Vitamin C: Should you Supplement your Dog?

People must eat foods rich in vitamin C rich in order to stay healthy. Not so our dogs. 

Unlike people, dogs aren't dependent on vitamin C being supplied in food. Instead, our furry friends have a metabolism that makes their own vitamin C, when given the raw ingredients. This means dogs don't get human deficiency diseases such as scurvy… and it's also why pet food manufacturers rarely added vitamin C to their recipes (unless it is as a preservative).

But, holistic veterinarians regularly encourage pet parents to supplement their dog's diet with this essential nutrient. How can the supplementation of a nutrient a dog's body makes on their own be of benefit to your best buddy? Let's take a look at the whys, wherefores, and potential pitfalls of vitamin C supplements.

The Benefits of Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a 'can do' nutrient which helps the body run more smoothly. For example, it strengthens the immune system by:

  • Increasing the activity of the white cells that fight infection
  • Stimulating higher levels of antibodies that defend the body
  • Increasing the amount of natural interferon in the bloodstream
  • Improving the ability of platelets to clot blood

No one disputes the benefits of vitamin C, but why bother with a supplement? 

Holistic vets argue that when the body is stressed, sick, or worn out it gobbles up its vitamin C stores as part of the repair process. This runs down the body's reserves of vitamin C, and boosting levels is beneficial

When Could Dogs do with a Boost?

Pretty much any situation that puts the body under strain, is an indication for giving a supplement. Even a healthy dog can benefit from a vitamin C boost, for example, prior to a vaccination appointment. Other situations under the same umbrella include:

  • In the case of degenerative diseases like arthritis
  • The aging process slows down vitamin C production
  • In times of illness such as skin allergies, infection, or organ failure
  • During stressful or demanding physiological states such as pregnancy, feeding pups, or being a working dog
  • When injuries or exposure to contagious diseases occur

Dosing your Dog

Not all vitamin C is the same. Some types are poorly absorbed from the gut, so choose your supplement wisely. Speak to your vet to get the insight on the nutrient and how to best use it in your dog's situation.

You may be familiar with vitamin C as 'ascorbic acid'. However, this is a form that the body struggles to use to best effect. Experts agree that 'sodium ascorbate' is the easiest to digest and also lasts longest in the body. Also, choose sodium ascorbate products marked as 'USP Pure'. This stands for United States Pharmacopoeia and is a guarantee of quality. 

When it comes to how much to give, be aware that high doses can cause diarrhea. If this happens with your dog, stop the supplement for a day or so, then restart at a lower dose. Recommended dosages do vary, but the following is generally accepted as ideal for normal dogs: 

  • Small dog: 125 - 500 mg per dog per day, split into two doses
  • Medium dog: 250 - 1,500 mg per dog per day, in two divided doses
  • Large dog: 500 - 1,500mg per dog per day, in two doses

And finally...can you have too much of a good thing?

High doses of vitamin C change the pH of urine and make it more acidic than normal. For some dogs, this could push them into forming calcium oxalate bladder stones. This potentially serious complication could cause bloody urine, or a urinary blockage which requires emergency surgery to remove the obstruction. 

If your dog has a history of forming bladder stones, then it's essential to talk to your vet before starting a vitamin C supplement. And of course, speak to your vet first, about whether a vitamin C supplement is right for your dog.

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