Vitamin Basics

May 03, 2021

Vitamins are organic compounds that are necessary for vital functions. Most animal diets provide sufficient vitamins for adequate health, but under some management conditions, disease states, or seasonal alterations, it may be necessary to supplement vitamins.  Vitamins are broken down into fat-soluble and water-soluble vitamins. The fat-soluble vitamins are A, D, E, and K. The water-soluble vitamins are B and C. In general, fat-soluble vitamins are stored longer and have slower changes in levels, and require less frequent supplementation. Water-soluble vitamins are more quickly excreted in excess and require more frequent supplementation.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is found in the diet as retinols or provitamin carotenoids, depending on the species and diet.  Vitamin A is used in vision, the immune system, skin condition and is an antioxidant. Forage-based diets lose provitamin A during storage, meaning that the longer hay is stored, the lower the provitamin A levels will be. If adequate levels are not seen in the diet for an extended period, supplementation may be necessary. Vitamin A is generally given as an injection in conjunction with vitamins E and D.

Vitamin B

Vitamin B is actually a set of a number of different compounds, including thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), biotin (B7), folate (B9), and cobalamin (B12). The various B complex vitamins contribute to metabolism, nerve function, cell division, and growth.  Supplementation with B vitamins is done through various combinations of vitamins in B-Complex formulations, but occasionally as specific supplements such as Thiamine or Cyanocobalamin.  Supplementation is often beneficial in animals with chronic disease or stress conditions.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is used by the body in producing and maintaining connective tissue. Vitamin C is further involved in healing and is an antioxidant. While vitamin c deficiency is relatively rare in animals, supplementation with injectable vitamin C can be used by veterinarians in animals recovering from significant injury, strenuous training, or severe diseases.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is important for bone health as it helps regulate the absorption and use of calcium and phosphorous in the body. Vitamin D, due to these roles in mineral balance, can cause toxicity and is present in high levels. As a fat-soluble vitamin, excess amounts are stored in fat so that toxicity can occur through either acute overdose or prolonged over-supplementation. Vitamin D is formed in most plant-eating animals by exposure to sunlight so that that deficiency can occur in prolonged confinement or extremely low-light environmental conditions. On the other hand, Carnivores generally consume vitamin D in their diet, and the environment less likely influences their vitamin D levels. It is advised to only supplement animals with a true deficiency of vitamin D because of the potential for toxicity. Most vitamin D injectable supplements are combined with vitamins A and E.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is another powerful antioxidant vitamin that contributes to proper immune function. Like vitamin A, vitamin E is prone to degrading in stored feeds, meaning that low dietary levels of vitamin E are often seen in forage diets in winter after long storage periods. Vitamin E supplementation may be either by addition to the diet or by injection. However, some animals are sensitive to injection, and it should always be performed with caution under veterinary guidance. 

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is involved in clotting mechanisms. Deficiency in vitamin K can result in prolonged bleeding from small wounds to severe internal bleeding. Many rodenticides target clotting mechanisms and vitamin K supplementation is used to treat animals that are accidentally exposed to anticoagulant rodenticides. Vitamin K treatment usually involves injection for the initial doses followed by a transition to oral supplement for maintenance.

Where Did F, G, H, I, and J Go?

Lots of other molecules were identified as potential vitamins when the idea of vitamins came along.  Many of the missing letters were later assigned back into the B complex or determined to not be irreplaceable molecules in the body — many of the missing letters and compounds that are still important to health, like omega-3 fatty acids.

As a globally trusted provider of animal safety diagnostic solutions, NEOGEN® is prepared to meet your animal care needs with our years of expertise. We offer vitamin and mineral injectables, including vitamin B, C, and E, and supplemental nutritional phosphorus and thiamine — and many more animal care diagnostics to support animal health. Learn more today!


Category: Animal Safety