Vitamins and Minerals. Don’t we hear that word combination often? It’s a balance of nutrients we all strive for to lead a healthy life. Often we choose vitamin and mineral supplements so we can “fill the gaps” of often unhealthy eating habits...the magic pill.
Our companions may have it better in that vitamins and minerals normally found in fresh foods are easily added to commercial pet foods in the form of vitamin and mineral premixes to make their food convenient for us humans to feed a “balanced and complete” diet (1, 2). We see bags and cans of food plastered with “with added vitamins and minerals” or “great source of vitamins and minerals' (3)'. We even add Vitamin B supplements, Calcium and fish oil, to our companion’s food in attempts to “fill the gaps” and provide the best! (4)!
What?! Bad?! How is that possible? Don’t multivitamins and supplements “fill in all the gaps?” Yes, that is still true in some ways. Vitamin and Mineral supplementation is better than nothing at all BUT not only are these “magic pills” an excuse to not provide whole food natural nutrients, but many supplements are artificially made or created in a lab often making them less effective compared to those found in whole foods and some even contain harmful chemicals and side effect! That certainly isn’t natural at all.
Let’s take a step back first. Vitamins and Minerals ARE in fact important. These nutrients are important for providing energy in the body that allows it to perform hundreds of essential functions including growth, development, maintenance and repair damage.
Vitamins are micronutrients found in many plant and animal sources (5). Unlike minerals they are much more sensitive to heat, light and air which can easily denature and alter their natural qualities (6,7).
Vitamins are broken up into two groups: fat soluble and water soluble. Fat soluble vitamins are important and are absorbed into the bloodstream with the help of fat. They are stored in various body tissues but when consumed in excess can quickly reach toxic levels.
FAT SOLUBLE VITAMINS
Fat soluble vitamins get stored in body tissues, mainly fatty tissues and the liver. There are four main fat soluble vitamins (8).
Vitamin A is a group of compounds. In general only Vitamin A in its totality can be measured; the individual carotenoids or retinoids cannot (9) as easily. Its main benefits include aiding vision (10), roles in the immune system (11), reproduction, growth and development (12) as well as fur health. Usable forms of Vitamin A are only found in animal sources such as fish, liver and egg yolks.
Deficiency is rare however those fed a vegan/vegetarian diet often suffer from low Vitamin A levels. While certain Vitamin A compounds are found in fruits and vegetables it is very difficult to convert to a useful form. Cats for example cannot convert beta carotene to Vitamin A (13, 14, 15).
Toxicity can result in fur loss, bone loss and joint pain, damage to the liver, fatigue, poor appetite, moodiness as well as digestive pain. At its extreme, Vitamin A toxicity can cause death (16). Cats and dogs however are designed to consume Vitamin A in fairly large amounts (17).
Vitamin D is important for calcium phosphorus balance used for proper bone growth and health (18). It also aids in a well functioning immune system (19).
Unlike humans, cats and dogs do not make Vitamin D from the absorption of the sun (20), it must be supplied in the diet then converted to a usable form in the kidneys and liver (21). Fish, liver and egg yolks are the primary source for natural vitamin D (22). Providing 5% liver in the diet is essential as plants and most other animal protein sources contain very little vitamin D.
Deficiencies often result in soft bones that easily can fracture (23) as well as poor muscle tone (24). In addition autoimmune disease, poor healing (25, 26), fur loss, fatigue and an increased risk for heart problems (27) and cancer (28) can occur.
Toxicity is marked by low calcium levels as well as appetite and weight loss. At an extreme there can be issues with reproduction as well as heart and kidney damage (29).
Vitamin E is a source of antioxidants and contains a group of eight compounds broken up into two groups; the tocopherols and the tocotrienols (30). Alpha tocopherol is the most bioactive and usable in the canine and feline body (31).
Vitamin E helps reduce oxidative stress and the release of free radicals that are responsible for the aging of the body (32). Fish and liver is a good source of Vitamin E. Providing 5% liver in the diet is essential as plants and most other animal protein sources contain very little of this vitamin (33).
