We received the following e-mail from Josette Amirault in Quebec, Canada. She has graciously agreed to allow us to publish her question and our answer here. Since Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient in natural pet nutrition, we have provided additional information about its role, natural sources and symptoms of deficiency.

Josette writes:

“Our dear friends and neighbours have a dog diagnosed with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. They said they have to take her for B12 shots and I want to help by suggesting natural alternatives. Can you tell me which foods she can have with B12?  If writer Melody has time I’d like her to answer please because I know how well she researches from your blog.”

Dear Josette,

I am so sorry to hear that your friends’ dog is suffering from Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI).

Unfortunately, Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency prevents absorption of nutrients from food.  The pancreas doesn’t produce enough digestive enzymes so food goes right through the animal without being digested.  Therefore, feeding natural sources of Vitamin B12 would offer little or no benefit.  That’s why the veterinarian suggested B12 injections.

Vitamin B12 is a chemically complex vitamin encompassing cobalamins, a group of essential biological compounds. There are multiple forms of Vitamin B12 and not all are equally effective.  Methylcobalamin is considered to be most effective, but the less expensive Cyanocobalamin is more common in pet food.  Unfortunately, Cyanocobalamin is poorly absorbed and utilized. The liver will convert a limited amount of Cyanocobalamin into Methylcobalamin, but not enough to meet daily requirements.

Functions of Vitamin B12

Healthy dogs and cats require a small amount of Methylcobalamin B12.  The recommended dosage is usually 0.5 µg per kg for adult dogs, and 20 µg vitamin B12 per kg of dry diet for cats.  The need increases with age due to less being absorbed.

  • Vitamin B12 is essential for the conversion of homocysteine into methionine, which plays an important role in protein synthesis for cardiovascular function.  The conversion also prevents the buildup of homocysteine, which can lead to conditions resulting in heart disease.
  • Methylcobalamin B12 is known to protect against diseases involving neurological deterioration.
  • Supports normal growth and development in animals and humans through the maintenance of fatty sheaths covering the nerve endings.
  • Vitamin B12 has been found to increase the synthesis of certain proteins that help regenerate nerves.
  • Prevents anemia in pets by working with folic acid to regulate red blood cell formation and assisting in the utilization of iron.
  • Vitamin B12 is required by pets for proper digestion, nutrient absorption, and metabolism of carbohydrates and fats.
  • Aids in cell formation and cellular longevity.
  • Maintains fertility in breeding dogs and cats.

Symptoms of Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Vitamin B12 deficiency in pets can be caused by a number of issues, including genetics, disease, parasites, an improperly balanced diet, or too much protein.  It isn’t very common, but it’s a good idea to be aware of the symptoms.

Symptoms of Vitamin B12 deficiency include:

  • Neurological damage
  • Pernicious anemia
  • Spinal-cord degeneration
  • Abnormal gait
  • Bone loss
  • Fatigue and depression
  • Digestive disorders and constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Enlargement of the liver
  • Eye disorders
  • Headaches
  • Tongue inflammation
  • Nervousness and irritability
  • Labored breathing
  • Palpitations

Natural Sources of B12

You can feed these foods directly, mix them into homemade meals or treats, or look for them in dog food brands.  Commercial diets often include a synthetic Vitamin B12 supplement as well, but look for Vitamin B12 Methylcobalamin specifically for optimum absorption.

  • Seafood:  Mackerel, herring, clams, etc.
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products
  • Kidney
  • Liver
  • Seaweed – The only excellent source of Vitamin B12 among vegetables.  It’s also a source of Taurine.
  • Alfalfa
  • Brewer’s yeast

Note of Caution:  If you decide to go with a B12 or B-Complex supplement, make sure it isn’t preserved with Sodium Benzoate or sweetened with Xylitol.

I appreciate the vote of confidence, Josette, and I’m always happy to answer questions.

Natural Pet Care Blog CommentsDoes anyone have additional suggestions?  Please comment below.

Josette asked that we include a link to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Western Quebec with her question and it is our pleasure to do so.  Thank you for allowing us to answer your question publicly, Josette!

Southwest Institute of Health
Balch, Phyllis. Prescription for Nutritional HealingPrescription for Nutritional Healing: A Practical A-to-Z Reference to Drug-Free Remedies Using Vitamins, Minerals, Herbs & Food Supplements. 2010.
Companion Animals: Vitamin B12. DSM.
Pitcairn, Richard H. Dr. Pitcairn’s New Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats. 2012.
Neslte, Marion. Nesheim, Malden. Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. 2010.

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7 thoughts on “Q&A: The Role of Vitamin B12 in Natural Pet Nutrition ©

  1. We always focus on the big vitamins like vitamin C but people who make their own petfood should be aware of the entire dietary requirements of their pet. Good article, thanks.

  2. I checked our dog food and sure enough they use the cheap b12. What’s the point if they can’t even use it in that form??? I wish they’d try something strange like say ETHICS!!

  3. Time to increase the fish in our diet! We do give them sardines a couple of times/week but that doesn’t seem like enough. I saw on tv over half or more American humans don’t get enough b12.

  4. Very interesting! I’m convinced I should be taken B12 now but I guess I’ll share with my dog too LOL.

  5. I’m surprised such an obscure vitamin effects so many functions. I learned a lot from this one, thanks.

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