Can Human Vitamins Be Deadly for Dogs? The Risks Explained

Introduction

Pet owners need to be mindful of what they give their dogs, as some human vitamins can be toxic or even lethal to canines. Many common ingredients found in human multivitamins and supplements like vitamin D, iron, and calcium can cause poisoning when ingested in large quantities. Knowing what human vitamins are dangerous, the symptoms of toxicity, and when to contact your vet can help prevent serious illness or even death in dogs. This is an important topic for all dog owners and veterinarians to understand, as accidental vitamin toxicity is not uncommon.

Source: https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/outbreaks-and-advisories/fda-alerts-pet-owners-and-veterinarians-about-potentially-toxic-levels-vitamin-d-33-varieties-hills

Background on Dog and Human Nutrition

Dogs and humans have different nutritional needs due to differences in their metabolism and physiology. Dogs are carnivores whereas humans are omnivores, meaning dogs have evolved to get most of their nutrients from animal sources while humans can obtain nutrients from both plant and animal sources.

Some key differences in nutritional requirements between dogs and humans include:

  • Dogs require more protein than humans – adult dogs need a diet consisting of at least 18% protein compared to 10-15% recommended for adult humans.
  • Dogs have higher requirements for certain amino acids like taurine that are essential for their health.
  • Dogs can synthesize vitamin C whereas humans cannot, so vitamin C is not considered an essential vitamin for dogs.
  • Dogs require more calcium for skeletal growth and bone health.
  • Dogs need dietary EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids for skin and coat health whereas humans can convert plant-based ALA to these forms.

Due to these differences, vitamins and supplements designed for human consumption may contain inappropriate doses of certain nutrients for a dog’s health when given without veterinary guidance. It’s important pet owners understand their dog’s unique nutritional needs compared to their own.

comparing dog and human nutritional requirements.

Common Ingredients in Human Vitamins

Human vitamins and mineral supplements typically contain a variety of ingredients that are beneficial for human health. Some of the most common ingredients include:

Vitamins

Multivitamins will contain a range of vitamins like vitamin C, vitamin D, B complex vitamins like B6, B12, and folate, among others. These vitamins help support various bodily functions and overall health in humans.

Minerals

Mineral ingredients frequently found in human vitamins include calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, and selenium. These minerals aid bone health, energy levels, immune function, and more in people.

Herbal Ingredients

Some multivitamin supplements also contain herbal ingredients like ginkgo biloba, turmeric, ginger, garlic, and ginseng. These botanical ingredients can provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, or other purported health benefits.

It’s important to note that the vitamins and minerals contained in human supplements are calibrated for human nutritional needs. As we’ll discuss next, some of these ingredients can be harmful to dogs if ingested in large quantities.

Toxicity of Specific Vitamins to Dogs

There are certain vitamins that can be toxic to dogs if consumed in large quantities. The most common vitamins that can cause toxicity in dogs include:

Vitamin A[1] – Dogs cannot adequately process excessive vitamin A, leading to a buildup of the vitamin in the body. Toxicity symptoms include lethargy, joint pain, loss of coordination, vomiting, and skin lesions. Vitamin A is found in dog foods containing liver.

vitamin d toxicity causing symptoms in a dog.

Vitamin D[1] – Excessive vitamin D causes a dangerous rise in blood calcium levels. Symptoms include vomiting, loss of appetite, increased thirst and urination. Vitamin D toxicity can lead to kidney failure. Sources include some dog treats, fish oils, and foods containing organ meats.

Vitamin E[1] – Large doses of vitamin E can cause stomach upset, fatigue, diarrhea, and an increased risk of bleeding. Toxicity mainly occurs from dogs ingesting vitamin E supplements.

Iron[2] – Iron toxicity can damage the gastrointestinal tract and liver. Symptoms include lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, rapid heart rate, and labored breathing. Iron poisoning occurs from over-supplementation.

Calcium[3] – Excess calcium leads to kidney and heart issues. Symptoms include loss of appetite, increased urination and thirst, constipation, and abnormal heart rhythms.

It’s important to read ingredient labels carefully and not give dogs high doses of human vitamins without veterinary guidance. Seek immediate treatment if your dog shows any symptoms of vitamin toxicity.

Symptoms of Vitamin Toxicity

The symptoms of vitamin toxicity can vary depending on which vitamin a dog has consumed in excess. Some common symptoms include:[1]

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased urination and thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle tremors
  • Seizures

Vitamin D toxicity specifically can cause symptoms like:[2]

  • Excessive drooling
  • Constipation
  • Weight loss
  • Increased urination
  • Kidney failure

Vitamin A toxicity can lead to:[1]

  • Bone pain
  • Joint swelling
  • Bone deformities

Diagnosing Vitamin Toxicity

Diagnosing vitamin toxicity in dogs begins with a thorough medical history and physical examination by a veterinarian. The vet will ask about any possible exposure to vitamins, including both prescription supplements and over-the-counter human vitamins. They will also ask about when symptoms started and how they have progressed.