Deficiency is rare and is more common when fat is not properly absorbed (34) however symptoms of deficiency do include vision issues and muscle weakness which can also appear as mobility problems. More severe symptoms include anemia, heart and neurological issues (35).
Vitamin E toxicity is extremely rare especially when the source is natural. Typically too much Vitamin E can thin the blood (36).
Vitamin K includes several groups of compounds and is not just a single Vitamin. It is responsible for proper blood clotting as well as preventing heart disease and supporting bone health. It can be found in plants but the body primarily makes Vitamin K in the gut by beneficial gut bacteria (37). It can also be found in the liver of animal sources as well as in smaller amounts in animal meats (38).
While fat soluble, Vitamin K isn’t stored in the body in large amounts so a deficiency can quickly develop due to poor consumption or absorption of fats. Overconsumption of Vitamin A can affect the absorption of Vitamin K. In addition, Vitamin E can counteract the normal blood clotting effects of Vitamin K (39). This can cause hemorrhaging in various parts of the body like the brain, skin and digestive tract. Finally, the use of various antibiotic medications can also interfere with its absorption as antibiotics affect the gut microflora (40). Signs of deficiency can result in problems with bone health (41).
While natural sources of Vitamin K have never been reported to cause toxicity or resulting symptoms, artificial sources have posed serious side effects (42).
WATER SOLUBLE VITAMINS
Water soluble vitamins on the other hand dissolve in water. It is very hard to reach toxic levels as water soluble vitamins are easily excreted in the urine if too much is consumed however this also means that regular consumption of them are essential to maintain health (43). In humans Vitamin C is important but cats and dogs can make their own so only the B complexes and Choline are essential (44). The B complexes as a whole are important for growth and development as well as the maintenance of heart health and skin health. Deficiencies can often arise in those fed a strictly vegan diet as well as issues with general nutrient absorption (45). Deficiency however is very severe and often results in death (46 47). There are 9 main water soluble vitamins.
B1 (thiamin) is a component important to activate and help enzymes function (48, 49). Because it is stored in the heart, the liver, the kidneys and the brain (49), these tend to be wonderful sources when fed in a raw diet. Deficiency first affects the heart, brain and nervous system which can lead to seizures and death (46).
B2 (riboflavin) helps change the oxidation state of the substance enzymes act on as well as produce energy (50). In addition it is responsible for the health of the skin and coat. It is common in the liver (51) as well as in eggs.
Deficiency affects inflammation around the mouth (52) and causes problems with the eyes.
Riboflavin is very sensitive to light and easily destroyed if not stored properly (53).
B3 (niacin) like Riboflavin, Niacin is also involved in redox reactions (54). Dogs can create Niacin from Tryptophan however cats are unable to do this as well (55). It is important for skin health so when deficiency occurs, dermatitis can develop (56). While again rare, deficiency can also cause loose stool and cognitive dysfunction (57). Fish and other meats are a common source for Niacin (58) .
B5 (pantothenic acid)
B5 (pantothenic acid) is important for hormone and energy production (59) as well as involved in pretty much all metabolic processes in the body. While found in all food, meat, tripe and eggs are primary sources (60). Deficiency can result in inflammation of the intestines and fur loss (61).
B6 (pyridoxine) is important for blood formation (62) as well as reactions involved in forming new amino acids, the release of carbon dioxide and releasing glucose in the animal’s body (63). Deficiency can result in mood changes, specifically irritability and confusion, anemia, skin problems and nerve damage (64).
B7 (biotin or Vitamin H)
B7 (biotin or Vitamin H) is an important vitamin for properly metabolizing proteins, fats and carbohydrates (65) to aid in the proper skin and coat health (66) as well as nerve function (67). Biotin is readily available in the kidneys, liver and egg yolks (68).
Deficiencies are known to cause body pain, heart issues (69), anemia and mood changes, specifically depression.
B9 (folic acid)
B9 (folic acid) is essential for the production of DNA and RNA (70) thus a deficiency is known to cause birth defects (71, 72) . It is also important for preventing anemia (73). Unlike cats, dogs are able to create some folic acid in the intestines but it most likely is not enough to satisfy their daily requirement. Liver is the ideal source for folic acid (74).
