This is a question I get a lot … What are the best vitamins for dogs?
And more often than not it’s for a specific need … joints, shedding, seniors, or even a chronic disease.
It really doesn’t matter why you’re looking for the best vitamin for your dog. At the end of the day, the answer is always the same …
Is it a real vitamin or a fake one?
This is an important question to ask because … real vitamins are very different than the ones in most dog foods and treats.
The Difference Between Real Vitamins And Fake Vitamins
Most of the vitamins you’ll find in pet foods or supplements are synthetic vitamins.
Synthetic means they’re produced in a lab and not in nature.
The first synthetic vitamin made it to market in the 1930s. Today, they are seen as an important part of daily diets.
Just look at the labels on pet food or even your cereal. You’ll see lots of added synthetic vitamins. Even milk has added vitamin D.
Synthetic vitamins are in most products you buy for you and for your dog.
The problem is, synthetic vitamins don’t always act like their real counterparts.
Synthetic vitamins are chemical isolates … they’re only part of a real vitamin.
Vitamins are defined as a GROUP of organic compounds. And this is how you should think of them. Vitamin activity is the sum of many parts.
The synthetic form of vitamin C is known as ascorbic acid. But ascorbic acid is only a small part of naturally occurring vitamin C.
In fact, ascorbic acid only makes up about 5% of the entire vitamin C complex.
Naturally occurring vitamin C contains not just ascorbic acid, but “cofactors” like …
- Factor K
- Factor P
These all work together to give your dog the nutrition he needs. If they’re missing, the synthetic vitamin’s no longer vitamin C …
… it’s only a portion of the vitamin C complex.
So why is it called vitamin C? Because the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) says the only part of vitamin C that can be called vitamin C is the ascorbic acid portion.
Similarly, the only part of the vitamin E complex that can be called vitamin E is the tocopherol portion. And like ascorbic acid in vitamin C, it’s only a small portion of the entire complex.
As you can see, naturally occurring and synthetic vitamins can be worlds apart.
Right Handed Or Left Handed? Does It Matter?
Just like hands come in mirror-image pairs, many molecules also come in left and right handed forms. And their biologic activity is related to their handedness.
For example, mint and caraway both contain a molecule called carvone. Mint and caraway are identical molecules … except mint is the left handed version and caraway is the right handed one.
The difference is their orientation.
And orientation matters …
We can only use right handed sugar. Left handed sugar is used in artificial sweeteners and is completely indigestible.
Many drugs also have left and right handed molecules.
In the early 60s, babies were born deformed because their mothers had taken a drug called Thalidomide for morning sickness.
When developing the drug, manufacturer didn’t pay attention to the orientation of the molecules. Only one form of Thalidomide treated morning sickness. The other form caused birth defects.
Similarly, only one form of dopamine is effective in the management of Parkinsons. The other form causes a reduction in white blood cells.
Ibuprofen? The left handed version is four times as strong as the right handed twin.
And the sedative Darvon has a twin that’s used as a cough syrup called Novrad … which is Darvon spelled backwards!
What Does This Mean For Vitamins?
Let’s look at vitamin E as an example.
The synthetic form of vitamin E is often called dl. It’s a combination of the naturally occurring d form and the synthetic l form.
But the body doesn’t use the mirror image l form – it’s just excreted from the kidneys.
When synthetic vitamins and minerals are manufactured, they’re fundamentally different than their real food counterparts. Not only are they missing many key components, they’re just mirror images of real vitamins.
So what does that mean for your dog?
Do Synthetic Vitamins Work The Same?
Experiments show that synthetic vitamins don’t always behave like their natural counterparts.
Journal Of The American Medical Association
In one study, researchers fed female rats a diet deficient in vitamin D. Their offspring developed rickets, which is a symptom of a vitamin D deficiency.
When the rats received synthetic vitamin D, a third of their offspring still had skeletal malformations.
When they ate liver, a whole food source of vitamin D, the offspring were normal.
The book, The Vitamins by Sherman and Smith, also compares real and synthetic vitamins.
A group of rats received a very high-fat diet that was deficient in vitamin A.
They divided these rats into two groups. The first group had Beta carotene, which is synthetic vitamin A. The second group had an extract of whole carrot.
