Your dog’s health depends on a variety of vitamins and minerals — otherwise known as micronutrients — in the right amounts and in the right balance. Here are 17 of the most important.
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals necessary for our health, and that of our dogs. A deficiency in one or more micronutrients can cause illness or even death, depending on several factors, such as how much of the vitamin or mineral is missing, the rest of the dog’s diet, and his genes. At the same time, too much of a certain micronutrient can also cause problems. It’s important to know which vitamins and minerals your dog needs for his health and well-being, and to work with an integrative or holistic veterinarian or veterinary nutritionist to ensure he’s getting the right amounts of each.
Adding vitamins and minerals to your dog’s diet
If you want to add vitamins and minerals to your dog’s diet, it is important to know which one can cause diseases if too much is given. For example, vitamins A and D are fat-soluble vitamins stored in the liver, and can cause bone and joint disease if levels are too high. The main time I have seen this happen is when the cheap cod liver oil is substituted for more expensive fish oil, which comes from the bodies of fish. While cod liver oil does contain Omega 3 fatty acids, the vitamin content is too high for dogs.
While cod liver oil does contain Omega 3 fatty acids, the vitamin content is too high for dogs.
5 vitamins for canine health
1. Vitamin A
Vitamin A can be helpful for chronic skin disease and some eye problems. In humans, beta carotene is often recommended instead of vitamin A. Beta carotene isn’t toxic and is converted into vitamin A. However, large amounts of beta carotene alone get converted into the pro-oxidant form of vitamin A, and in humans, made lung cancer worse (with shorter survival time and a greater chance of dying) than in patients not given beta carotene. A better approach is to give your dog the whole carotene family (known as carotenoids), which is present in carrots or carrot powder. Carotenoids are not listed as a required vitamin for dogs, but you may see a difference in the coat when using them.
2. Vitamin D
Vitamin D is important for the absorption and use of calcium.
3. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is the most useful fat-soluble vitamin when using high doses of vitamins to treat a chronic disease. It has anti-inflammatory action and can help both the heart and joints. The official name of the most common form of vitamin E is natural “d-alpha-tocopherol”. You may also see the cheaper “dl-alpha” form, which is a manufactured version that contains both “d” and “l” forms. Canine bodies find the “d” form much easier to use, and throw away most of the “l” form, so the actual cost for what the dog is absorbing is almost twice the amount you see on the label.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant — but whenever it acts that way, it turns into a harmful pro-oxidant, which is where vitamin C comes in, as follows.
4. Vitamin C
Vitamin C cycles vitamin E back from its pro-oxidant form. Dog bodies make just enough vitamin C to recycle normal amounts of vitamin E, but if you are giving extra E, you should always give extra C to guard against too much pro-oxidant vitamin E building up in your dog’s body.
Vitamin C can also be helpful for kennel cough and other respiratory disease. When using it this way, add bioflavonoids (which usually come along with vitamin C in food) and zinc (more on this mineral later).
5. B vitamins
B Vitamins are water-soluble, which means excess amounts are urinated out of the body without doing any damage. However, niacin and vitamin B6 can be toxic to dogs if you use too much. As a group, B vitamins are especially good for anemia, appetite, and the nervous system Vitamin B12 is especially effective and non-toxic, and can be safely added to your dog’s diet. Choline is helpful if he has problems affecting his liver. Folic acid is recommended by the NRC, but the folate form tends to be better absorbed.
12 minerals for canine health
Calcium is needed to build healthy teeth and bones, and maintain normal muscle contractions and nerve firing. However, large breed puppies are especially sensitive to too much calcium as well as too little, especially if they are given too much vitamin D at the same time. Nursing females can develop a condition known as eclampsia if they do not get enough calcium and/or vitamin D. Small breeds on all-meat diets will not have enough calcium in their bones.
