead, you may want to look into Vitamin D supplements for dogs. You may choose to ask your vet for a better recommendation. Exploring these options will help you avoid inadvertently poisoning your furry friend by using improper brands or dosage.
Vitamin E Deficiency
- Cause: Lack of Vitamin E
- Symptoms: Muscle weakness, may cause reproductive issues, linked to cell damage
- Studies: Hayes, et al. 1969; Green, et al. 1977; Murray, 1939.
Vitamin E is a great additive for boosting the immune system and promoting healthy skin and coat in dogs. Vitamin E is also an antioxidant and plays a key role in cell development and strength. A great and essential supplement to your dog’s daily meal, Vitamin E is also unlikely to cause adverse effects if your pet happens to be given too much, unlike Vitamin D.
However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t carefully craft your dog's meal or give them a bottle of Vitamin E and let them gobble up every pill. Fatty oils and nuts are a great resource for this vitamin. Most professional recommend sunflower oil, soybean oil, or peanut butter.
Be careful with peanut butter – some are packed with sugars; look for natural peanut butters (where peanuts is the only ingredient) or visit your local health foods store and ask if they have a nut grinder, which allows you to grind up and make your own peanut butter in store.
Avoid avocados. Although a healthy fat, many dogs have a sensitivity to it and it may cause a toxic reaction in others. Instead, fatten up their diet with almond butter or peanut butter, or any other acceptable human foods that are high in Vitamin E.
- Cause: Lack of Vitamin B2
- Symptoms: Fainting, eye lesions and sores, dry, flaking skin, weakness, weight loss, stunted growth
- Studies: Cline, et al. 1996; Sebrell and Onstott.
Riboflavin, or Vitamin B2, is responsible for helping produce red blood cells, which deliver oxygen to different systems of the dog's body. Vitamin B2 is also a valuable resource for the metabolism, aiding the body in processing foods and transforming them into energy.
If your dog is younger or particularly active, riboflavin is an extremely important additive to their meals. To supplement your canine companion’s diet with riboflavin, don’t skimp on healthy meats: beef, poultry or fish. Leafy greens, healthy grains, and live-culture, sugarless yogurts are all great food additives for any canine suffering from riboflavin deficiency. Additionally, several fresh herbs are an ideal resource as well: sage, chamomile, peppermint, and raspberry leaves.
Deficiencies in B6 and B12 may also occur in dogs. As two other members of the water-soluble B vitamins, B6 and B12 are vital in maintaining a dog’s healthy metabolism. To prevent or fix that, include delicious meats in your dog’s diet as well as sugarless peanut butter and mashed or chopped sweet potatoes.
If your vet noted a Vitamin B deficiency in a dog: when building their meal plate, meat should take a majority of the portion, with vegetables in a close second, and any fatty goods (sweet potatoes, peanut butter) just a small dollop or sliver.
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