Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is important to the body because of its role in producing energy. It helps metabolize carbohydrates and fatty acids, but is especially critical in turning proteins into useful substances. It has been estimated that over 60 enzyme reactions depend on vitamin B6.
Another key role of pyridoxine is boosting the immune system. It is especially useful in resisting viral infections. However, the functions of vitamin B6 do not end there. This vitamin is also needed to regulate blood pressure, assist in the development of new blood cells, and produce neurotransmitters in the brain.
Pyridoxine is found in many grains, including corn and soybeans. Pets do not readily absorb the vitamin B6 in these grains, however. The best sources for them are eggs, meats, fish, dairy products, vegetables, wheat germ, and yeast. Adult grazing animals synthesize their own vitamin B6, while young grazing animals drink it in their mother’s milk.
Causes of Deficiency
Vitamin B6 is one of the least likely vitamins to be deficient in animals. Stress and drugs, however, can impair a grazing animal’s ability to synthesize this nutrient. Pets may also experience deficiencies when taking a variety of drugs.
Cats and dogs with metabolic issues have higher vitamin B6 requirements and are therefore more prone to deficiency. In particular, pets that have received fluids intravenously or are drinking large amounts of water due to problems such as diabetes or kidney disease tend to need more pyridoxine.
Sometimes diet is the cause of a vitamin B6 deficiency. Linseed meal products or high levels of pesticides can interfere with this vitamin, as can feeds containing excessive amounts of protein. Feeds that have been highly processed or stored for long periods of time may be deficient in pyridoxine, as well.
Symptoms of Deficiency
- Impaired immune function.
- Psychological changes ranging from apathy to excitability.
- Compulsive licking in baby pigs.
- Brown secretions around the eyes.
- Dental cavities.
- Poor feathering.
- Pendulous crop.
- Reduced or erratic appetite.
- Gradual weight loss.
- Vomiting (not common in dogs).
- Kidney stones.
- Jerky movements.
- Stiff gait in dogs.
- Crippling of one leg.
- One or both middle toes bent inward in chickens.
- Squatting posture with head on ground in chicks.
- Vibrations of tail tip in chicks.
- Reduced egg production.
- Reduced egg hatchability.
- Birth defects.
- Poor growth.
- Sudden death in puppies.
Symptoms of Toxicity
Vitamin B6 appears to be safe for most farm animals in reasonable doses. Dogs supplemented with extremely high doses (about 1,000 times the nutritional requirement) may suffer from nerve damage. Symptoms include:
- Muscle weakness.
Because of the role of vitamin B6 in boosting the immune system, this vitamin can be used to advantage in treating many infectious diseases. It can also help prevent travel sickness in small livestock. (Note that it cannot be used to treat travel tetany, which is a much more serious condition related to calcium deficiency.)
Studies in swine have demonstrated a number of additional benefits of pyridoxine supplementation. This vitamin appears to increase daily weight gains, and may also help sows breed back quickly after weaning a litter. In cats, supplementation with vitamin B6 may slow or stop the growth of mammary tumors. In dogs, the vitamin has 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.