When we talk about how nutritionally good a dog food is, many of us focus on protein and fat content, especially since dog food marketing makes it appear these are the only important parts of the food. However, just like us, dogs need vitamins and vitamin deficiencies can cause all kinds of health problems. The following are the main deficiencies a dog may have and their symptoms.
Beta-Carotene or Vitamin A deficiency can cause your dog to have a weakened immune system, often resulting in being ill frequently. They may also have night blindness and skin issues. Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin so diets that are too low in fat can often be the culprit here.
Thiamine or Vitamin B1 deficiency is actually pretty common in dogs. A B1 deficiency in your dog will cause vomiting, excessive drooling, and loss of appetite. If your dog reaches “terminal” stage (lacking B1 for about a month) they will die within just a few days. Some dogs have intestinal issues that prohibit the absorption of the vitamin. And some foods are just lacking in it, especially raw and canned diets.
Riboflavin or Vitamin B2 can causes stunted growth in puppies. It can also cause dry, flaky skin, eye problems, and fainting in all dogs. B2 deficiency can even cause heart failure. Dogs on some forms of antibiotics may need more Vitamin B2, so ask your vet if your dog is currently taking antibiotics.
A Niacin or Vitamin B3 deficiency can be fatal! Symptoms include your dog’s tongue turning dark (brown or black), inflamed lips and gums, no appetite, seizures and bloody diarrhea. You dog should not have too much B3, which can also cause issues.
Pyridoxine or Vitamin B6 deficiency can cause epilepsy, kidney damage, asthma arterial disease, and allergy issues. It’s even been linked to cancer!! Like B3, too much B6 is also bad.
Vitamin D is vital to bone health in dogs just like it is in humans. Rickets is caused by Vitamin D deficiency and involves swollen joints and misshapen (bowed) legs. Too little Vitamin D can also cause calcium to build up in the muscles, including the heart, causing a host of other issues, including hemorrhaging.
Vitamin E is vital for the health of many important organs including the liver and heart. It’s also important for eye health, muscles and nerves. But, too much vitamin E inhibits the absorption of Vitamins A and K. This is another fat-soluble vitamin that could be deficient in low fat diets.
Vitamin K is not a vitamin that gets much press. But it should. A deficiency in K might be the worst of all of these. Without enough Vitamin K, your dog’s body will not be able to clot blood, which will cause hemorrhaging and death.
But My Dog Food is a “Complete” Diet, right?
You may be wondering how dogs can have deficiencies when their food is marketed as “complete.” Unfortunately, not all pet food brands follow the recommended minimum nutritional guidelines set forth by associations such as the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia. This means not all foods have adequate nutrition. In other cases, the wrong ratios could be inhibiting absorption, as mentioned about with Vitamin E. And some do not have the adequate nutrition because of the nature of their processing.
And since each dog is different, some dogs may need more of one vitamin than another. Like how some humans are anemic and need iron supplements. So it could be the food is nutritionally complete for some dogs, but just not your dog.
The Thiamine Trouble
As mentioned above, Thiamine (Vitamin B1) deficiency is actually fairly common in dogs (and in cats!) and can cause death. Part of this problem stems from the way the foods are processed (or not processed). Even if the manufacturer originally added B1 to the food, the processing may remove it. There have been several recalls lately of canned dog and cat food that were deficient in Thiamine.
Canned foods are especially susceptible to being deficient in B1. As part of the canning process, the foods are sterilized within the cans. Since B1 is a heat-sensitive vitamin, as much as 50 percent can be lost during this process. In addition, some canned foods contain alkalinizing gelling agents that alter pH, thus altering the amount of thiamine available as well. If you feed your dog canned food, be sure you are choosing a food that is tested AFTER canning to ensure adequate vitamins and minerals are in the final product.
Raw food diets are also known for being deficient in B1. Raw fish (tuna, salmon) or shellfish in these diets contain an enzyme that destroys thiamine.
Rice bran can also cause a break-down of Thiamine.
In dry food, Thiamine also depletes over time. Studies have found losses can be as great as 57 percent after 18 months, so it’s a good idea to research your dog food company and make sure the food isn’t being stored for great lengths of time before it hits the pet store shelf.
Being aware of what vitamin deficiencies look like can help save the life of your pet. Knowing a bit more about how processing can affect the nutritional value of your dog’s food can also save your pet and makes you a more informed consumer. To learn more about how we make sure Stay Loyal food is nutritionally complete, check out our ingredients page.