Everybody knows that human skin exposed to direct sunlight for about 20 minutes per day will provide us with a good amount of vitamin D. I know that many people believe this to be true in dogs as well, but it's not. No, really. It's not. Unlike other species, dog serum vitamin D concentration is not influenced by ultraviolet light exposure because their skin doesn't convert it into vitamin D3. (reference: Gen Comp Endocrinol 1994;96:12-18) The bottom line is that dogs rely on a dietary source of vitamin D. So, why wouldn't they be getting enough of it?
Maybe "enough" depends on circumstances, or individual metabolism. Here are some examples: In five cases of over-reactive dogs that I've formulated diets for, dogs responded to an increase in wild salmon oil with 56 IU of vitamin D per 500 mg capsule. I mention this because it's important to know what you're feeding, and the fact is that most fish oil products don't state the vitamin D content, but all fish oils contain some. Why use wild salmon oil? Because omega 3 fatty acids play an important role for the brain, so it seemed reasonable to bundle all possibilities together.
How can vitamin D help in these situations? I have no studies to prove it, so walk through this with me, and I'll share the thought that brought me to try this. Vitamin D hormone (known as calcitriol) activates the transcription of the serotonin-synthesizing gene tryptophan. In plain English, tryptophan makes everyone feel pretty good and content, and serotonin makes everyone feel even better and calmer. Vitamin D is what starts this ball rolling. So, it seemed worthwhile to start by adding more vitamin D to the diet, and results have been good even if not perfect.
There's more to the vitamin D story. I work with a lot of dogs that have heart problems including congestive heart failure. It's old news that omega 3 fatty acids are very beneficial to the heart as well as kidneys (which can become compromised due to congestive heart failure as well as some medications), but there's an interesting link to consider. There's extensive evidence that vitamin D influences the cardiovascular system and has a role in cardiac function in humans, There's increasing evidence that vitamin D deficiency is associated with the development of congestive heart failure in people. Serum vitamin D concentration is lower in dogs with congestive heart failure as compared to unaffected dogs, and the vitamin D concentration is associated with clinical outcomes. In other words, low vitamin D suggests a poorer outcome, and healthy dogs have a higher level of serum vitamin D. None of this proves that low vitamin D levels are the one true cause of the problem, but it strongly suggests that improving vitamin D status can prove beneficial.
My favorite way of providing vitamin D is when it occurs naturally in wild salmon oil because the benefits of omega 3 fatty acids are not only what I've mentioned above for the heart and kidneys. They're also taken up preferentially by the brain, help the eyes, skin, and have anti inflammatory properties that can help arthritis and muscle recovery (think canine athletes). Our brand is independently tested to prove the lack of heavy metals as well as vitamins A and D content.
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