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Does Your Pet Suffer From Biotin Deficiency?

(Originally published in Pet Talk Magazine, January 2003)

Biotin is one of the most important nutrients in the body. Once known as vitamin H, it is an essential B vitamin that promotes the good health of, and provides maintenance for the connective tissue which holds the body together. As such, it may be confidently stated that the use of biotin by the body is rejuvenating and actually makes the body look healthier and feel younger. Biotin deficiency doesn't seem to play favorites among the species. People, most pets and horses all benefit from supplementing the diet with biotin.

Biotin deficiency has been recognized as early as the 1940's. Various pet populations and farm animals took part in case studies during subsequent decades in order to better understand the importance of biotin. Adding biotin to the diet of these test subjects showed remarkable improvement in their skin, coat and paws. In the cases involving horses, biotin supplementation cured many hoof related problems. In recent years the use of biotin has become very popular with manufacturers even adding it to shampoos, conditioners and cosmetics. Although this use obviously has a market, biotin must be ingested in order to gain its full benefit.

Biotin is an essential nutrient for healthy connective tissue. Although skin conditions are easy to identify, other symptoms may not be. Some skin conditions to be aware of are: Dry, flaky skin, dull or thin coat, excessive shedding, intense scratching or biting at skin which may cause bald areas. These symptoms may vary only slightly between species. A bird or a rabbit will show similar signs in the feathers or fur. Another symptom which spans the species is poor condition of the nails, talons, or beak. Less readily seen symptoms occur in weakened tissue which may contribute to hip displasia in dogs or other joint disorders. Cats need the biotin for healthy thyroid and adrenal glands and a healthy reproductive tract as well.

Biotin deficiency is a treatable disease. It can happen that a pet receives treatment for various ailments which mask symptoms but which do not actually eliminate the problem. It's like taking aspirin to ease the pain of a toothache. Aspirin may ease the pain temporarily but unless the tooth itself receives attention, there is still a problem.

Biotin supplementation often proves to be an effective alternative to expensive prednisone and antihistamine treatments. Always keep in mind that our pets should not be removed from a veterinary prescribed medication without a doctors approval. However, biotin being a nutrient that the body needs, it will work in spite of any additional medicines without having any adverse effects.

It's important to note that certain species may have a susceptibility to biotin deficiency but any species could develop the disease with a dog, cat, bird, rabbit, gerbil or horse each lacking sufficient biotin to be healthy. Although a poodle may be more prone to skin conditions than a German shepherd any breed may develop symptoms. The sex of a pet doesn't seem to be a factor either, and while diet plays an important role, diet alone may not prevent it. Biotin is a natural ingredient in certain foods. However, the bioavailable content is often not sufficient to provide proper balance and a biotin supplement proves very helpful. Rancid fats, raw or dried egg products are harmful and can actually cause the deficiency. Diets high in alfalfa meal, corn and soybean meal may provide bioavailable biotin but if fed in conjunction with raw eggs or rancid fats the biotin would not be absorbable.

Supplementing a diet with biotin will reverse the unsightly and uncomfortable effects caused by the deficiency. A pet will look, feel and act years younger in a relatively short time. Less scratching takes place which alone will contribute to a healthier, less irritated skin and less shedding. Bald areas will begin to show new hair growth as the rest of the coat thickens and regains its original luster. Internal benefits manifest in a more active, playful pet.

A happy, contented pet is a healthy pet and will live a longer life. Pets reflect good health in the condition of the skin and coat; thick shiny coats will be stroked and petted much more than a coat that is dull or sparse. Any pet, regardless of breed or species, responds to positive attention. They need this for a healthy emotional state as much as any human does. Like the infant child that hasn't yet learned to communicate, our pets rely on us to read their symptoms and to fill their needs. Watch for signs and symptoms. If your pet has a need, chances are there IS help. Don't let biotin deficiency be something you don't know how to cure.

By: Diane Clark