Why Does My Dog Have High Folate Levels?

At My Pet Nutritionist, we understand the importance of both macro- and micronutrients, as well as what happens when our pets are both deficient in them, and what happens when our pets are consuming too much of a specific nutrient. In this blog, we will look at folate – aka Vitamin B9, and what happens when dogs have too much folate; a fairly common issue. Read on to learn more!

What is Folate?

Also known as Vitamin B9 or Folic Acid, Folate is an important water soluble vitamin. Folate can be found in a lot of foods, some of which can be found below. If a pet requires a supplement version, folic acid would be used, as it has a higher rate of absorption at 85%, than naturally occurring folate with a 50% absorption rate.

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Some dietary sources of folate include:
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Fruits
  • Liver
  • Eggs

So what does folate do in the body? Folate is important for the metabolism of protein, as it aids the formation of DNA and RNA. Folate is also important to break down homocysteine into methionine in the body, which is an amino acid that can cause harm if there are high amounts in the body. Red blood cell formation during growth periods, including young dogs, and pregnant dogs, is also largely down to folate being consumed in the correct quantities.

Some studies also suggest that folate can reduce the risk of some cancers due to it’s role in RNA production, however… and that is a big however… in one human study, high-dose folic acid was given to patients with a history of polyps, to see if folate would reduce the risk of these. The results were not as the scientists hypothesized, and unfortunately the risk of new, and more serious polyps was increased. So this brings us to why high folate isn’t ideal!

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The Problem with High Folate

Although folate is an important nutrient, having high folate levels is not ideal, and can lead to other issues in the body.

In one study, high folate levels indicated low vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 deficiencies can lead to anaemia, skin problems, muscle weakness, weight loss, sickness, and cardiovascular issues. Brain and nervous system damage are two of the more life threatening problems with a vitamin B12 deficiency being masked by high folate.

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Moving back to the aforementioned cancer risk, studies suggest a link between high folate levels, and the increased risk of some cancers, and cardiovascular disease. This area of research is still evolving as more studies are being done to look into the issue, but research so far, does suggest a link.

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When looking at the risk specifically of folic acid, found in fortified foods, and in supplement form, we can conclude that excess amounts in the bloodstream is bad news. The liver is the main organ involved in breaking down folic acid, however it can only process so much, meaning excess folic acid, now known as Unmetabolised Folic Acid (UMFA) accumulates in the blood. UMFA is linked with many health concerns including insulin resistance, poor cognitive development in the young, early cognitive degeneration in older dogs, and other health conditions. In pregnant females, these issues can also be passed on to their litter!

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Causes and Diagnosis of High Folate

In order to diagnose high folate levels, your dog will have a blood sample taken. This sample is then spun in a centrifuge to separate the components of the blood, leaving the serum. The serum is then tested for vitamin B12 and B9 concentrations, since low B12 and high B9 usually come hand in hand. The test is called a Metabolic Function Test. Your vet will be able to carry this test out – you may need to have this test done prior to a consultation with one of the My Pet Nutritionist team, for us to be able to help you, and better understand your pet’s situation.

Let’s take a look at the two major reasons why your dog may have high folate concentrations.

Small Intestine Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)

The most common reason for high folate levels that we see here at My Pet Nutritionist, is SIBO. In dogs with SIBO, there is excess bacterial growth in the small intestine, which leads to maldigestion and difficulty absorbing nutrients. Symptoms include diarrhoea, sickness, weight loss, bloating and constipation.

Dogs with SIBO, have less of an ability to synthesize folate. The reduced ability to synthesize it, makes for an increase of excess folate in the bloodstream, which in turn leads to other health issues, if not treated.

Findings Here
Findings Here

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI)

The second condition with similar effects on the folate and B12 levels, is much less common; and so rare, many veterinarians have little to no experience of the disease. Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency is another digestive issue, this time involving the lack of pancreatic enzymes. With the lack of enzymes from the pancreas, the small intestine becomes unable to sufficiently digest food, which leads to rapid weight loss, and inability to regain the weight without treatment.

Due to the digestive imbalances caused by EPI, the body is unable to completely break down the folate consumed, which results in increased levels of unmetabolized folate in the bloodstream.

EPI can be a secondary disease to those already suffering with SIBO, too!

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This is a trigger which is very often overlooked. Stress has such an immense impact on dogs both behaviourally, and medically, as it causes disruption in the gut. You may have heard of the ‘fight or flight response’ whereby a dog in a stressful situation does one of two things – they either fight, or they leave the situation or shut down (flight); this isn’t where the ‘fight or flight’ response stops, however! Part of the response happens internally, as the blood supply is temporarily cut off from the gut, which in turn disturbs the bacteria which is involved in synthesizing folate, leaving increased amounts of folate in the body.

