Vitamin B3, also known as niacin, is a key part of the metabolism, helping the body process fats, carbohydrates, and amino acids. This translates into a number of vital roles. Niacin is essential for the health of the skin, bones, joints, mucous membranes, digestive system, and central nervous system.
Grazing animals can synthesize their own niacin when provided with forage-based diets. Alfalfa and timothy hay are especially beneficial.
Other types of animals must consume vitamin B3 in their diet. Here arises a great deal of confusion. Cereal grains such as corn are high in niacin, but one sometimes overlooked fact is that animals cannot always use the form of the vitamin found in these grains. For swine and poultry, therefore, better sources of vitamin B3 would include fish meal, wheat bran, and brewer’s yeast.
Although dogs can manufacture their own niacin, dietary sources appear to be more efficient, and cats absolutely must receive niacin in their diets. Yeast, fish, and poultry are good sources. While dogs are able to convert nutrients in nuts and leafy vegetables to niacin, cats are strictly dependent on the niacin found in animal proteins.
Causes of Deficiency
As you might expect, niacin deficiencies are very rare in grazing animals. When they do occur, they can usually be attributed to either antibiotic treatment or a highly concentrated diet with little natural forage.
In swine, poultry, and pets, another possible cause of a deficiency is feeding forms of vitamin B3 that the animals cannot use. There is some speculation that niacin deficiency may be caused by excessive amounts of leucine, an amino acid found in soybeans, but experts are not in agreement on this theory. Also, feeding vegetarian diets to cats is likely to cause a vitamin B3 deficiency.
Symptoms of Deficiency
- Dementia in pets.
- Bad breath in dogs.
- Increased salivation.
- Inflamed tongue and oral cavity in chicks and dogs.
- Oral ulcers in cats.
- Dermatitis/poor feathering.
- Leg problems in poultry.
- Loss of appetite.
- Weight loss.
- Reduced cold tolerance.
- Severe metabolic disorders.
- Reduced egg production.
- Drastic drop in hatchability.
- Poor growth.
Symptoms of Toxicity
Because vitamin B3 is water-soluble, toxicity is highly unlikely in most farm animals.
Niacin is not considered quite as safe for pets, however. Extremely high doses can cause skin rashes, ulcers, and liver damage.
Niacin has been the subject of numerous studies in recent years, and is probably one of the more frequently supplemented vitamins, particularly in the swine and broiler industries.
In broilers, vitamin B3 is used to partly correct leg problems while still maintaining rapid weight gains.
In swine, niacin supplementation before slaughter appears to improve pork quality.
In dairy cattle, vitamin B3 has a number of beneficial effects. It improves digestive health, which can lead to better body condition and may prevent metabolic disorders. Niacin also appears to increase the fertility of dairy cows and may increase milk yield in the early stages of lactation.
In dogs, vitamin B3 is often prescribed to treat discoid lupus erythematosus, an autoimmune disease in which the body becomes allergic to the skin, resulting in crusting, sores, and pigment loss around the nose, eyes, ears, and paws. Niacin has also been used with success to treat seizures.
Content regarding medical conditions and treatment is provided for general information purposes only, and is not to be construed as legal, medical, or professional advice. Please consult your veterinarian for advice regarding your specific animal’s needs.