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Is your indoor-only pet vitamin D deficient?

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Rabbits kept indoors could be vitamin D deficient, says a new study. The paper, "Effects of Ultraviolet Radiation Produced From Artificial Lights on Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Concentration in Captive Domestic Rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculi)," is available online and from the U. of I. News Bureau. A report of the study appears in the American Journal of Veterinary Research. And if researchers are not testing lab animals for vitamin D deficiency (or other vitamin deficiencies), if scientists are doing this with animals that they're using in research that could also be applied to human health, the researchers might be missing a step.

Rabbits that remain indoors may suffer from a lack of vitamin D, researchers report in a new study. In rabbits kept as pets or used in laboratory studies, the deficiency could lead to dental problems, undermine their cardiovascular health, weaken their immune systems and skew scientific findings.

The study found that regular exposure to artificial ultraviolet B light for two weeks doubled rabbits' serum vitamin D levels – an increase not seen in animals raised in artificial light lacking UVB radiation

Future studies will seek to determine optimal levels of UVB exposure and vitamin D levels in rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas and other animals. "We know that vitamin D is important to vertebrates in that it helps with calcium absorption, but it also has been shown to benefit cardiovascular health and immune function," said Mark Mitchell, according to the April 10, 2014 news release, "Rabbits kept indoors could be vitamin D deficient." Mitchell is a University of Illinois veterinary clinical medicine professor, who led the research. "We know of several types of diseases that can develop with vitamin D deficiency. Some of the chronic problems we see are tooth-related."

Other researchers have proposed that low vitamin D plays a role in dental disease in pet rabbits, Mitchell said, according to the news release.

"We are doing tooth trims and managing dental disease in rabbits, chinchillas and guinea pigs on a regular basis," Mitchell explained in the news release. "Weekly, we see those types of cases in our zoo medicine clinical service. It's something that also is seen across the country and internationally. It's a common problem."

Most laboratory animals and many pet rabbits are not allowed outdoors because of the risks of exposure to predators, parasites and disease, Mitchell said in the news release. Windows block most UVB radiation. If the animals don't get sufficient vitamin D from their diet and are never exposed to ultraviolet light, they may become deficient, he explained in the news release.

If your pet doesn't get enough vitamin D from food and is never exposed to outdoor UVB ultraviolet light, the animal could become deficient

"As a clinician, I want to better manage these animals, give them a longer, higher quality of life," Mitchell said, according to the news release. Vitamin D deficiency also could undermine the validity of studies using rabbits in research to improve animal and human health, he said in the news release. "In human medicine, they're starting to measure vitamin D levels as part of our routine medical exams," he said. "But if we're not doing this with animals that we're using in research, we might be missing a step."

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