By Ally Thell, DVM
It’s the season of shorter days and longer nights. The UV index in Minnesota is low, meaning you’re not going to get a sunburn but you’re also not going to get enough vitamin D from outdoor activity. Your doctor may recommend taking a vitamin D supplement. In appropriate amounts, this can be safe. However; in overdoses, it can be life-threatening. The same is true for our canine and feline companions.
Your healthy pet that is eating a nutritionally complete and balanced diet should not need vitamin supplementation, even in our frigid winters. Unfortunately, pets sometimes find the taste of these products too irresistible not to eat. This is why we recommend keeping all products that contain vitamin D out of reach of your dog and cat to prevent a potentially life-threatening or lengthy toxicity endeavor.
Possible sources of Vitamin D include:
1. Vitamins and other supplements
2. Rat and mouse bait with the active ingredient cholecalciferol
3. Psoriasis creams with calcipotriene
4. Poorly balanced homemade diets
What exactly is Vitamin D (Cholecalciferol)?
Vitamin D (Cholecalciferol) is a fat-soluble vitamin that increases the amount of calcium and phosphorus minerals in the blood.
What’s so bad about that?
An overdose of Vitamin D causes a severe mineral increase that may result in organ injury and failure from soft tissue mineralization (i.e: hardening of the organs).
What are the signs of a vitamin D toxicity in my pet?
Toxic effects are not immediate. It can take 12 hours to three days for signs to arise. Signs to watch for include: lethargy, poor appetite, vomiting, diarrhea (may contain blood), weakness, excessively large urinations, increased thirst, and seizures.
What do I do if my dog or cat eats a toxic dose of vitamin D?
The first step is to bring your pet to a veterinarian for decontamination. Your family veterinarian or local animal emergency hospital’s veterinarian will induce vomiting with activated charcoal. A few doses may need to be given daily over 48 hours due to the recycling of vitamin D from the intestines into the bloodstream, then into the bile and back into the intestines. Traditionally, this toxicity has a minimum of 72 hours recommended hospital stay after decontamination in order to decrease calcium values and check blood work. Even a few days to several weeks after initial care, it may be recommended to have values monitored after discharge.
Can I call a poison control center instead?
Recently, there has been a change in ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center recommendations that may change our look at traditional treatment for vitamin D toxicity. It may be well worth the single time poison control consultation fee ($65), which covers the initial phone call and any follow-up calls related to that particular toxic exposure. So what’s the new recommendation? The addition of a medication called cholestyramine. Cholestyramine is a bile acid sequestrant, meaning it prevents the re-uptake of bile, which is how fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed into the body. This drug does not eliminate the need for an initial hospital stay and daily blood work checks. However it may decrease the overall time spent in the hospital and follow-up time.
If your pet ate a product containing vitamin D, call your family veterinarian or local emergency hospital immediately for guidance. We may, however, direct you to call a poison control center, such as ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888) 426 – 4435.