Blood tests are usually needed to confirm vitamin toxicity. These can identify high levels of specific vitamins and also assess organ function, which may be impaired. Blood calcium levels are often elevated in vitamin D toxicity. Tests of liver and kidney function may reveal organ damage from toxicity. Urinalysis can also detect the presence of vitamins and metabolites in a dog’s urine.

In some cases, x-rays or ultrasound imaging may be recommended to evaluate organs like the kidneys and look for potential damage. Biopsies of tissues like the kidneys may also be performed in severe toxicity cases.

With the medical history, physical exam findings, and diagnostic testing, vets can definitively diagnose vitamin toxicity in dogs. Treatment can then be started to address the effects and prevent further damage.

[1]

[2]

[3]

Treating Vitamin Toxicity

If a dog has ingested an excessive amount of vitamins, the vet will likely start treatment by inducing vomiting to try and eliminate any remaining vitamins in the stomach before they are absorbed. This is often done by administering hydrogen peroxide orally to trigger vomiting.

The vet may also recommend flushing the kidneys to help eliminate any vitamins and minimize kidney damage. This can be done by administering intravenous fluids to dilute the blood and increase urine production to flush out the kidneys.

administering iv fluids to flush kidneys in a dog.

Medications may be used as well. For vitamin D toxicity specifically, a medication called calcitonin can help reduce calcium absorption. Corticosteroids may also be used to suppress intestinal absorption of vitamin D. The vet may prescribe other supportive medications as needed depending on the symptoms.

In severe cases, hospitalization and aggressive treatment may be necessary to manage electrolyte imbalances and prevent kidney failure. With prompt treatment, many dogs recover fully from vitamin toxicities if addressed quickly.

Preventing Vitamin Toxicity

The best way to prevent vitamin toxicity in dogs is to be aware of proper dosing of vitamins and to use dog-specific vitamin products.

When giving your dog vitamins or supplements, be sure to follow the dosage instructions carefully based on your dog’s weight. Do not exceed the recommended amount thinking more is better. Discuss proper dosing with your veterinarian if you have any questions.

Look for vitamins and supplements that are specifically formulated for dogs. Human supplements often contain much higher levels of certain vitamins that can be toxic to dogs. Vitamin products designed for dogs will have safe dosages. Reputable pet supplement brands like Zesty Paws, PetHonesty, NaturVet, and Animal Essentials make dog multivitamins and supplements that are safe alternatives.

If your dog already eats a high quality commercial or homemade diet, they may not need vitamin supplements at all. Check with your vet before starting supplements to see if they are necessary.

By using dog-friendly vitamin products at proper dosages, you can provide nutritional support without risk of toxicity.

When to Call the Vet

If your dog is exhibiting severe symptoms of vitamin toxicity, it’s crucial to seek veterinary care immediately. Severe symptoms that warrant an urgent vet visit include:

  • Repeated vomiting and diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite or refusing to eat
  • Extreme lethargy or difficulty standing up
  • Muscle tremors or seizures
  • Abnormal heart rate and rhythm
  • Difficulty breathing or panting excessively
  • Signs of kidney failure like increased thirst/urination

Vitamin toxicity can lead to organ damage and even death fairly rapidly if left untreated. According to the FDA, you should take your dog to the vet or emergency clinic immediately if they ingest more than 40 IUs of vitamin D per pound of body weight1. The vet will induce vomiting if ingestion was recent and provide IV fluids, medications, and other supportive care.

rushing a dog with vitamin toxicity to the veterinarian.

Don’t wait to see if symptoms improve on their own. The sooner vitamin toxicity is diagnosed and treated, the better the chances are for your dog’s full recovery.

Conclusion

As this article has shown, it is vitally important to have an understanding of the differences between human and canine nutritional requirements in order to keep your dog safe and healthy. While some human vitamins, such as vitamin C and the B vitamins, are generally safe for dogs in small amounts, other vitamins like vitamin A and D can quickly become toxic if overfed to our canine companions.

To recap, some of the most dangerous human vitamins for dogs include:

  • Vitamin A – Can cause joint pain and central nervous system issues
  • Vitamin D – Can lead to hypercalcemia and kidney failure
  • Iron – Can damage the gastrointestinal tract and lead to vomiting or diarrhea
  • Calcium – Excess calcium can result in bone and joint abnormalities

The key is to have awareness of what you are feeding your pet. Do not give your dog human vitamins without first consulting your veterinarian. And if you suspect your dog may have consumed toxic amounts of vitamins, bring them to the vet immediately for diagnosis and treatment. With proper care and attention, you can avoid vitamin toxicity and keep your canine companion living their healthiest, happiest life.

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