B12 (cobalamin) is important for the formation of red blood cells, protein and the nervous system (75). Deficiency often results in anemia (76). Cobalamin can be found only in animal sources such as liver, kidney, heart, lung, fish and meat (77, 78). This is another reason vegan or vegetarian diets are inappropriate for cats and dogs (79).
Choline is important for various stages of metabolism (80, 81), helping to make the fatty components that make up the cell membrane (82). It is also important for brain (83) and nervous function as well as how genes express (84, 85). While Choline can be made by the body it may not be enough to satisfy dietary requirements so a dietary source may be required. It mainly can be found in animal sources like liver, meat, poultry and fish (86). Deficiency can cause liver damage, fatty liver disease and damage to the muscles (87).
Toxicity includes a fishy body odor, liver damage, vomiting (88), abnormal drooling (89) as well as a risk for heart complications (90).
Minerals are also micronutrients sourced from many plants and animals (91). They are broken up into two groups: macrominerals and microminerals. Macrominerals are typically required in high quantities while microminerals or trace minerals (92) are required in smaller amounts (93). Both are equally as important for the maintenance of health.
Calcium is essential for the growth, development and maintenance of bone (94). It is also an important component to aid in nerve impulses and messages within the body (95, 96). It is essential this mineral is balanced with phosphorus in the proper ratio to maintain bone health as well as important physiological functions (97). Bone is the primary source of calcium in the carnivore diet.
Toxicity and deficiency both can lead to structural problems affecting growth and development. It can also affect milk supply in nursing bitches or queens.
Phosphorus is also important for the strength and integrity of bone in the body however it is also important for energy production (98) and the cell membrane (99, 100). Phosphorus can easily be found in meat as well the bones of various animals.
Deficiencies can result in abnormal bone growth (101) and poor appetite (102).
Potassium works in tandem with sodium to maintain homeostasis (balance) in the body. It is responsible for aiding in nerve impulses and creating energy from nutrients (103).
Meat, fish and eggs are primary sources for potassium (104).
Deficiencies often cause muscle issues including restlessness and even paralysis however this is extremely rare (105).
Sodium works similarly with potassium to maintain balance in the body, create energy from nutrients and nerve impulse transmission (106). Additionally it helps with hydration, urination and thirst drive (107).
Sodium is naturally found in meats, often containing three times that of plant sources which are quite low in the mineral.
Deficiencies are uncommon however symptoms would include reduced thirst (108) with increased urine output as well as increased heart rate (109) and restlessness (110). Excessive amounts however appear in symptoms such as increased thirst, vomiting (111) and tacky, dry mucous membranes, kidney disease, high blood pressure and problems with the heart (112).
Magnesium is involved in hundreds of metabolic processes but has a major role in extracting energy from nutrients (113), the creation and breakdown of DNA and RNA, making protein(114) as well as in aiding in muscle (115) and nerve cell function (116). Finally it works similarly to calcium and phosphorus in maintaining bone health (117).
Magnesium can easily be found in meat as well the bones of various animals.
Deficiency (118) can result in nervous system problems (119) while excess can result in struvite bladder stones in felines (120).
Chloride is essential for homeostasis in the body especially regarding extracellular fluids (121). It is a main component of hydrochloric acid essential for digestion and also is important for the maintenance of appropriate blood pressure (122). Signs of deficiency include weakness (123) and problems with growth and development (124). An excess will cause issues in calcium potassium balance. Diets with higher amounts of meat typically don’t have deficiencies in chloride however one may notice when taking nutrient values of a raw diet, values will show chloride is low, this isn’t because diets are low in the nutrient, rather most databases don’t report the value. Because Chloride is fairly unstable, it must be paired with another element like sodium or potassium so these values are reported or sodium chloride is reported instead. 60% of sodium chloride tends to be chloride while the remaining 40% is sodium (125).
Iron is important for oxygen transportation (126, 127) as well as enzyme activity within the body.
