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Ask a Vet: Dogs dont suffer from scurvy
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May way, ye scurvy dogs!

I love it when a pirate says something like that. But pirates aren’t classically respected for their scientific or medical knowledge. And that’s a great example.

Dogs don’t get scurvy. At least, not in the way we think.

Scurvy, as humans experience it, is a disease rooted in a nutritional deficiency of vitamin C, ascorbic acid. If humans do not eat enough fresh fruits, vegetables or other sources of the vitamin, they begin to have problems with protein synthesis. Blood vessels become weak. Gums bleed. And eventually, much nastier things.

During the age of exploration, about half of a ship’s crew would be expected to perish at sea from the disease. Ships carried twice the men they needed when they left port for a very dismal reason.

But eventually it was figured out. And ocean voyages became much less fatal. British sailors earned the nickname “limeys.” However, most of the vitamin C used in the early days of these safer voyages was in the form of sauerkraut.

But back to the dogs and cats, for that matter. Dogs and cats make their own vitamin C, through a four-step process beginning with glucose, the principle blood sugar.

As humans, we use the same sugar for our blood supply, but we can only do the first three steps of the conversion process. We are one of only a few types of mammals that lack the enzyme needed for the final step — gulonolactone oxidase. I don’t have it. Neither do you. Your calico or beagle does. Just a subtle difference of one enzyme. Mammoth implications.

Not that this means dogs and cats should have explored the seas, but it does highlight how different we are.

The same is true for all medications as well. Some simple over-the-counter drugs are extremely dangerous for pets. Please consult your veterinarian before using anything not directly prescribed for your pet.

After all, he really isn’t a scurvy dog, even if his owner is.

Matthew Sisk is a practicing veterinarian from Habersham County. Have questions about your pet? He can be reached at

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