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Canine Vitamins & Nutritional Supplements

June 28, 2011 by  
Filed under Dog Health and Nutrition

Depending on the type of food you give your dog, as well as on the dog’s age, activity level, general health and specific medical issues, you may find you need to supplement the dog’s diet.  Vitamins play a vital role in digestion, reproduction, muscle and bone growth / function, healthy fur and skin, and blood clotting.  In addition, they help the body make better use of the proteins, carbohydrates, and fats in the dog’s food.

Types of Vitamins

Vitamins are classified as either water-soluble or fat-soluble, based on where the body stores them.  The fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) are stored in fatty tissues and can build up to toxic levels over time if too much is given.  The water-soluble vitamins are not stored inside the body; they are either used or excreted.

Functions & sources of the most common vitamins

Vitamin A, found naturally in liver, fish liver oil, veggies, and dairy products, helps with your dog’s night vision, as well as maintaining your dog’s skin and coat.

Vitamin B1, also known as Thiamin, is found in many foods including fruits, veggies, milk, and meat.  Thiamin helps maintain your dog’s appetite, reflexes, nerve control, and muscle tone.

Vitamin B2, also known as Riboflavin is found in organ meats like kidney and liver, as well as in dairy products.  It is important for the heart and eyes.

Vitamin B5, also known as Pantothenic Acid, found in meats and vegetables, is important for fur and coat health, as well as for digestion.

Vitamin B6, also known as Pyridoxine, is found in nearly all foods, although the processing done to make the food more palatable often damages the B6.  A shortage of Pyridoxine causes anemia, poor growth, and skin problems.

Vitamin B12, is found in organ meats and is important in keeping your dog’s blood cells healthy.

Biotin, found in corn, soybeans, and beef liver, helps maintain a shine, well-hydrated coat.

Vitamin C, which a healthy dog can manufacture in his or her own liver, is important in healing after injuries and in maintaining general good health.  If additional vitamin C is needed, it can be found in citrus fruits and in vegetables.

Vitamin D is found in dairy products and fish liver oil, and is manufactured by the dog’s body when exposed to sunlight.  It is important in bone and tooth development, as well as for maintaining your dog’s energy level.

Vitamin E, found in meat, nuts, and green leafy vegetables, helps maintain your dog’s reproductive capability, and is important if you plan to breed your dog.

Folic Acid, found in organ meats, is important in keeping the bone marrow healthy so it can produce robust blood cells.

Vitamin K, is important in preventing excessive bleeding after an injury or surgery.  It is found in kelp, alfalfa, and egg yolks.

Niacin, found in meat, helps your dog’s blood cells to function properly.

How are nutritional supplements different than vitamins?

Many times, the words are used interchangeably, and, in fact, some multi-vitamins are marketed as supplements.  For the purposes of this article, we’ll use the following distinction:  while vitamins are found naturally in the foods your dog eats, as well as in the dog’s body, nutritional supplements are typically man-made and designed to address specific problems.

For example, a dog who is suffering from arthritis may benefit from the addition of glucosamine-chondroitin, which helps build and maintain cartilage.

Pregnant dogs and those who are ill, injured, or elderly may also benefit from supplements which aid in digestion or provide extra calories for times when their appetites might not be strong enough to entice them to eat enough to remain healthy.


One of the supplements that gets a lot of attention is the anti-oxidant group.  As your dog’s body cells break down due to aging, exposure to chemicals like pesticides, and exposure to ultra-violet sun rays, the cells release free radicals.  In turn, the free radicals can damage more cells, speeding up the aging process and even causing cancer.

What an anti-oxidant does is to give up one of its own electrons to the free radical, neutralizing it so it cannot damage other cells.  The remainder of the anti-oxidant is of no use and is excreted from the body.

Your vet may recommend anti-oxidants for your dog if he or she is under stress, elderly, or afflicted with liver disease, cancer, diabetes, auto-immune diseases, or inflammatory diseases like arthritis.

Choosing a good multi-vitamin

Not only is it important to give your dog the right vitamins, it’s also important to give the right balance of the various vitamins.  To do this, many vets recommend your dog take a multi-vitamin rather than individual vitamins.

Drs. Foster and Smith recommend that your dog’s multivitamin contain fatty acids like Omega-6, for skin and coat health, as well as at least 14 vitamins including A, B-Complex, D, and E.

Look at the ingredient label to see the source of the vitamins.  As much as possible, all of the ingredients should be natural.  For example, Brewer’s Yeast is often included in multi-vitamins as a source of the B vitamins and zinc.  Kelp may be added to provide  potassium, Vitamin B2, and Vitamin C.  The fatty acids in the vitamin should come from an animal source such as fish.

If you’re confused about what vitamins your dog needs, consult the interactive canine vitamin advisor from the University of Florida, where you can match your dog’s specific needs to the type of vitamins you should add to his or her diet.

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