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Calcium for Dogs - Why It's Important + Infographic

June 03, 2015

Calcium is a required nutrient for dogs. But is a traditional calcium supplement for dogs the answer? Read on to learn about calcium levels in dogs, how calcium supplements work, and what you should know when it comes to calcium and your dog.

CALCIUM FOR DOGS: WHAT IS THE IMPORTANCE AND ROLE OF CALCIUM IN YOUR DOG’S DIET? 

Calcium is known for its role in building strong bones, but it also performs several other functions in your dog’s body. Calcium helps keep your dog’s nails, teeth, and coat healthy. Calcium is required for digestion, blood clotting, squeezing and relaxing muscles, releasing hormones, and proper nerve function. Calcium even helps your dog maintain a regular heartbeat!

Calcium is a mineral that must be consumed through diet; it cannot be made inside the body. Over 98% of total bodily calcium is stored in your dog's bones, which works as a mineral bank. Just like a regular bank, calcium is deposited and withdrawn from your dog's bones on a daily basis.

Furthermore, calcium is an interdependent mineral that works synergistically with co-factors to deliver its benefits. Calcium and magnesium are primarily responsible for maintaining a healthy bone mineral balance in your dog. Vitamin D is an essential factor in the absorption of calcium and magnesium.

Having the right balance of calcium is key for optimum health. Any imbalance in either deposits or withdrawals can cause issues. Too much calcium can cause a condition called hypercalcemia in dogs. On the other hand, not having enough calcium can lead to condition called hypocalcemia in dogs. 

HIGH CALCIUM LEVELS IN DOGS: HYPER-CALCEMIA

Hypercalcemia in dogs, can be very harmful. A dog is considered hypercalcemic when its total serum calcium is greater than 11.5 mg/dL. Excessive dietary consumption of calcium can contribute to this condition. However, do not assume that high calcium levels are automatically caused by diet. High calcium levels can also signal the presence of serious underlying disease such kidney failure, adrenal gland failure (called Addison's disease), parathyroid gland tumor, and some types of cancer.

Dogs with abnormally high calcium levels may show signs of illness such as weakness, listlessness, increased drinking and urination, and loss of appetite. In some pets, prolonged hypercalcemia may contribute to formation of bladder or kidney stones.

LOW CALCIUM LEVELS IN DOGS: HYPO-CALCEMIA

Dogs that do not have enough calcium can have hypocalcemia. A dog is considered to be hypocalcemic when its total serum calcium is usually less than 7 mg/dL. When there is a calcium deficiency, the body continues to need calcium for its vital processes. As a result, calcium will be withdrawn from the bones. Over time, this can result in weakening of the bones and can lead to bone disorders such as hypertrophic osteodystrophy (HOD), osteochondrosis (OCD), hip dysplasia. Calcium deficiency can also cause general bone and joint weakness, pain, and make a dog fracture prone. Dental health can also be compromised.  

Hypo-calcemia can be caused by a variety of factors, including low body protein, kidney failure, an overactive parathyroid, and even nursing offspring (since bodily milk takes up a lot of the mother’s calcium). It is often seen in dogs with poor diets - such as all meat diets or when homemade or raw food diets are not administered carefully.

HOW DO I MONITOR MY DOG'S CALCIUM LEVELS?

Normal total serum calcium in a dog is approximately 8-11 mg/dL. Getting the correct nutritional balance of calcium in a dog can be tricky. Even well-meaning pet parents (especially those giving their dogs homemade diets) sometimes make the mistake of not including enough calcium in their dog’s food. Adding calcium-rich foods like cottage cheese may not be enough. When a dog has too little calcium in their diet, the body will take calcium from its own bones in order to compensate. This is why it’s vital to strike an optimal balance in calcium levels in your dog.

Whether you give your dog a commercial dog food or a homemade diet, the best way to monitor your dog’s calcium levels is by checking serum levels in the blood. In our recent blog on preventive care for dogs, we discussed how wellness visits with your veterinarian will empower you to stay up to date on your dog’s health status. Your veterinarian can examine your dog for any acute signs associated with nutritional deficiencies. They can also draw blood and get lab tests done. This will allow you to monitor the nutrient levels in your dog and make needed adjustments. Your veterinarian will also be able to give you advice on whether there is anything you should change in your dog’s diet to address any excesses or deficiencies.

CALCIUM SUPPLEMENTS FOR DOGS: SHOULD I GIVE MY DOG A CALCIUM SUPPLEMENT?

The answer in most cases is no. A traditional calcium supplement is usually only required for dogs that have a calcium deficiency. For example, if your dog is on a homemade or raw food diet it is very possible that it is lacking the proper amount of calcium (since meat is high in phosphorus but low in calcium). In these instances, it may be worthwhile to first add calcium-rich foods to your dog’s diet. 

If you have taken all these steps and your dog is still not getting enough calcium, only then should you consider talking to your vet about calcium tablets for your dog. Because of the risk of imbalance, this is a decision you should take very carefully with your veterinarian. 

Check out our blog post to learn more about calcium supplements for dogs.

MY DOG HAS WEAK BONES OR IS HEALING FROM A FRACTURE. SHOULD I GIVE THEM A CALCIUM TABLET?

Not necessarily.

If you are researching calcium because you are interested in bone support for your dog, consider adding whole food sources of calcium. You can also give them a bone support product like Boneo Canine. Boneo Canine is an all-natural formula that is powered by lactoferrin. Lactoferrin promotes healthy bone turnover in dogs and helps your dog better utilize the dietary calcium when consumed through its food. 

Boneo Canine is formulated with a conservative amount of calcium and should NOT be considered a calcium alternative or a traditional calcium supplement. This product is intended to help maintain an optimal balance of bone and joint nutrients, including calcium, not to supplement or replace calcium in the food.

 

HOW DO I MAKE SURE THAT MY DOG IS GETTING THE RIGHT AMOUNTS OF CALCIUM IN THEIR DIET?

For a more thorough discussion on the right way to integrate calcium into your dog's diet, check out our blog post on Sources of Calcium- Striking a Balance.

If you are interested in general ways make your dog's bones stronger, make sure to read our blog on 5 Ways to Strengthen Your Dog's Bones.

Strong bones in dogs

WHAT OTHER MINERALS BESIDES CALCIUM ARE IMPORTANT FOR BUILDING STRONG BONES IN DOGS?

Calcium is one of the major minerals that are important for a strong skeletal system, but there are several more. Check out the infograph below for an overview of the essential minerals that support strong bones in dogs.

Minerals for Dogs Infographic

For further reading on nutrient requirements on dogs, you can check out the AAFCO website or read this great manual published by the National Research Council.

The information provided should not be a replacement for medical advice. Consult with your veterinarian to discuss calcium needs or concerns for your dog.  

About the Author

Bevi Edlund, Blog Editor

Hi, I'm Bevi Edlund. I'm a graduate of communications and journalism from Cal State University, Fullerton. I am also an animal rights activist and a huge dog lover! I think there is nothing more comforting than coming home after a long day than to your furry best friend. Here at Bio-Rep Animal Health, I'll be in charge of writing posts about lifestyle, nutrition and connecting with all of our readers.