Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid)

There is a long list of functions that vitamin C is known to aid in, and immune health is not the least of these.  Vitamin C is considered the most important water-soluble antioxidant in mammals because of its role in removing free radicals from the body.  However, it can also detoxify drugs, histamines, carcinogens, and other harmful substances.  Because of this ability, it is key to protecting the DNA of nearly every cell.  Healing wounds, fighting diseases, and maintaining white blood cell health are other important roles that the vitamin has in the immune system.

But vitamin C is essential for a healthy metabolism, too.  It is necessary for processing amino acids, and it helps animals absorb many minerals, particularly metals such as iron.  It is also necessary to synthesize the nutrient carnitine.

Vitamin C is essential to the health of the skin and connective tissues throughout the body because of its role in synthesizing collagen.  Collagen is the fibrous protein that makes up connective tissue.  Because vitamin C aids in collagen synthesis, the vitamin is indirectly involved in maintaining bones, joints, spinal disks, blood vessels, and dentin, the part of the tooth between the enamel and the pulp.  In this capacity, vitamin C also helps repair damage to the cornea caused by ultraviolet light.

A final major role of vitamin C is hormone function.  This nutrient works with vitamin B5 to manufacture cortisol in the adrenal glands, necessary for resistance to stress.

Natural Sources

All adult pets and farm animals can synthesize their own vitamin C under normal circumstances.  Green feeds aid in this process in grazing animals.

Young animals receive vitamin C in colostrum.

Causes of Deficiency

Clinical vitamin C deficiency is extremely uncommon in pets and farm animals.  Most deficiencies are triggered by some form of stress, such as:

  • Trauma.
  • Illness.
  • Parasites.
  • Metabolic disorders.
  • Vaccinations.
  • Surgery.
  • Pesticides.
  • Temperature extremes.
  • Lactation.
  • High levels of performance.
  • Change in routine.

Age also impairs an animal’s ability to manufacture ascorbic acid.

Swine can also suffer from a genetic defect which hampers their ability to synthesize their own vitamin C.

Symptoms of Deficiency

Scurvy is typically considered the hallmark sign of a vitamin C deficiency.  However, animals with borderline deficiencies can display other, more subtle symptoms:

  • Reduced immune resistance.
  • Heat intolerance.
  • Weakness.
  • Bad breath.
  • Swollen gums.
  • Loose teeth.
  • Thickened skin.
  • Hair loss.
  • Pain in extremities, bones, and muscles.
  • Weak bones.
  • Swollen joints.
  • Leg problems.
  • Spinal deformities.
  • Labored breathing.
  • Bronchopneumonia.
  • Delayed wound healing.
  • Bruising.
  • Hemorrhages.
  • Bloody urine.
  • Anemia.
  • Weight loss.
  • Scouring.
  • Thin eggshells.
  • Infertility.
  • Retained placentas.
  • High mortality rates.

Symptoms of Toxicity

Vitamin C toxicity is a rather controversial subject.  Some experts claim that large doses of vitamin C can cause organ damage and death, but studies involving farm animals do not consistently bear this out.

A vitamin C injection can cause pain and swelling at the injection site, but these symptoms are typically short-lived and do not indicate toxicity.  In her book Natural Goat Care, Pat Coleby observes that, in her experience, this temporary irritation usually indicates that the treatment is working.

The most reliable indicators of vitamin C overdose are diarrhea, flatulence, and other digestive upsets.  “Buffered” forms of vitamin C are available to avoid these symptoms, but they may not be as effective for all medicinal uses.

Also, vitamin C can increase stone formation in dogs and cats prone to calcium oxalate stones, formed in acidic urine.  This will not be a problem with pets suffering from struvite stones, which form in alkaline urine.

Note that giving supplemental vitamin C to a healthy animal may interfere with that animal’s ability to produce the nutrient itself.  Likewise, animals that have been receiving large amounts of vitamin C for health reasons should be weaned off gradually to give their bodies a chance to resume full production.

Medicinal Uses

Although conventional wisdom still questions the value of vitamin C as a natural remedy, anecdotal evidence and scientific studies abound that demonstrate this nutrient’s versatility.

The following is a short list of conditions which vitamin C has been used to treat in animals:

  • Allergies.
  • Insect bites and stings.
  • Poisoning.
  • Bacterial infections
  • Viral diseases.
  • Cancer.
  • Respiratory diseases.
  • Fragile blood vessels.
  • Scouring.
  • Struvite stones (only the ascorbic acid form of the vitamin).
  • Mastitis.

While it may not be able to entirely cure pets suffering from degenerative joint problems such as arthritis and hip dysplasia, vitamin C may be able to slow the progress and ease the pain of these diseases.  Similarly, it may have an anti-inflammatory effect on active dogs that have suffered from a performance-related injury.

Vitamin C can also be a good supportive therapy for diabetic pets.  It cannot replace insulin, but this vitamin can help insulin work more effectively at stabilizing blood sugar levels, thus forestalling some of the complications of diabetes.

On the preventative side of things, vitamin C can counteract stress (particularly heat stress), exposure to animals with contagious diseases, and the side effects of drugs.  It is particularly valuable in assisting newborn animals that for whatever reason did not drink any colostrum.

Studies have found other interesting effects of vitamin C: increasing milk yield and quality in dairy animals and growth and meat quality in meat animals.

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.

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