That’s a question we get a lot: “what’s the best dog vitamin for joints?” Or maybe, “what’s the best dog vitamin for shedding?”
It really doesn’t matter why you’re looking for the best vitamin for your dog, because 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 or treats.
What’s 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 was made back in 1933 and since then, they’ve been marketed as an important part of the diet. Today, if you look at the label on a pet food or breakfast cereal, you’ll see lots of added synthetic vitamins. Even milk has added vitamin D.
Synthetic vitamins are in pretty much every product you buy for you and for your dog. So what’s the problem?
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 or complex of organic compounds and it’s best to think of them this way. Vitamin activity is the sum of many parts.
The synthetic form of vitamin C, ascorbic acid, is a fraction, isolate or distillate of the naturally occurring vitamin C … ascorbic acid is missing important synergists. 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 rutin, bioflavonoids, Factor K, Factor P, Tyrosinase, Ascorbinogen and other compounds. These all work synergistically … and if these important cofactors are missing, the synthetic vitamin isn’t vitamin C.
But the only portion of the vitamin C complex allowed to be called vitamin C by the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) is the ascorbic acid portion.
Similarly, the only part of the vitamin E complex that can be called vitamin E is the tocopherol portion, which is also only a small portion of the entire complex.
Entire living organisms are very complex in their nutrient needs and the difference between naturally occurring vitamins and synthetic vitamins can be worlds apart.
Right Handed Or Left Handed? Does It Matter?
Just as hands and gloves 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 version. The difference is their orientation.
And orientation matters …
We can only use right handed sugar. Left handed sugar is completely indigestible and it’s used in some artificial sweeteners such as Natrulose.[Related] What fillers are hiding in your dog’s supplements? Find out here
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. But the drug manufacturer didn’t pay attention to the orientation of the molecules in the drug. Only one form of Thalidomide treated morning sickness while the other form caused birth defects. Only one form of dopamine is effective in the management of Parkinsons, while the other form causes a reduction in white blood cells. The left handed version of Ibuprofen 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!
Now 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 are fundamentally different than their real food counterparts. Not only are they missing many key components, they’re just mirror images of real vitamins.
But what does that mean for your dog?
Do Synthetic Vitamins Work The Same?
Experiments show that synthetic vitamins don’t always behave like their food derived counterparts.
In one study, female rats were fed a diet deficient in vitamin D. Their offspring developed rickets, which is one of the symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency. When the rats were fed synthetic vitamin D, a third of their offspring still had skeletal malformations. But when they were fed liver, a whole food source of vitamin D, the offspring were normal. (JAMA, 118, 12:1002, March 1942.)
[Related] Are dogs with low levels of vitamin D at risk for cancer? Find out more here.
In another study, a group of rats was fed a very high fat diet that was deficient in vitamin A. They divided these rats into two groups. The first group was given Beta-carotene, which is synthetic vitamin A. The second group was given an extract of whole carrot. The group fed the Beta-carotene developed eye disease as a result of the vitamin A deficiency, while those fed the carrot extract didn’t. (The Vitamins, Sherman and Smith, Monograph Series, Chemical Catalog Company, 1931.)
In another study, rabbits were fed a diet deficient in B vitamins and, as a result, developed cirrhosis of the liver. When synthetic B vitamins were added to their diet, the disorder wasn’t prevented. But adding yeast, which is a good source of B vitamins, did prevent the condition. (Annual Review of Physiology, Rawkins, 3:259-282, 1941)
Getting back to ascorbic acid, another study looked a guinea pigs, which are susceptible to vitamin C deficiency. They fed the guinea pigs a diet deficient in vitamin C and then gave half of them ascorbic acid and the other half orange or lemon juice. The researchers saw that the guinea pigs that were given the juice were much better protected against pneumococci infection. (STEPP, W. KUHNAU, J. and SCHROEDER, The Vitamins and Their Clinical Applications (Die Vitamine’und ihre Ininisdhe Anwendung) Ferdinand Enke, Stuttgart, Germany, 1936)
So those vitamin isolates made in labs don’t behave the same as real vitamins with all their cofactors present. 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 My Dog?
Historically speaking, synthetic vitamins can cause health problems.
First, your dog needs more of a synthetic vitamin than natural vitamins, it can be easy for toxicity to happen. Pet food companies including Blue Buffalo, Fromm, Purina and more have all recalled foods because of elevated vitamin D levels.
But the bigger problem goes back to the handedness 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 on the incidence of cancer and death. They followed nearly 20,000 participants who were at high risk for lung cancer, such as smokers and asbestos workers, and they began the study in 1988, intending to run it until 1997. But the study was halted in 1996, 21 months ahead of schedule, because there was no evidence of value and there was 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 … and foods high in vitamin A have been shown to protect against cancer, heart disease and stroke. The reason synthetic vitamin A acts differently could be because the naturally occurring Beta-carotene in carrots and other foods is attached to lipoproteins that appear to protect the body from toxicity. Synthetic vitamin A lacks this protection. Once again, the vitamin works better and more safely in its natural form with all the cofactors present.
So, in summary, replacing real food vitamins with their synthetic counterparts hasn’t been shown to offer the same benefits of real foods with the natural vitamins intact.
How Do You Find Fake Vitamins?
You can usually identify synthetic vitamins based on their name.
In general, if the whole food source isn’t given, assume the vitamin is synthetic because most are. But 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.
Vitamins And Chinese Ingredients
A final note about synthetic vitamins … nearly all of them come from China.
The DNMU Pet Food Nutrition Course talks more about this. Click here to find out more.
Over 90% of human vitamin C and nearly all vitamin A, vitamin B12 and vitamin E are manufactured in China where production is cheaper. And many more vitamins are produced in India, another country with a poor track record when it comes to food safety. As pet companies strive to lower costs, 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 certain if a pet product contains ingredients from China is to call the company and ask for the country of origin 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 of any 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, that’s an increasingly misleading claim for most companies, given China’s domination in the vitamin market.
The Best Vitamin Is A Real Vitamin
The bottom line is, you get what you pay for. Real foods and supplements containing real foods contain naturally occurring vitamins with all of their important cofactors intact. They’ll work in your dog the way nature intended. No surprises. As for the cheap, fake vitamins?
You’re probably playing roulette with your dog’s health.