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Folic Acid for Veterinary Use
by Barbara Forney, VMD
Folic acid or vitamin B9 is a water soluble synthetic folate. Naturally occurring folate is found in many foods. Folates have an important role in nucleoprotein synthesis, homocysteine metabolism, cellular division, erythropoeisis, neural development and the synthesis of neurotransmitters. Folic acid is absorbed primarily by carrier mediated diffusion within the proximal small intestine. Folic acid supplementation frequently is prescribed in humans during pregnancy and when animals or humans are taking drugs that may interfere with folate absorption. There are multiple drugs that may affect folate levels due to competitive, reversible inhibition of the enzyme dihydrofolate reductase.
Dogs and Cats
Folic acid supplementation is used in animals at risk for folate deficiency, particularly animals with small intestinal disease or malabsorption. Serum folate levels should be determined prior to therapy; in some instances serum folate levels actually are increased due to bacterial synthesis of folate within the small intestine. Cats with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency are more likely to have folate deficiency than dogs with pancreatic insufficiency because of the synthesis of folate by small intestinal bacteria in dogs.
Research on cleft palates in brachycephalic breeds of dogs supports the use of folic acid supplementation in the pregnant bitch as a means of decreasing the incidence of cleft palate by as much as 48-76%. There is a great deal of research supporting folic acid supplementation in pregnant women as a means of preventing neural tube defects.
Hyper homocysteinemia is a risk factor for thromboembolism in people; there is some preliminary data that supports the use of folic acid supplementation in cats with hyper homocysteinemia or those recovering from thromboembolism.
Folic acid supplementation sometimes is used in horses, particularly broodmares and breeding stallions, undergoing long-term treatment for equine protozoal myeloencephalitis with the anitprotozoal drugs pyrimethamine and sulfonamides. These drugs are known to inhibit dihydrofolate reductase.
Folic Acid Side Effects
Folic acid is considered relatively nontoxic; side effects are unlikely. CNS side effects have occurred in humans following very high doses.
Folate levels may be variable in dogs with enteropathy. Before administering supplemental folic acid, colbalamin and folate levels should be established.
- Drugs that interfere with folate utilization include anti-convulsants (dilantin, phenytoin and primidone), sulfasalazine, barbiturates, nitrofurantoin, methotrexate, trimethoprim and pyrimethamine.
- Chloramphenicol may slow the response to folic acid supplementation.
In cases of accidental overdose, excess folic acid will be metabolized or excreted in the urine.
About the Author
Dr. Barbara Forney is a veterinary practitioner in Chester County, Pennsylvania. She has a master's degree in animal science from the University of Delaware and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 1982.
She began to develop her interest in client education and medical writing in 1997. Recent publications include portions of The Pill Book Guide to Medication for Your Dog and Cat, and most recently Understanding Equine Medications published by the Bloodhorse.
Dr. Forney is an FEI veterinarian and an active member of the AAEP, AVMA, and AMWA.
You can purchase books by Dr. Forney at
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