Like the other B vitamins, vitamin B9 (folic acid) is an important nutrient for the metabolism. It is necessary for synthesizing fatty acids, and it works with vitamin B12 to produce certain amino acids, as well.
Folic acid is necessary for manufacturing DNA, hormones, and neurotransmitters. This translates into a wide range of vital functions:
- Immune health
- Tissue repair.
- Digestive tract maintenance.
- Blood cell development.
- Neural health.
- Fetal development.
Most farm animals can synthesize their own folic acid when provided with green forages, including high-quality hay.
In some cases, poultry and swine may benefit from receiving vitamin B9 in their diet. This can be in the form of cereal grains, soybean meal, or animal proteins.
Dogs and cats also manufacture their own folic acid, but not in sufficient quantities to satisfy their requirements. Yeast is the most potent natural source, but liver, kidney, egg yolks, and green vegetables are also good sources. Pets may also supplement themselves by eating grass.
Causes of Deficiency
A deficiency of vitamin B9 is highly unlikely in livestock. Poultry are the most susceptible, but swine, young ruminants, and horses that are stabled without access to pasture are also at risk.
A folic acid deficiency can be triggered by a diet that is unbalanced in other ways. For example, vitamin B12, choline, vitamin C, and iron deficiencies can all lead to a vitamin B9 problem. Diets that contain excessive amounts of either protein or sucrose may also be at fault. Feed that is highly processed or has been stored for a long time poses an additional threat.
Drugs and moldy grain can interfere with vitamin B9 synthesis in all types of animals.
Pets may suffer from a vitamin B9 deficiency if they have food allergies or renal, pancreatic, or intestinal disorders which keep them from synthesizing and absorbing the nutrient properly. Some breeds of dogs, particularly Boxers and Golden Retrievers, can inherit a predisposition toward folic acid deficiency.
Symptoms of Deficiency
- Lowered immune system.
- Watery eyes.
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Swollen tongue.
- Oral ulcers.
- Brittle feather shafts.
- Loss of pigment in colored feathers.
- Slipped tendons.
- Erratic appetite.
- Stiff, extended neck.
- Reduced egg production.
- Dramatic decline in hatchability (mortality peaks in last few days of incubation).
- Spontaneous abortion.
- Difficult labor.
- Birth defects.
- Slow growth.
Symptoms of Toxicity
Vitamin B9 is considered nontoxic for most animals.
Folic acid is mainly given as a supplement to swine and poultry. In swine, it has been proven to keep the reproductive system in good working order, and has also been used as an antidote to molds found in grains. In broilers, vitamin B9 can partly correct leg problems.
Pregnant dogs are often supplemented with folic acid to ensure that the puppies will be born without defects such as cleft palate. Some research suggests that cats with thromboembolism may also benefit from vitamin B9 supplementation.
Supplementing ruminants with vitamin B9 is a little trickier because the vitamin is almost entirely destroyed in the rumen. However, the vitamin can be given as an injection or in a special “rumen-protected” form. Experiments with these two forms of folic acid suggest that the vitamin may maximize milk production in dairy cows, and may increase the levels of protein in the milk, as well.
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.