by Dr. Cayla Iske, PhD
The next supplement we will discuss in our “Getting to Know Supplements” series is Natural Science Vitamin C.
What Role Does Vitamin C Play in the Health of Pets?
Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin essential for synthesizing many important substances in the body, such as collagen in connective tissue, as well as to support key body functions including iron absorption for hemoglobin production.
Most animals have an active enzyme (called gulonolactone oxidase) which converts glucose to ascorbic acid, otherwise known as vitamin C. Gulonolactone oxidase is not present or is inactive in humans and guinea pigs, making it impossible for them to create vitamin C on their own.
Will My Pet Benefit From Natural Science Vitamin C?
For species such as guinea pigs that cannot make vitamin C, adequate daily intake is essential to their overall health and wellbeing. Sadly, there are still cases of hypovitaminosis C, also known as scurvy, diagnosed by exotic veterinarians every year.
Vitamin C in Guinea Pig Diets: Is It Adequate?
Most high-quality, commercially available guinea pig foods contain added vitamin C, but this alone is not a guarantee that the food is an adequate source of vitamin C in your guinea pig’s daily diet.
There are different types and qualities of vitamin C which need to be considered when evaluating foods, supplements, and overall vitamin C in the diet. If you are unsure about the quality of vitamin C in your pet’s diet, consult your veterinarian for his or her expert opinion.
Most required vitamin C should come from uniform, hay-based pelleted food, dark leafy greens, and veggies, but your vet may recommend additional supplemental vitamin C at certain times.
What Are Some Signs That My Guinea Pig Might Not Be Getting Enough Vitamin C?
Vitamin C deficiency can manifest in numerous ways. Some signs your guinea pig might not be getting enough vitamin C include:
- Poor skin & coat quality
- Delayed wound healing
- Swelling or sores around the mouth
- Poor appetite
- Impaired movement
- Slow or delayed growth and/or development
Not All Forms of Vitamin C Are Created Equal
Most vitamins are highly volatile and prone to degradation in food products. Factors like oxygen, moisture, humidity, and light can lead to loss of vitamins and potentially deficiency in foods. For this reason, it’s imperative to protect foods from these environmental factors by using shelf-stable vitamin forms when possible.
On the label of Natural Science Vitamin C supplement, you will see “L-Ascorbyl-2-Monophosphate (Vitamin C)” listed in the ingredients. This fancy name indicates that the ascorbic acid (i.e. vitamin C) has been phosphorylated (a phosphate group has been added) at the 2 position of the molecule. This phosphorylated form of ascorbic acid helps protect vitamin C from oxidation, and, therefore, destruction. The ingredient was originally developed for the aquaculture market, so it was designed to hold up to more environmental stress, though it is still important to store food products properly for maximum shelf-life.
Nutritional products that just list “Ascorbic Acid” in the ingredient listing are at high risk for degradation of the vitamin C which could lead to insufficient intake for your little one. Additionally, vitamin C supplementation in drinking water is never recommended due to its innate instability and difficulty when it comes to controlling intake.
Do Species Other Than Guinea Pigs Benefit From Vitamin C Supplementation?
Animals that create their own vitamin C (such as rabbits, chinchillas, and degus) can also benefit from vitamin C supplementation during times of stress, illness, or recovery as vitamin C exerts both anti-oxidative and immune-stimulating properties.
Older animals may also benefit from supplemental vitamin C as its antioxidant function can help mitigate age-related health concerns and provide immune support beneficial to many older animals. For a more in-depth look at antioxidants and oxidative stress, take a look at our previous blog all about the role of antioxidants in small pet health.
Do Omnivores Like Rats, Mice, Hamsters, and Gerbils Need Vitamin C?
Small omnivores do not require vitamin C in the diet. This is because they can make their own via metabolic processes. However, if your small omnivore is particularly stressed, ill, or recovering, Natural Science Vitamin C may be beneficial. If your veterinarian suggests that your pet may benefit from dietary vitamin C, our supplement can be a great addition to a balanced omnivorous diet.
How Much Vitamin C Should My Pet Receive Each Day?
We recommend 1 tab of Natural Science Vitamin C per day for rabbits, guinea pigs, and chinchillas.
We recommend feeding 1/8 tablet daily for dwarf hamsters and mice and 1/4 tablet daily for larger species such as gerbils, Syrian hamsters, and rats.
Vitamin C is water-soluble and excreted in the urine, but, as is the case with all vitamins, excessive vitamin C in the diet should be avoided and balance is key. As always, you should consult with your small mammal veterinarian before adding any supplement to your pet’s diet.
Still Have More Supplement Questions?
We know there are many factors to consider when adding a supplement to your small pet’s diet. It is important to factor in your individual animal’s health history alongside your veterinarian when evaluating short- or long-term use of supplements. To help facilitate this process, we’ve compiled some of the questions we get most frequently regarding our supplements into one easy to reference blog article.