Iron is found in meat, liver and fish (128).
Deficiencies can result in anemia (129), loose stool (130) as well as problems with growth and development (131).
Excessive levels can affect the proper absorption of other minerals like manganese (132), copper (133) and zinc (134) resulting in deficiencies of these nutrients as well. Other symptoms also include vomiting and loose stool (135).
Zinc is important for reproduction (136) , skin and coat maintenance (137, 138) as well as healing wounds (139). It is also responsible for helping to transport Vitamin A (140), creation and breakdown of carbohydrates (141) and proteins (142) as well as many other functions.
Zinc is found commonly in various animal sources.
Deficiencies can result in growth issues as well as skin and coat issues such as fur loss, skin lesions and scaliness (143).
Deficiencies in copper and iron can also occur if iron is too high. In felines specifically, seizures can result when consuming excessive iron (144).
Manganese is essential for the cartilage of bones and joints as well as proper neurological function. It also is a main component of enzymes (145).
Manganese is found in high quantities in fur (146) and feathers of whole prey as well as in meat (147) and goats milk (148) in smaller amounts.
Deficiencies can show up as structural abnormalities like the bowing of the extremities (149) and affect mobility (150). It can also greatly affect various aspects of reproduction like heat cycles, low birth weight, litter sizes and even affect iron levels (151, 152).
Copper is found in small amounts in lamb, pork and duck as well as in higher concentrations in the liver. It is essential for the makeup of enzymes, making collagen, myelin, the protective layer found in the nervous system as well as the pigment found in fur. It also helps the body utilize iron that is used to make up the protein in red blood cells to help transport oxygen and prevent damage from free radicals (153).
Signs of deficiency include anemia (154), pigment changes in the fur (155) and extension issues in the lower limbs (156).
Toxic levels are rare however specific breeds of dogs have diseases in which copper storage is impaired (157, 158).
Iodine, while required in very small doses, is essential for proper thyroid function which produces hormones responsible for growth and development (159, 160, 161). Fish and sea salts are the most common source of iodine (162).
Deficiency can result in the enlargement of the thyroid, skin and coat issues such as fur loss, dry skin, brittle coat and abnormal weight gain (163). Cats that are showing symptoms of excessive iodine actually show signs similar to symptoms when deficient in iodine (164).
Selenium is important for maintaining a healthy immune system as well as cleaning up the damage caused by free radicals (165). Selenium can be found in the liver, kidneys (166) and meat in small amounts but is most prevalent in fish (167). When feeding fish it is recommended to only feed 10% or less in the diet as high levels can cause overdose of selenium resulting in anorexia and failure to gain weight (168). Deficiencies can also cause anorexia as well as mood changes notably depression, problems breathing and at its worst, coma (169).
No Need to Artificially Supplement
It is common for those not following prey model raw or ratioed diets to rely on vitamin and mineral supplements to “fill the gaps” and create a “balanced” diet. But here’s the problem: nearly no one is testing their recipes or knows their companions’ individual needs for these nutrients.
So while this seems to be a concern when feeding a biological, species appropriate raw diet of meat, organs and bone, you can provide all the required vitamins and minerals needed to function and live. With all the constant bombardment of supplements and added vitamins and minerals to virtually everything we or our companions consume, it may make many weary to imagine your companion can get all its nutrients from just these three sources.
Dr. Richard Patton author of Ruined By Excess, Perfected By Lack: The Paradox Of Pet Nutrition is quoted in saying “... how do all the wild canids [and felids] throughout the eons of history manage to thrive and reproduce without ever consuming the first molecule of micronutrient from a commercial source? …All live well without any vitamins added to their diet…”
Below are two basic charts displaying 100 grams of common meat, organs and bones (some of which are not protein specific) used in raw feeding as well as the vitamins and minerals each contains. By no means is this an exhaustive list. Just like the human diet it should contain variety as some sources are higher or lower in nutrients.
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This article is in assumption you have a health companion animal being fed a diet of whole foods in rotation, following the ideal ratio of a natural whole prey/franken prey diet