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4 min read

Iron for Dogs: Functions, Recommended Intake, and More

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By Mel Lee-Smith

Published: 04/14/2023, edited: 04/18/2023

Reviewed by a licensed veterinary professional: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

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Overview

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 and even severe disease.

What does iron do for dogs? How much iron should you give your dog? Which foods are rich in iron? Can you give your dog iron supplements for humans? Keep reading for all the answers to these questions and 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
  • makes up enzymes that regulate processes like metabolism and digestion


How much iron does a dog need daily?

The daily recommended intake of iron for adult dogs is 0.5 milligrams of iron per kilogram of body weight. This requirement is slightly higher for growing and nursing puppies due to their rapid growth rate.

The recommended amount of iron content in dog food is 80 milligrams of iron per kilogram of dry matter.

assortment of food, including raw meats, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and herbs, spread out on a white countertop

Best food sources of iron

While healthy dogs usually receive all the iron they need from their dog food, 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)
  • fruits and vegetables that are high in vitamin C to aid iron absorption (cantaloupe, cauliflower, cabbage)

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, fleas, gastrointestinal tumors, or chronic kidney disease (which can cause ulceration of the stomach or gut). 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.

How is iron deficiency treated in dogs?

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

brown and white basset hound wrapped in a white fleece blanket lying down on a bed with eyes half-closed

Signs of iron overdose in dogs

Can a dog have too much iron? Yes, it is possible for dogs to overdose on iron. There are 3 types of iron overdose in dogs: subacute, chronic, and peracute. Let's take a closer look at each one.

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 milligrams of iron per kilogram of body weight).

Consult your vet immediately if you notice any of the following clinical 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 food or items containing slightly excess amounts of iron for a long period of time may develop chronic iron overdose. Long-term exposure can lead to an excess of iron in the tissues (also called hemochromatosis). 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.

How is iron overdose treated 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 if something toxic has been ingested
  • anti-vomiting medications
  • magnesium hydroxide or calcium carbonate tablets to reduce iron absorption
  • medications to protect and heal the gastrointestinal tract
  • emergency stomach surgery
  • fluid therapy
  • antacids

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

For more info on treatments, check out our guide to iron poisoning in dogs.

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Iron supplements for dogs

Does your dog need iron supplements? If they're a healthy adult eating a complete and balanced dog food, probably not. In fact, supplementing a healthy dog's diet with iron could cause more harm than good.

Dogs (and humans) aren't able to get rid of excess iron in the body. As a result, iron absorption and storage are closely regulated processes. Disrupting this delicate balance by adding too much iron can cause severe tissue damage and scarring.

Dogs diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia, as well as those suffering from chronic blood loss or chronic kidney disease, benefit most from supplements. 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
  • 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 health and nutritional needs? Use Wag! Vet Chat to get answers in as soon as 6 minutes!


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