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5 benefits of vitamin B12 for dogs

by Dr. Pippa Elliott, MRCVS November 09, 2020 4 min read

Sources of vitamin B12, including fish, liver, and meat

Vitamin B12 is the 'gifted child' of the B-vitamin family. While all dog vitamins are important and have a role to play in the body, getting enough vitamin B12 for dogs makes all the difference between sickness and good health.

What is vitamin B12?

Vitamin B12, along with other B vitamins, is what's known as a water-soluble vitamin. A feature of vitamin B12 is that at its heart is a type of cobalt molecule, called cobalamin. This is key to many of the jobs thatvitamin B12 for dogs does. What makes vitamin B12 so important is that it's needed for many basic body systems to work, from digestion right through to making DNA.

B12 deficiency in dogs: Causes and symptoms

Vitamin B12 deficiency in dogs can occur due to illness, hereditary factors, a diet lacking in B-vitamins or minerals, or gut inflammation.  For example, plants contain almost no B12, so a dog on a strict vegetarian diet could be at risk of deficiency. The other side of the coin is that if a dog is fed a diet deficient in iron or protein, the body struggles to absorb vitamin B12 across the gut wall into the bloodstream, leading to vitamin B12 deficiency. 

Indeed, some dog  breeds have a hereditary condition wherein they struggle to absorb vitamin B12. These breeds include the Shar Pei, Beagles, Australian Shepherd Dogs, Border Collies, and Giant Schnauzers. But one of the most common causes of vitamin B12 is long term GI disease. If the gut is inflamed it can't absorb vitamin B12—and since good vitamin B12 levels are essential for digestion, this makes for a downhill vicious circle. 

The symptoms of vitamin B12 deficiency are general ones such as: 

  • Mild anaemia
  • Sickness and diarrhea
  • A dull, dry coat
  • Lack of energy
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Poor resistance to infection
  • Seizures

Benefits of B12 for dogs

Why is vitamin B12 for dogs so important? This vitamin is a hard-worker and vital to a healthy body, here's how:

  1. Strong immune system:Vitamin B12 for dogs is necessary to make part of the body's defence system, called immunoglobulins and cytokines. Without these molecules, the body isn't able to target and fight infections. 
  1. A cobalamin store: At the heart of vitamin B12 is cobalamin, which is needed for cells to generate energy. Cobalamin also helps chop down proteins into amino acids and harvest their nutrients for the body. 
  1. Make DNA: Vitamin B12 helps the body build up the complex chains that make up the nucleic acids of which DNA is composed. DNA is the lynch-pin on which everything turns, as it is the code which determines how cells work and the body functions. 
  1. Plentiful red blood cells: Vitamin B12 also plays a part in the manufacture of red blood cells. Without enough oxygen-carrying blood, a dog lacks energy and is tired all the time. 
  1. Healthy digestion: The cobalamin in vitamin B12 is needed for a healthy digestion and deficiency can drive diarrhea. Indeed, treatment for diarrhea may include a supplement ofvitamin B12 for dogs.

Vitamin B12 supplementation

Unlike other water-soluble vitamins, like vitamin C, dogs can store enough vitamin B12 to last for about a month. However, there are times when avitamin B12 for dogs supplement is a good idea.

When are B12 supplements necessary?

A healthy dog on a good diet should not need a B12 supplement—but this changes for dogs that have long term tummy upsets. If we look at their feline friends as an example, research suggests that 61% of cats with long term diarrhea also have cobalamin deficiency. It is reasonable to assume the same is also true for their canine cousins. 

Dogs with diarrhea might well benefit from a supplement. This is because of the vicious circle mentioned earlier: cobalamin is needed for healthy digestion, but when the gut is sore it struggles to absorb it. Another interesting point is that bacteria in the gut help make vitamin B12. Many stomach upsets involve bad bacteria invading and pushing out the hero bacteria that do helpful things, such as make B12. Giving a B12 supplement along with doggy probiotics can be a good idea.

Gut conditions that may benefit from a supplement include: 

  • Long term diarrhea
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Gut cancer (and it's interesting to know that in people, low vitamin B12 levels are a risk factor for developing colon cancer) 

How to give B12 supplements to your dog

There is  a lot of debate about how effective a vitamin B12 for dogs supplement is when given by mouth. This is because there are factors in the gut that, when absent, mean the supplement isn't absorbed. For many years, the only way round this was for the vet to give weekly injections of vitamin B12. Happily, some supplements (such as Cobalaplex) are now available that can pass across the gut wall to get where it's needed.

The article was written by Pippa Elliot, BVMS, MRCVS on November 9, 2020.
Dr. Pippa Elliott, MRCVS
Dr. Pippa Elliott, MRCVS

Dr. Elliott graduated from the University of Glasgow, UK, with a Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery. She has over three decades of experience working in companion animal practice and is the designated veterinarian for the Cats Protection rescue center, Harrow. In addition to hands-on work in the clinic, Dr. Elliott is an editor for small animal, veterinary textbooks from Improve International. She also writes a regular newsletter piece for the Webinar Vet and contributed to The Veterinary Times. Dr. Elliott is also qualified as an Official Veterinarian to oversee the export of animal products abroad.