Vitamin D for Dogs

picture of a dachshund in the grass

Vitamin D is a nutrient that is essential for both dogs and humans. It is extremely important for maintaining good calcium levels in both an animal’s blood and in their bones.

Is there such a thing as too much vitamin D for dogs? Are vitamin D supplements really necessary? We’re answering these questions and several more in this post, so keep on reading!

A note on vitamin D

Most dogs manage to secrete vitamin D on their own when they are exposed to sunlight. However, too much sun exposure can cause other health issues, and dogs can also be sunburnt, especially in sensitive areas like their nose, the tips of their ears, and other body regions.

Can your dog become vitamin D deficient in the winter? This is a good question, and the answer is that it’s highly unlikely. Even if the sun isn’t up in the sky, there is some amount of UV radiation going through the clouds, which means that a dog’s body will still secrete at least some vitamin D.

But besides helping your dog to have strong bones, vitamin D is also involved in a number of other processes. For example, it can prevent heart failure.

Sources of Vitamin D

Just having two long walks with your dog per day outdoors can prevent vitamin D deficiency.

Yet this nutrient can also be found in several food sources, such as in egg yolks, some types of fish, and liver.

If you are preparing your dog food at home, which is something that many pet owners resort to these days, given the number of additives in commercial kibble, you need to talk to your vet about what you should add to the recipe. This will ensure that your dog doesn’t become vitamin and mineral deficient.

Vitamin D deficiency in dogs

There are certain animal categories that can develop vitamin D deficiency, and it’s usually the result of something different, not the lack of exposure to sunlight.

Although it is not impossible for a dog to develop this type of deficiency if they don’t go outdoors enough, most pet owners know that they have to walk their dogs outside for at least an hour or more every single day (that is, unless they have a yard and their pet already spends enough time outside).

Dogs that don’t get vitamin D at all from the food they eat are also predisposed to developing vitamin D deficiency.

Finally, there are two other categories that can develop the symptoms of this health issue, and they are dogs that can’t absorb or convert vitamin D properly due to other disorders they might have. Whether that’s malabsorption or something different, these dogs will have to receive vitamin D supplementation almost continuously.

Pathologically, vitamin D deficiency is associated with a number of other health issues, such as the following: 

Some of the symptoms that can be seen in a dog that is vitamin D deficient are listed below:

  • Fatigue
  • Lethargy
  • Muscle pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Hair loss
  • Bone pain and sometimes, even bone deformities
  • Difficulty breathing (and coughing) – a sign of both respiratory and cardiac issues
  • Exercise intolerance

It would be incorrect to assume that any dog that’s showing one or more of the clinical signs mentioned above has vitamin D deficiency. The only way of diagnosing this disorder is to perform several blood tests, so take your dog to the vet hospital once or twice a year for regular check-ups.

Can vitamin D deficiency in dogs be treated? The answer to this question is yes. However, time is of the essence in that in some cases, especially those involving bone deformities, it’s practically impossible to get the bone to its original shape and position. For this reason, dogs need to receive vitamin D supplementation as soon as possible.

Your vet might recommend supplementation in accordance with the Association of American Feed Control Officials’ recommendations, meaning 500 UI/kg of food — whether that’s commercial pet food or homemade food, you have to do your best at supplying your dog with that amount. Supplements do exist, but you should give them to your pet only under your vet’s guidance.

Vitamin D Poisoning in Dogs

Did you know that giving your pooch too much vitamin D can actually be toxic? Back in the day, people weren’t that informed about the vitamin necessities of this species, and once supplements became commercially available, pet parents started to give them to their pets sometimes without asking their vets.

Overdosing is one possibility dogs can have too much vitamin D, but there’s also the chance of them eating rat poison or the rats that have ingested the rodenticides themselves.

Since some of these toxic products contain dangerous amounts of vitamin D, it will effectively be absorbed into your dog’s body if they ingest the rat poison.

Smaller and continuous doses of vitamin D usually don’t cause alarming symptoms, so these are the clinical signs that are discernible in this animal category:

  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased appetite for water
  • Increased urination
  • No appetite for food

In pets that accidentally ingest rat poison, the symptoms are more severe:

  • Difficult breathing
  • Heart arrhythmias
  • Agitation
  • Excessive salivation
  • Lethargy and confusion
  • Kidney failure

If you see any of these clinical signs in your pet and you know that you’ve placed rat poison in or around your home, take your dog to the vet clinic as soon as possible.

Following the treatment, your dog will have to be monitored for several months to prevent kidney pathologies and ensure that the calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D levels in their blood are normal.

Final thoughts

Most pet diets contain enough vitamins and minerals for healthy development. However, some dogs might need supplements, especially in their first months of life.

Make sure that all of the vitamin D supplements you give to Fido are safe and that their use has been approved by your veterinarian.

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