Phosphorus is calcium’s partner. The two minerals counterbalance each other, which means they must be properly balanced in the dog’s diet. NRC guidelines state that a 33-pound dog consuming 1,000 calories a day requires a daily minimum of 1 gram of calcium and 0.75 gram of phosphorus.
Zinc is useful for proper wound healing and for healthy skin. Because chronic skin disease is often helped by zinc supplementation, it’s possible that recommended doses are too low.
Selenium has many of the same functions as vitamin E. If vitamin E alone is not giving the desired effects, the addition of selenium can sometimes be the answer, especially for muscle and joint problems. However, selenium poisoning can occur if doses are too high. Unfortunately, one of the signs of selenium poisoning is muscle degeneration, so some people think they are dealing with a deficiency and give their dogs even more of this mineral. As long as you stay within the recommended guidelines, though, using a vitamin E/selenium combination should not be a problem.
Iodine is important for proper function of the thyroid gland, and is present in high quantities in kelp. Dogs that have a borderline thyroid problem, in which the thyroid hormone level is only slightly decreased, may be helped by adding a kelp tablet to the diet. Too much iodine can cause dandruff and a bad hair coat; using a liquid iodine supplement instead of a kelp tablet is most likely to bring this on.
Dogs that have a borderline thyroid problem, in which the thyroid hormone level is only slightly decreased, may be helped by adding a kelp tablet to the diet.
Additional minerals necessary for canine health include magnesium, manganese, sodium, potassium, chlorine, iron and copper. They don’t often cause problems unless a dog has an inherited or chronic disease.
Magnesium has several functions and is necessary for the stability of muscle and nerve cell membranes, as well as the mineral structure of bones and teeth.
Manganese is needed for proper bone development and neurological function.
Sodium helps with the acid-base balance in the body as well as the regulation of osmotic pressure. It’s also necessary for nerve impulse generation and transmission.
Potassium is another mineral that’s essential for the body’s acid-base balance and nerve impulse transmission.
Chlorine aids with the transfer of extracellular fluids across cell membranes, and, along with sodium and potassium, helps maintain the acid-base balance in the body.
Iron is vital for the synthesis of blood components, and for energy metabolism.
Copper is necessary for a variety of functions, including connective tissue formation, iron metabolism, blood cell formation, melanin pigment formation and myelin formation. It also provides defense against oxidative damage.
It’s important to work with a veterinary nutritionist when deciding what vitamins and minerals your dog needs, and in what quantities.
The problem with “minimum recommended amounts”
The National Research Council’s minimum recommended amounts for vitamins and minerals in dogs were based on studies done decades ago, using purified diets with one micronutrient left out. These diets were fed to dogs until they started showing signs of deficiency. Then, small amounts of the vitamin or mineral were added to determine how much would prevent or reverse the deficiency, with an extra amount added to the recommendations to try to make sure there was enough.
The problem with this approach is that it only shows requirements for young healthy dogs, growing puppies, pregnant or nursing dogs. No studies have been done on older dogs or those with chronic disease.
This approach also does not show whether any chronic disease associated with old age might be improved by increasing the recommended levels of these vitamins and minerals. It’s just a recommendation for the amounts required for a basically healthy dog, and is what dog food companies are required to use when formulating their diets. Commercial pet food companies add micronutrients from a mix that’s made according to the current NRC requirements.
A graduate of veterinary medicine at the University of California, Davis, Dr. Nancy Scanlan has used nutraceuticals since 1969. She became certified in acupuncture by IVAS in 1987 and followed up with education in chiropractic, Chinese herbs, Western herbs, and homotoxicology. This led to 16 years as the only holistic practitioner in a 7-person practice. After retiring from practice, Dr. Scanlan served as executive director of the AHVMA for 3 years before stepping into her current role as executive director of the AHVM Foundation. Dr. Scanlan is a consultant, author of a text on complementary medicine for veterinary technicians, and writer and lecturer about complementary and alternative veterinary medicine. She is currently enrolled in a masters degree program on integrative cancer treatment at the University of South Florida’s medical school.