The group fed Beta carotene developed eye disease as a result of vitamin A deficiency. The ones fed the carrot extract didn’t.
Annual Review Of Physiology
In this study, rabbits ate a diet deficient in B vitamins. As a result, they developed cirrhosis of the liver.
When researchers added synthetic B vitamins to their diet, the disorder wasn’t prevented. But adding yeast, which is a real source of B vitamins, did prevent the condition.
The Vitamins and Their Clinical Applications
A study in the book The Vitamins and Their Clinical Applications looked at ascorbic acid in guinea pigs.
Guinea pigs are susceptible to vitamin C deficiency.
Researchers fed the guinea pigs a diet deficient in vitamin C. They then gave half of them ascorbic acid and the other half orange or lemon juice.
The guinea pigs that recieved the juice were much better protected against pneumococci infection.
These studies show that vitamins made in labs don’t behave the same as real vitamins. And that’s a problem for two reasons:
- Synthetic vitamins don’t work as well
- Synthetic vitamins can be harmful
Let’s take a closer look at that last point …
Can Vitamins Really Hurt Your Dog?
Historically speaking, synthetic vitamins can cause health problems.
First, your dog needs more of a synthetic vitamin than natural vitamins. This can make it easier for toxicity to happen.
Look at pet food companies like …
They’ve all recalled foods because of elevated vitamin D levels.
But the bigger problem goes back to the orientation of synthetic vitamins.
The famous Beta carotene and Retinol Efficacy Trial in 1996 is a good example of the unpredictability of synthetic vitamins.
This study tested the effect of Beta carotene and retinyl palmitate (synthetic vitamin A) on the incidence of cancer and death.
They followed nearly 20,000 participants who were at high risk for lung cancer. They began the study in 1988, intending to run it until 1997.
But the study halted in 1996 (21 months ahead of schedule) because there was no evidence of value. They saw a substantial increase in both cancer incidence and deaths in the group taking the synthetic vitamins.
These risks don’t come with natural food sources of vitamin A. In fact, foods high in vitamin A protect against …
- heart disease
Synthetic vitamin A may act differently because naturally occurring Beta carotene is attached to lipoproteins that protect the body from toxicity. Synthetic vitamin A lacks this protection.
Once again, you can see that the vitamin is better in its natural form.
Replacing real food vitamins with their synthetic counterparts doesn’t offer the same benefits to your dog.
How Do You Find Fake Vitamins?
In general, if the whole food source isn’t given, you can assume the vitamin is synthetic because most are.
But you can usually identify synthetic vitamins based on their name.
You’ll know for certain a vitamin is synthetic if it includes any of the following words:
Avoid ingredients like vitamin A acetate, niacin, pantothenic acid and any name that looks like a chemical. You’ll want to see real foods there instead.
Where Do Your Vitamins Come From?
A final note about synthetic vitamins … nearly all of them come from China.
The DNMU Pet Food Nutrition Course talks more about this.
Because of lower production costs, China manufactures over 90% of human vitamin C and nearly all vitamin A, vitamin B12 and vitamin E. And even more vitamins come from India.
Both of these countries have a poor track record when it comes to food safety.
But pet companies strive to lower costs. So it’s a safe assumption that most vitamins originate from China.
Even when it says Made in the USA on the label.
For a pet food to claim it’s Made in the USA, the product only needs to be “all or virtually all” made in the US. This regulation applies to many other countries as well, not just the US.
Recently, class action suits have been launched against Purina, Merrick Pet Care and other companies for labelling their foods as Made in the US when they actually contain ingredients sourced from foreign countries.
The only way to know for sure if a pet product contains ingredients from China is to call the company. Ask for the country of origin. And not just for the product, but for every ingredient in it.
Most companies can’t do this. And for those that can, it can change at any time. Pet food companies aren’t required to inform consumers when there’s a change in an ingredient’s country of origin.
Of course, just because a product hails from China doesn’t necessarily mean it’s poor quality.
But for those looking for foods made in the USA … know that it’s an increasingly misleading claim for most companies.
The Best Vitamin Is A Real Vitamin
The bottom line is, you get what you pay for.
Think about …
These are all rich in vitamins … the real vitamins that work in your dog the way nature intended. No surprises.
As for the cheap, fake vitamins?
You might be playing roulette with your dog’s health.