If we go back to looking at SIBO and it’s links with high folate, stress also contributes to SIBO, so it’s very important to keep your pets out of stressful situations, and work with them, at their pace if they are anxious.

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It’s also important to review your current medication regime, if applicable, with your veterinarian. Some medications can be linked to high folate in dogs, one of the most common being PPIs – Proton Pump Inhibitors, which are often given for acid reflux symptoms (though unfortunately these can just mask the problem, or make it worse – contact us for help regarding acid reflux, and read our blogs which can be found here, and here).

We can also look at the effect of PPIs on folate levels by looking at the aforementioned low B12 levels, which generally comes hand in hand with high folate levels. Those on PPI medication have a high chance of developing a vitamin B12 deficiency – in fact, if given PPIs for 2 years, this chance increases to a whopping 65%!

PPIs have an impact on SIBO, because HCL levels are impacted when PPIs are used. HCL regulates the all important microbiome, so when production of HCL is hindered, the microbiome becomes unbalanced, leaving the body open to disease and deficiencies.

Findings Here
Findings Here
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How Can we Bring Folate Levels Down?

Avoiding Folate Rich Foods

The most self-explanatory step to bringing folate levels down in your pet, is to feed less of the food which contain higher folate levels, and to ensure you are not supplementing with folic acid, or any product that includes folic acid. It’s important to also check treats being fed – some companies add folic acid into their recipes as a ‘vitamin boost’. We would recommend sticking to 100% meat treats, with no additives.

Avoiding Synthetic Additives

Feeding a fresh food is also important, as many dry food manufacturers add folic acid, much like the previously mentioned treat manufacturers. When manufacturers add vitamins to foods, this is called fortification. Dry foods are fortified to provide extra nutrients which are often destroyed during processing and being subject to heat multiple times before extrusion to form the kibble shapes you may be familiar with. This sounds reasonable doesn’t it? However as discussed, the synthetic vitamins often have abnormally high absorption rates, which leaves the body open to overconsumption of the vitamins. Feeding a fresh food, is not only better for gut health, but much easier to control the consumption of good quality vitamin and minerals form natural wholefood sources.

Supporting EPI Patients

Once your dog’s metabolic function has been tested, and we know if your dog has EPI or SIBO, we can get to work treating these with veterinary help, and also help support the body through diet and therapeutic herbs. If your dog is diagnosed with EPI, you will need to work closely with your vet for treatment and enzymatic therapy, and consider booking a consultation with one of our team to talk through some beneficial natural support, and have a recipe made for your dog and their condition.

Supporting SIBO Patients

For those diagnosed with SIBO, we would suggest not only feeding fresh food, but also working on gut health, to help bring the microbiome back into balance. A huge part of gut health is cutting out as many toxins as possible; this includes switching from chemical flea and worm treatments to natural methods of pest prevention, reducing exposure to vaccines (titre test instead!), reducing exposure to environmental toxins (including household cleaning, laundry and fragrance products, gardening products such as glyphosate), and eliminating stress. This would be your first step.

Next we need to look at diet. As mentioned above, we cannot stress the importance of a fresh food diet, whether that is raw, or cooked using a FEDIAF balanced recipe. A consultation with one of our team may be of interest too, where you will receive a tailor made recipe for your individual dog.

Finally we can look at therapeutic herbs and supplementation. Giving a good prebiotic can be very beneficial for those suffering with SIBO. Furry chews, mushrooms, dandelion leaf, garlic (not for young pups, or Japanese breeds!), are all great examples of prebiotics. Mucilage herbs are also great prebiotics, with the added benefit of gut healing. Marshmallow Root, Slippery Elm, and Deglycyrrhizinated Liquorice are some examples of this.

We need to be very very careful when it comes to choosing a probiotic for a dog with SIBO! Avoid any probiotics with Lactobacillus strains, and Bifidobacterium strains! These tend to make those suffering with SIBO much worse. A much better option would be a Soil Based Probiotic (SBO – Soil Based Organism). SBO probiotics are spore-forming, which enables them to have a protective coating, allowing them to travel further along the digestive tract to target the area maimed by the bacterial overgrowth. Our Gut Guardian product is an all in one mixture of mucilage herbs, and soil based probiotics from the Bacillus and Enterococcus strains, making them SIBO friendly!

For both EPI and SIBO sufferers, Digestive Enzymes may be worthwhile, as they aim to break down the SIBO, and allow for proper digestion.

At My Pet Nutritionist, we love helping our customers work on their pet’s gut health. If your dog has been diagnosed with high folate levels, or has been diagnosed with SIBO or EPI, we would love to work with you, so please don’t hesitate to book a consultation with one of the team!

Team MPN x

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