This article provides information on iron for dogs and cats. It explains what iron is and the benefits to dogs and cats. It also explains to a new pet owner the significance of iron, its sources, and how much to give a dog and a cat. Finally, it explains the symptoms of deficiency and how to treat them.
Table of Contents
Some intro about iron in pet food:
National Research Council’s Report on Essential Nutrients for pets found that puppies need more iron in their diet than adult dogs but cats need a similar amount of iron in their diet throughout their lives.
Dogs and cats require iron for many metabolic functions, including oxygen transport, energy metabolism, immune function, and neurodevelopment. puppies have an increased demand for iron because they are growing and their blood volume is increasing.
The AAFCO recommendations on minimum iron to have in any dog and cat recipes being sold here in the US should be at least 88 mg/kg for puppies, 80mg/kg for adult dogs, and 80mg/kg for cats of all ages. Those recommended amounts are on dry matter basis meaning that it doesn’t matter if the food is dry, canned, or raw because the iron levels will be the same when you compare them on a dry matter basis.
So what is iron in pet food?
Since pet food manufacturers are required to list all ingredients on their food packaging under the labeling requirements, iron is often listed as one of the 30-40 ingredients that most commercial brands have.
Iron is an “essential” and “trace” mineral required in pet food
Iron is an element that is found in the blood and it has many functions in both humans and animals – including our beloved pets. It helps carry oxygen to all of the cells in the body, it is a part of enzymes that are needed for energy metabolism, and it helps with immune function.
Iron is referred to as a ‘trace’ and ‘essential’ mineral. Essential minerals, per AAFCO’s definition, are, “inorganic substances that pets cannot obtain synthesize on their own from other diets and must be obtained from their diets.” Trace means that the pets need relatively small amounts of these minerals.
Trace elements are those that are required only in tiny amounts, generally measured in parts per million (mg/kg) or parts per billion (µg/kg), such as iron, zinc, manganese, copper, selenium, and iodine.
Is iron safe in pet food?
Yes, iron is safe in pet food when it is listed as an ingredient. The only time that iron could be harmful to pets is if they were to consume something that was contaminated with iron such as eating grass that had been treated with iron sulfate or drinking water that came from a well that had high levels of iron.
Where is iron found? Dietary sources of iron for pets:
Dogs and cats cannot synthesize iron on their own and need to obtain them from diet which can be in form of food, treats or supplements.
Dietary sources of iron for pets include meat, poultry, fish, and liver. This is why most commercial pet foods have iron listed as an ingredient because these are all common ingredients in pet food.
Pets can also get iron through supplements but it is important to speak with your veterinarian before giving your pet any supplements as they can be harmful if not given correctly.
Do all pets need iron?
No, not all pets need iron supplements. If your pet is eating a well-balanced diet then they should be getting all the nutrients they need including iron.
However, if your pet is pregnant or nursing then they will need more iron than usual as their bodies are going through changes and they are using up more iron than normal.
Puppies and kittens also need more iron than adult dogs and cats as they are growing and their bodies are still developing.
Finally, some pets may have medical conditions that warrant the use of iron supplements even if they are eating a well-balanced diet. Conditions such as anemia, cancer, or bleeding disorders may require the use of iron supplements.
What are the symptoms of iron deficiency in pets?
The most common symptom of iron deficiency in pets is anemia which is a condition where there are not enough red blood cells to carry oxygen around the body. This can lead to lethargy, weakness, and exercise intolerance.
Other symptoms of iron deficiency include:
-Loss of appetite
-Increased heart rate
-Shortness of breath
If you notice any of these symptoms in your pet then you should take them to the vet as they may need iron supplements.
How much iron does my dog?
Wondering how much iron your dog or cat needs?
Adult dogs require 0.5 mg of iron per kilogram of body weight every day. This requirement is somewhat greater for growing and nursing pups, who have a fast growth rate. AAFCO recommends that you give puppies 88mg per kg of body weight and adults 40 mg per kg of their body weight on a dry matter basis.
According to the National Research Council (NRC), a sufficient amount of iron is between 2.0 and 2.5 milligrams per 10 pounds of your adult dog’s body weight.
Below is the AAFCO table with details.
How much iron does my cat need?
Cats require 0.75 mg of iron per kg of body weight every day. Kittens may need upwards of 100 mg per kg of their body weight. AAFCO recommends that cats of all ages be fed iron 80mg dosage per kg of body weight on a dry matter basis.
Iron content in different foods:
-Beef: 677 mg per 1000 kcal
-Chicken: 439 mg per 1000 kcal
-Liver: 47 mg per 1000 kcal
The table below shows iron content in different food sources.
Causes of iron deficiency:
There are a few different things that can cause iron deficiency in pets.
One of the most common causes is intestinal parasites. These parasites can suck the iron out of your pet’s blood and lead to anemia. Some common intestinal parasites include hookworms, roundworms, and tapeworms.
Another common cause of iron deficiency is blood loss. This can occur either externally from wounds or internally from gastrointestinal bleeding.
Poor diet is also a common cause of iron deficiency as it can lead to your pet not getting enough iron in their diet. This is why it is important to feed your pet a well-balanced diet that includes all the nutrients they need including iron.
