Folic Acid

By Rania Gollakner, BS, DVM, MPH

What is folic acid?

Folic acid (brand names: Folvite®, Acide Folique®), also known as folate or folacin, is a B vitamin (B9) used to treat folic acid deficiency in dogs, cats, horses, and other animal species. Folic acid deficiencies usually occur due to small intestinal disease or pancreatic insufficiency but can also occur due to chronic use of certain medications such as trimethoprim.

Folic acid is necessary for normal metabolic functions such as DNA synthesis and red blood cell production.

Dietary supplements are substances that can be used to supplement the diet, such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs, botanicals, enzymes, and probiotics. While many supplements are sold over the counter, they still contain ingredients that have biological effects that should be managed by your veterinarian. Follow your veterinarian’s directions and cautions very carefully as their directions may be significantly different from those on the label.

There are differences in how countries regulate supplements. In the United States, these substances are not as vigorously regulated by the FDA as other medications, which means they can be sold without the manufacturer proving their effectiveness, safety, and without a guarantee of consistent or accurately reported ingredients. In Canada, products that have been evaluated for quality, safety, and effectiveness by Health Canada and authorized for sale will have a license number on the label.

While many medications should be used cautiously, or not at all, during pregnancy, folic acid at recommended doses is completely safe to use during pregnancy and lactation.

How effective is folic acid?

Folic acid supplementation is very effective to treat deficiencies.

How is folic acid given?

Folic acid is given by mouth in the form of a tablet or capsule. It may be given with or without food; however, if your pet vomits when dosed on an empty stomach, give future doses with food. It can also be given by injection in the hospital setting.

This medication should take effect within 1 to 2 hours; however, effects may not be visibly obvious and therefore laboratory tests may need to be done to evaluate if this medication is working.

What if I miss giving my pet the supplement?

If you miss a dose, give it when you remember, but if it is close to the time for the next dose, skip the dose you missed and give it at the next scheduled time, and return to the regular dosing schedule. Never give your pet two doses at once or give extra doses.

Are there any potential side effects?

Side effects are rare but may include hypersensitivity reactions or gastrointestinal upset. In humans, high doses have caused central nervous system effects such as trouble sleeping, excitement, and confusion. This short-acting medication should stop working within 24 hours, although effects can be longer in pets with liver or kidney disease.

Are there any risk factors for this supplement?

Do not use folic acid in pets with a known sensitivity to it. Do not administer folic acid until certain causes of anemia have been ruled out. Do not administer folic acid prior to determining the folate and cobalamin levels, as supplementation may not be necessary.

Are there any drug interactions I should be aware of?

The following medications should be used with caution when given with folic acid: chloramphenicol, methotrexate, trimethoprim, pyrimethamine, phenytoin, phenobarbital, sulfasalazine, or primidone.

Vitamins, herbal therapies, and supplements have the potential to interact with each other, as well as with prescription and over the counter medications. It is important to tell your veterinarian about any medications (including all vitamins, supplements, or herbal therapies) that your pet is taking.

Is there any monitoring that needs to be done with this supplement?

Folate and cobalamin levels should be measured prior to and after treatment with folic acid. Your veterinarian may monitor your pet to be sure that the medication is working.

How do I store folic acid?

Store this supplement at room temperature between 68°F and 77°F (20°C and 25°C), protected from light and moisture.

What should I do in case of emergency?

If you suspect an overdose or an adverse reaction to the medication, call your veterinary office immediately. If they are not available, follow their directions in contacting an emergency facility.

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