Vitamin C…do dogs and cats need it?

Vitamin C is critical to the immune system. It heals and protects the body.

Centuries ago sailors, pirates and other people at sea for long periods developed a condition called scurvy.

This disease was nasty. Bleeding gums, spots on the skin, opening of old wounds, loss of teeth, a weakened condition and often death befell these people who were eating very few fruits and vegetables. They were at sea longer than fruits and vegetables could be kept from spoiling.

In 1747, James Lind, who was an officer and naval surgeon in the British Royal Navy figured out that if people with scurvy ate oranges and lemons, the disease went away.

Scientists discovered years later that it was the vitamin C in these fruits that was missing in the diets of people who had the disease. They realized vitamin C had to be added to the diet because the human body doesn’t produce it on its own.

Unlike humans, dogs and cats do produce vitamin C naturally. And they too need it for healthy immune function.

There’s a great deal of debate in the veterinary community over vitamin C. Do cats and dogs need vitamin C added to their diets, or do they produce enough naturally?

Some veterinarians feel it’s unnecessary, but others believe there are benefits to adding vitamin C to your pet’s diet.

The benefits of vitamin C

Vitamin C has been shown to improve the quality of life in dogs that suffer from hip dysplasia. It has been shown to help cats that suffer from urinary tract infections and feline leukemia.

It’s very helpful in the treatment of bladder infections. If you’ve ever heard that you should drink cranberry juice when you have a bladder infection, the same science applies to your pet.

The vitamin C in cranberry juice passes through the kidneys unchanged and acidifies the urine. The high acidity level makes it more difficult for bacteria to survive in the bladder.

If dogs and cats make vitamin C, why would you need to give them more?

According to cardiologist, Dr. Thomas Levy, wild animals produce 4 times more vitamin C than domesticated dogs and cats, and pets are “more easily stressed into a state of vitamin C deficiency”. This becomes an even bigger problem as dogs and cats age.

“Dogs and cats are generally healthier than people; but their limited vitamin C-synthesizing ability is eventually overwhelmed as they grow older and face greater, cumulative, toxic stresses, resulting in more disease than is seen in wild animals,” according to Levy.

When your pet is sick or injured, they need very high levels of vitamin C to heal. Some veterinarians feel that dogs and cats are unable to produce such high levels on their own, no matter their age. The high levels of C a dog or cat would need under these circumstances just aren’t produced by domesticated animals.

In addition, many vets feel the everyday stresses our pets are subjected to like pollution, noise, changes in their living environment, etc. have a detrimental effect on their immune system. These docs believe that bolstering the immune system with a vitamin C supplement is a good idea.

How much vitamin C should you give your pet?

Since most vets won’t recommend adding vitamin C to your pet’s diet, you may not get much guidance from yours. It’s probably easiest to just use a food that incorporates vitamin C in the recipe.

But if you choose to use a separate supplement, most holistic vets recommend between 100 and 500 mgs per day depending upon the dog. If you have a small dog, less than 25 pounds, 100 mg should be fine. You can add 100 mg per 25 pounds of weight.

The maximum dose of vitamin C a cat can take is 250 mg a day.

If you were to give your pet more vitamin C than they need, it’s not usually dangerous. They will excrete it in their urine. Your dog, however, may suffer some stomach upset or diarrhea if they have too much.

Of course, you should always check with your vet before giving your pet any kind of supplement to at least get their opinion, and to be sure it’s not contraindicated with any other meds your pet may be taking.

How can I give my pet additional vitamin C?

You can give your dog or cat an oral supplement or you can feed them a food that has vitamin C added to the formulation. Using a food with vitamin C in it will be easier than using a supplement and may be more cost effective.

Be aware that only super premium foods will have the best quality vitamin C in their recipe.  This will usually mean a more expensive food but one that’s well worth it.

Lower cost foods may add natural vitamin C to their recipe, but natural vitamin C is very unstable. It decomposes very quickly when exposed to air, and it’s virtually destroyed when the food is heated during production.

In a food supplemented with natural vitamin C, 60% of it will have disappeared after 3 months on the shelf. After one year, approximately 95% of the natural vitamin C in the food will have disappeared.

You’ll want to look for a food that uses stabilized vitamin C. Husse premium dog food uses phosphorylated vitamin C in their food, which is a stabilized vitamin C developed by the pharmaceutical company Roche. It’s 4 times more expensive than natural vitamin C, but it’s much more stable and reacts better to unfavorable storage conditions.

It’s also heat resistant. More than 90% of phosphorylated vitamin C will remain in the food after the heating process required to produce the food.

Husse’s Light Optimal, Optimal Giant, Senior and Senior Mini super premium dog foods add phosphorylated vitamin C to their recipes.

Do you add vitamin C to your pet’s diet? Tell us about it in the comment section above.

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