Vitamin D is essential for healthy bones and muscles. Before vitamin D-fortified milk came along, many kids who didn’t get enough vitamin D from their diet developed rickets and other health problems.
You may be aware that people can get the vitamin D they need simply from being in the sun. Cats love to sunbathe, so is this how they get vitamin D? If not, where do cats get the vitamin D they need?
In this article we’ll cover the following;
Vitamin D is actually not just one substance, but refers to a group of fat-soluble compounds that are important for many biological functions including the absorption of calcium, magnesium, and phosphate. The most biologically-important forms are vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) and vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol).
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient for cats. Cats need vitamin D in order to have healthy muscles and bones. You wouldn’t want them to faint from lack of nutrition!
A cat’s muscles require vitamin D to function properly as it is involved in cellular regulation of calcium and phosphorus. Insufficient Vitamin D levels can affect the cat’s most important muscle, the heart, leading to an increased risk of heart disease and even congestive heart failure.
Vitamin D is also essential to calcium absorption which is necessary to maintain the health of the cat’s bones. Cats that don’t get enough vitamin D suffer from bone disorders such as osteomalacia and rickets.
Recent studies are also showing a link between low levels of Vitamin D and an increased risk of cancer.
Cats get vitamin D from the food they eat. Most well balanced cat foods contain a number of different types of food ingredients to ensure they meet all of a cat’s nutritional needs.
People are able to synthesize vitamin D from sunlight, however, in a 1999 study, kittens fed a vitamin D-free diet showed a decline in plasma vitamin D levels even when exposed to direct sunlight with clipped fur. The researchers in this study concluded that cats were ineffective in vitamin D synthesis because they produce a high quantity of an enzyme known as 7-DHC reductase.
In any event, all this research doesn’t seem to stop the cats in the following video from trying to up their vitamin D level through a little sunbathing:
Generally, cats get all of the vitamin D they need in their diet. However, in rare cases, cats may be born with congenital defects involving their vitamin D metabolism.
Without intervention, kittens with these types of birth defect will develop rickets. In such cases, a veterinarian would likely prescribe oral vitamin D supplements, which should treat the condition.
Other conditions could also require supplemental vitamin D. Because vitamin D can also be harmful for your cat, it should only be given on the advice and recommendation of your veterinarian.
Even though it is an essential nutrient, too much vitamin D is toxic for cats. The most common causes of vitamin D poisoning in cats are ingestion of either rodenticides (rat poison) or vitamin D supplements.
Most mouse and rat poisons contain vitamin D3, cholecalciferol, which causes a life-threatening rise in body levels of calcium and phosphorus resulting in severe acute kidney failure. Treatment is difficult and expensive and, even if a cat survives, they may suffer permanent kidney damage.
Another hazard is the vitamin D supplements people may have in their homes. Because most cats would have to eat more than a couple to be dangerous, they do not pose as great as risk as rat poison, but caution is still warranted.
For example purposes only, let’s consider a ten pound cat that swallows one 1,000 iu vitamin D gelcap. The toxic dose of Vitamin D for cats is 0.1mg/kg, therefore:
Symptoms of vitamin D poisoning usually develop within 12-36 hours after ingestion and may include:
If your cat has swallowed vitamin D supplements or rodenticide, this can be a medical emergency, and you need to contact the animal poison control center and your veterinarian immediately!
Here are a few tips to follow to make sure your cat is getting the right amount of vitamin D to stay healthy and happy.
If you have any questions or would like to share a story about your cat and their favorite healthy cat food, please tell us in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!
Phil’s lifelong love of animals began as a young boy growing up with three pet dogs. As a teenager and young adult, Phil spent six years working as a veterinary technician, later earning a B.S. in Animal Science. After college, Phil continued working as a vet tech part-time while caring for a private collection of mountain lions used in wildlife educational programs. During this time, Phil volunteered at the Dallas Zoo and was eventually offered a position as a zookeeper in the zoo’s naturalistic Wilds of Africa area. Phil became the primary keeper for a black leopard named “Grady” and a caracal named “Tut” in the predator/prey exhibit.