Vitamin C is ascorbic acid, a compound that is found naturally occurring in many fruits and vegetables and commonly seen as a dietary supplement. Vitamin C is an antioxidant compound, meaning that it is in a class of compounds that absorbs and removed free radicals that can do damage to cells and tissues of the body. For this reason, antioxidants are commonly referred to as biological sponges.
Vitamin C also plays a significant role in boosting the immune system and is clearly proven to help protect mammals from infectious disease and to hasten recovery from infectious disease. How this occurs in complex, but in short, vitamin C directly influences the release of immune messenger molecules involved in summoning and activating the protective cellular defenses of the immune systen against infectious disease.
Returning to its antioxidant activity, vitamin C also reduces oxidative stress that weakens the body during periods of not only infectious disease, but disease in general, including cancer and autoimmune disease; that also cause oxidative stress on the body. The reduction of oxidative stress helps to relieve the impact of disease on cells and tissues and strengthen the patient, making vitamin C with few exceptions, a cornerstone supplement of choice for patient that are battling cancer and other chronic diseases.
Where dogs and people differ significantly with regard to vitamin C is that people cannot manufacture vitamin C, whereas dogs do. People need to receive their vitamin C exogenously via diet and suffer poor health and disease when they do not.
Dogs, on the other hand, do not need to take in dietary vitamin C because they can synthesize their own. However, not all dogs manufacture vitamin C equally and many even young adult dogs that are subsequently prone to infectious disease benefit from supplementation in the diet. Many senior dogs lack in their vitamin C production as they age and I generally recommend choosing senior diets that have vitamin C added or directly adding vitamin C to the diet via nutritional supplements.
Here is where we have to be careful with vitamin C. It is a crucial nutrient involved in the building of connective tissues (ligaments, tendons, cartilage) and bones. Thus, with few exceptions, I generally recommend against supplementing puppies with extra vitamin C.
One may wonder why vitamin C is a bad idea to supplement puppy diets since it such an integral component to the building of bone and connective tissue, something it would seem puppies would benefit from. However, the body often works in what is known as reflex inhibition. If vitamin C is supplemented in the canine body that is designed to synthesize its own vitamin C, the body will often suppress it own intrinsic vitamin C production in presence of excess exogenously supplemented vitamin C. By subsequently hindering a puppy’s intrinsic ability to manufacture its own vitamin C, supplementing it could lead to reflex vitamin C deficiency and hinder proper bone and connective tissue development. We may also potentially hinder its ability to make its own vitamin C permanently.
Thus, we always must be careful to balance the need for vitamin C supplementation in dogs with the patient’s breed, overall health, and age. I would strongly advise against taking it upon yourself to start vitamin C supplementation for your dog without consulting with a veterinarian. Vitamin C can be beneficial to a dog’s health but if not taken under the appropriate circumstances, it has the potential to cause harm.
Dr. Roger Welton is a practicing veterinarian and highly regarded media personality through a number of topics and platforms. In addition to being passionate about integrative veterinary medicine for which he is a nationally renowned expert, Dr. Welton was also an accomplished college lacrosse player and remains to this day very involved in the sport. He is president of Maybeck Animal Hospital , runs the successful veterinary/animal health blogs Web-DVM and Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care, and fulfills his passion for lacrosse through his lacrosse and sport blog, The Creator’s Game.