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Iron is an essential mineral for all species, canines included. Without iron, a dog's circulatory system can't function correctly, which can lead to moderate symptoms to severe disease. What does iron do for dogs? How much iron can you give your dog? Which foods are rich in iron? Can you give your dogs iron supplements for humans? Keep reading for all the answers to these questions and a few more.

Functions

Iron plays a key role in maintaining and supplying oxygen to the circulatory system. Here are a few of its functions:

  • helps create red blood cells and hemoglobin
  • transports oxygen in hemoglobin
  • aids in enzymatic functions

Daily Recommended Intake

The daily recommended intake of iron for adult dogs is 0.5 mg/kg of body weight. This requirement is slightly higher for growing and nursing puppies since mother's milk contains low concentrations of iron.

The recommended amount of iron content in dog food is 80 mg/kg of dry matter.

Food Sources

While healthy dogs usually receive all the iron they need from their kibble, other food sources are high in iron, including:

  • egg yolks
  • kelp powder
  • red meats (lamb, ox, beef)
  • organ meats (especially raw liver)
  • seafood (sardines, tuna, salmon)
  • foods high in vitamin C to aid iron absorption (cantaloupe, cauliflower, cabbage)

Dogs with anemia may benefit from foods rich in iron. Always discuss your dog's diet with your vet before increasing their iron intake through supplements or new foods.

Signs of Iron Deficiency in Dogs

The most common cause of iron deficiency in dogs is chronic blood loss. This is usually secondary to another condition, like a hookworm infection, gastrointestinal tumors, or chronic kidney disease. Malnutrition and malabsorption are less common causes of iron deficiency.

Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia in dogs include:

Puppies, especially those with parasitic infections, may have a higher risk of being anemic because lactating mothers have low concentrations of iron in their milk.

Treatment of Iron Deficiency

Your vet will first treat the underlying cause of iron deficiency. Oral and intravenous iron supplements can restore iron levels. Blood transfusions may be required for severe cases.

Signs of Iron Overdose in Dogs

There are 3 types of iron overdose in dogs: subacute, chronic, and peracute.

Subacute iron overdose

This type of iron overdose typically occurs when the dog eats something they shouldn't, like:

  • fertilizer/pesticides
  • supplements and medications for human use
  • oxygen absorber packets in bags of dried foods like beef jerky

Dogs will show signs of stomach upset, particularly bloody stools, within 6 hours of ingestion. Between 6 and 24 hours after ingestion, symptoms may seem to improve. Left untreated, iron overdose can cause severe, potentially life-threatening symptoms within 5 days — especially if your dog ingested large amounts of iron (more than 60 mg of iron per kg). Consult your vet immediately if you notice any of the following signs:

  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • bloody stool
  • lethargy
  • fever
  • excess panting
  • tremors
  • low blood pressure

For up to 6 weeks after ingestion, gastric ulcers and gastrointestinal obstruction can occur.

Chronic iron overdose

Dogs who eat items containing small amounts of iron for a long period of time may develop chronic iron overdose. Long-term exposure can lead to hemochromatosis, which causes excess iron to accumulate within the tissues. This can result in organ damage and scarring or thickening of the tissues.

Peracute iron overdose

Rarely, iron overdose can occur as a result of intravenous treatment for iron deficiency. Clinical signs of peracute overdose will appear quickly, sometimes within a few minutes of treatment. In addition to the symptoms listed above, signs of peracute overdose resemble a severe allergic reaction and may also include discoloration of the skin near the injection site.

Treatment of iron overdose in dogs

Treatment for iron overdose varies depending on the type of overdose, the amount of iron ingested, and the stage of toxicity. Treatments may include:

  • induced vomiting
  • anti-vomiting medications
  • magnesium hydroxide or calcium carbonate tablets to reduce iron absorption
  • medications to protect and heal the gastrointestinal tract
  • emergency stomach surgery

If you notice any unusual symptoms or think your dog has overdosed on iron, seek veterinary attention immediately.

Iron Supplements for Dogs

Iron supplements usually won't do much for healthy dogs receiving adequate amounts of iron from their diet. Supplements benefit dogs diagnosed with iron-deficiency anemia or suffering from chronic blood loss, or chronic kidney disease. Some handlers of racing Greyhounds give their dogs iron supplements, although no studies have confirmed its effect on athletic performance.

Iron supplements come in a variety of forms, including treats, tablets, powders, liquids, and injections. Because iron supplements can interact with other medications, always consult your vet before supplementing your dog's diet with iron. Never give your dog iron supplements intended for human use — doing so can cause severe overdose.

Got questions about your dog's iron intake or dietary needs? Chat with a vet now!

*Wag! may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. Items are sold by the retailer, not Wag!.

Written by Mel Lee-Smith

Veterinary reviewed by:

Published: 03/16/2021, edited: 03/16/2021

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