July 28, 2021 Cats Diet Dogs Everyday Medicine Wellness

Vitamin D and Pets: What You Need to Know

A dog sitting in the sun

Vitamin D and Pets: What You Need to Know

When you visit your primary care physician, they’ll often test your body’s vitamin D level. Vitamin D deficiency is linked to an array of diverse disorders, such as osteoporosis, breast cancer and COVID-19. Harvard University recommends 10 to 15 minutes of sun on the arms and legs a few times a week to generate the vitamin D we require. But I bet your veterinarian has not recommended a vitamin D test or prescribed sun exposure for your pet. How come?

It’s the sunshine vitamin for humans, but not for pets

In humans, sunlight causes our skin to make a vitamin D precursor which is converted to the active form by your liver and kidneys. Hence vitamin D is often referred to as “the sunshine vitamin.” However, the skin of dogs and cats lacks the ability to use sunlight to synthesize the vitamin D precursor in their skin. Their only source of vitamin D is their diet.

Vitamin D in Pet Food

Commercially prepared pet food meeting the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) requirements must contain a controlled amount of vitamin D. AAFCO requires a minimum of 500 international units (IU) of vitamin D per kilogram of food for dogs and 280 IU/kg in feline diets. The maximum is 3000 IU/kg of food for dogs and 30,000 IU/kg for cats. Marine fish and fish oils are the richest sources of vitamin D and are frequently found in pet foods to help meet the AAFCO guidelines. Since the AAFCO range for vitamin D is wide, most pet foods exceed the minimum amount of required vitamin D, ensuring your pet gets all the nutrition he needs.

Measuring Vitamin D in Pets

Although not common, veterinarians will measure vitamin D levels in pets under certain circumstances. For example, a common cause of pet food recalls is an error in the vitamin and mineral mix added to the food, and your veterinarian might measure vitamin D levels to determine if a toxic dose of vitamin D has been consumed. Additionally, some rodenticide contain vitamin D, and vitamin D testing can assist veterinarians in making a diagnosis. Finally, many human OTC vitamins and medications contain vitamin D, including vitamin D gummies and topical creams for the treatment of psoriasis. For pets that decide to snack on these medications, measuring vitamin D levels may be used to guide treatment.

What to do if your pet accidentally ingests vitamin D containing products

If your pet eats any vitamin D containing products, call either the ASPCA Animal Poison Control at (888) 426-4435 or the Pet Poison Helpline at (800) 213-6680. For those readers concerned about pet food recalls, the Animal Medical Center maintains a list of pet food recalls on our website.

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