Finally, some pets may have malabsorption disorders where their bodies are unable to absorb nutrients from food properly. This can lead to deficiencies in many different nutrients, not just iron.
What are the symptoms of iron deficiency in pets?
The most common symptom of iron deficiency in pets is anemia. Anemia is a condition where there are not enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to the tissues. Other symptoms can include weakness, lethargy, and exercise intolerance.
Puppies and kittens are more susceptible to iron deficiency because they are growing and their bodies are still developing. If you notice any of these symptoms in your pet, then you should take them to the vet as they may need iron supplements.
- -Pale gums
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Increased heart rate
- Shortness of breath
If left untreated, iron deficiency can lead to:
- Organ damage
- Heart failure
How is iron deficiency treated in pets?
If your pet is diagnosed with iron deficiency, then they will need to be treated with iron supplements. The type of supplement and the dosage will be determined by your veterinarian. In most cases, iron supplements are given orally in the form of tablets or capsules. However, in some cases, iron injections may be necessary.
It is important to follow your veterinarian’s instructions when giving your pet iron supplements as too much iron can be just as dangerous as too little. Iron toxicity can cause liver damage and even death.
Your pet will need to take iron supplements for the rest of their life in most cases. However, some pets may only need to take them for a short period of time until their condition improves.
When giving your pet iron supplements, it is important to avoid giving them with food as this can decrease the absorption of the supplement. Iron supplements should be given on an empty stomach.
If you have any questions about giving your pet iron supplements, then you should speak to your veterinarian.
Sources of iron for dogs and cats
There are many different sources of iron for dogs and cats. The most common source is red meat, such as beef or lamb. Other sources of iron include chicken, fish, eggs, and liver. Most pet foods retailed here in the US contain added iron.
- red meats (lamb, ox, beef)
- egg yolks
- kelp powder
- organ meats such as raw liver
- seafood such as sardines, tuna, and salmon
You should speak to your veterinarian before giving your pet any supplements as they can advise you on the best type of supplement for your pet. They can also tell you how much iron your pet needs and how often they need to take it.
Signs of Iron Overdose in dogs and cats:
Iron is an essential mineral for dogs and cats, however, too much iron can be just as dangerous as too little. Iron toxicity can cause liver damage and even death.
There are 3 types of iron overdose in pets: subacute, chronic, and peracute.
This is the most common type of iron overdose and occurs when a pet ingests a large amount of iron all at once from sources that they should eat in the first place such as;
- Fertilizer/pesticides: These sources usually contain high levels of iron that can be toxic to pets if ingested.
- Paint chips: These can often be found in homes where renovations are taking place. Pets should not have access to these areas as they can be very dangerous.
- Human iron supplements: Pets should never be given human iron supplements as they can be very toxic.
If you think your pet has ingested a human iron supplement, then you should take them to the vet immediately.
Dogs will exhibit signs of stomach upset, such as bloody feces, within 6 hours of ingesting these iron-toxic substances. Symptoms may seem to improve between 6 and 24 hours after ingestion.
Iron poisoning can produce serious, potentially fatal symptoms within 5 days if your dog ingested a lot of iron (more than 60 mg of iron per kg). If you detect any of the following indicators.
This type of overdose occurs when a pet ingests small amounts of iron over a long period of time from sources such as;
Paint: Pets may ingest paint chips if they are allowed to roam in areas where renovations are taking place.
Soil: Some types of soil can contain high levels of iron that can be toxic to pets if ingested over a long period of time.
Treatment of iron overdose in dogs and cats
If you think your pet has ingested a poisonous substance, then you should take them to the vet immediately. If your pet is showing any signs of iron toxicity, then they will need to be treated immediately.
The treatment for iron toxicity will depend on how much iron your pet has ingested and how long ago they ingested it.
If your pet has only recently ingested a small amount of iron, then the vet may give them a stomach-pumping procedure to remove the iron from their stomach.
If your pet has ingested a substantial amount of iron or more than 2 hours have passed since they ate it, they will require treatment. Treatment may include:
Fluids: This will help to flush the iron out of your pet’s system.
Blood transfusions: This will be given if your pet is showing signs of anemia.
Chelation therapy: This will be given if your pet has ingested a large amount of iron or if they have been exposed to iron over a long period of time.
Prevention of iron toxicity in dogs and cats
The best way to prevent iron toxicity is to keep your pet away from sources of iron such as paint chips, soil, and human iron supplements. You should also be careful when using products that contain iron around your pet as they can be very dangerous if ingested.
If you think your pet has ingested a poisonous substance, then you should take them to the vet immediately.
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Hi there! My name is Ben Domb, an owner of two pets and I am one of the co-founders of OurPets HQ. I have several years of experience as a pet care professional in the New England region having spent time in various roles including a stint at a veterinary hospital in Upstate New York, Syracuse area. I am a certified pet care professional and mostly spend my time researching pet nutrition and sharing my thoughts in various blogs and columns. With quarantine and COVID restrictions, I have been spending a lot of time a lot with my dogs and cat and loving it! I also run a small consulting business providing advice to parents on pet nutrition, and especially safe homemade options to try. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org