Just like us humans, dogs need lots of nutrients and vitamins to stay fit and healthy. One of these important goodies is vitamin B12 – an essential vitamin for maintain healthy bodily functions. Unfortunately, due to medical conditions some vitamins can’t be absorbed by the body and need to be supplemented. We’re going to take a look at why some dogs might need vitamin B12 supplements, how vets check for this deficiency and how they can treat it. Let’s start by understanding why vitamin B12 is so important and what this vitamin does.
Why Do Dogs Need Vitamin B12?
Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is an important vitamin which carries out a few special roles in keeping your dog fit and healthy. Most importantly, vitamin B12 is vital for maintaining a properly functioning nervous system and for cell growth. The vitamin also plays a key role in forming blood, improving brain function and maintaining good intestinal health. It’s found in animal-derived food sources which are high in protein such as meat, fish, eggs and poultry, meaning most doggy diets will include a healthy amount of B12. When a dog eats any of these foods, it will pass through the digestive system and the vitamin will then be absorbed by the body when it reaches the small intestine. After being absorbed, it’s released into circulation before being stored in the liver and kidneys until the body requires it.
Why Does Vitamin B12 Deficiency Occur?
As we have learned, vitamin B12 is found in high-protein foods that derive from animals, particularly from an animal’s organs. Because dogs’ diets are naturally high in animal protein, it is extremely unlikely that a B12 deficiency (hypocobalaminemia) will occur from a lack of nutritious food. Instead, almost all cases of vitamin B12 deficiency in dogs are a result of another medical condition which inhibits the body from absorbing B12. Some medical conditions which typically affect vitamin B12 absorption include:
Exocrine Pancreatic Inefficiency (EPI) – This condition, typically found in cats and dogs, prevents the animal’s body from absorbing essential nutrients in food as they lack an important digestive enzyme produced by the pancreas. This condition is accompanied by several other symptoms and it will become obvious that something isn’t quite right. Dogs suffering from EPI will need regular checkups from their vet and their eating habits and weight will be monitored closely.
Intestinal Parasites (also known as Worms) – This condition might not seem like an obvious reason for vitamin B12 deficiency but it is entirely possible if the problem is particularly severe or if it is left untreated. These parasites can be ingested through contaminated food sources or can result from flea problems. When they enter the body, they become lodged in the intestine and absorb nutrients from ingested food, resulting in less nutrients (or none) being absorbed by the animal itself. This problem is quite common in dogs and is fairly straightforward to treat so long as it is noticed and diagnosed promptly.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) – This condition is perhaps one of the most common chronic intestinal diseases and causes of vitamin B12 deficiency in dogs. It causes malabsorption of nutrients and general maldigestion, similar to EPI, and will require a prescribed medical treatment for recovery with checkups to ensure the recovery process is going smoothly.
Genetics – It’s possible for some dog breeds to inherit a vitamin B12 deficiency through genetics. Some breeds which may be at a higher risk of inheriting this condition include Beagles, Border Collies and Giant Schnauzers. These dogs will typically show signs of deficiency disorders at around 2 to 6 months of age and might require special food or supplements for their entire life.
If you are aware of a medical condition your dog has and you’re worried it might lead to vitamin B12 deficiency, speak with the vet for advice and to learn about red flags to look out for. Because dogs can store vitamin B12 in their kidneys and liver, it is entirely possible for them to become B12 deficient but not show any signs for a while after. In this case, if they become B12 deficient it will only be apparent when they have emptied their body’s store of the vitamin. After this period, typical symptoms related to vitamin B12 deficiency will become apparent.
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What Signs and Symptoms Should You Look Out For?
Since vitamin B12 deficiency is usually linked to (or a result of) a severe medical problem, it will usually appear with other symptoms related to the medical condition. While each condition will have its own specific symptoms, the following list contains the main symptoms which might accompany B12 deficiency, irrespective of the condition. These symptoms could include:
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Anorexia (failure to gain weight)
- Irregular urination or passing of waste
- Weakened movements
- Tender or overly sensitive abdomen
- Bloating in abdomen
If you notice any of these symptoms, continue to monitor your poorly pup’s behavior and bodily functions to look for changes and inform your vet immediately. While these symptoms don’t necessarily indicate the dog is suffering from a severe intestinal problem nor vitamin B12 deficiency, they aren’t healthy symptoms and could be caused by another health condition.
Noticing symptoms early and observing changes in behavior or habits will give you the best chance of catching any medical conditions before they deteriorate. Dogs that exhibit one or more of these symptoms may need monitored further to determine the severity of the problem or they may need to visit the vet immediately. After calling the vet and informing them of the symptoms or changes you’ve noticed they’ll recommend the best course of action.
If the vet believes the symptoms are serious or is concerned that they could develop without intervention then the dog will need to visit the vet to have tests carried out. The vet will carry out a thorough checkup including a physical exam and possibly an ultrasound of its abdomen. Other tests might include blood work, including a blood test, blood count and a full chemical blood profile. This is used to determine the concentration of B12 and other vitamin levels in the blood which could indicate an absorption problem if the test shows low levels. The vet might also conduct a urinalysis test to determine the levels of white blood cells and to test kidney function. If the levels are higher than normal then this could indicate B12 deficiency and other intestinal problems regarding maldigestion or malabsorption of nutrients.
Some conditions have the possibility of deteriorating exponentially causing worsened or new symptoms to appear if they are not diagnosed and treated quickly. For this reason, we can’t stress enough how important it is to inform your vet immediately after noticing any unusual symptoms. An early diagnosis provides the best chance for a quick and successful recovery and minimizes risk.
Treatment for Vitamin B12 Deficiency
Treating B12 deficiency can usually be administered through vitamin B12 supplements which can either be given orally in pill form or through an injection. The method for administering the supplement depends on the dog and its specific condition. If the dog is unable to absorb nutrients through food then the pill will have no effect and it will have to be administered through an injection instead. These supplements are typically given once per week for several weeks, then once per two weeks, until once per month is suitable. As the injections must be given at regular intervals for a prolonged period of time, the vet might recommend that the owner learns to administer the supplements. If the owner is comfortable and capable of doing so, it will save a lot of time and could be more convenient as the dog won’t need to visit the vet regularly. It could also be beneficial if the poorly pup becomes nervous or stressed when visiting the vet. Following this course of treatment, the vet will carry out more blood tests which, if successful, should show normal levels of vitamin B12 in the blood.
Since B12 deficiency is usually an aspect of other intestinal disorders, this treatment will be carried out alongside or as part of treatment for the disorder as well. This is because vitamin B12 plays a significant role in healthy bodily functions and its absorption and use is vital in the recovery process of other conditions. When vitamin B12 levels return to normal, the recovery process for the other condition will likely improve as a result.
As we have learned, vitamin B12 is essential for a dog’s general health, for proper brain and kidney function and for maintaining correct functioning of the nervous system. While B12 deficiency has the potential to cause some serious problems, it has a straightforward treatment which makes the recover process fairly simple. We hope no dog parent has to ever go through this process, but after reading the article you’ll know the red flags to look out for and what the process might be like. Just remember, a quick diagnosis gives the past chance of recovery for any poorly pooch.