Why vitamin D? And do animals need it?

Todd W professional photo

Vitamin D—the Sunshine Vitamin: Part 1 with Todd Whitthorne

I was with Todd Whitthorne—former executive at Cooper Aerobics Enterprises in Dallas—discussing vitamin D on a beautiful sunny afternoon. (Scroll to bottom to watch video or click here.)

Neily:So tell me about vitamin D, Todd.
Todd:Jennifer, as you know, it’s a very hot topic in the world of nutrition and I think for two reasons. One is the studies show that most people are very low and two is that it’s very correctable. It’s related to a number of health conditions—cancer, heart disease, depression, chronic pain, bone health, diabetes and on and on. It’s just incredible with all the factors involved. We were designed to make it and we have been for a long, long time—a couple of million years. The reality is that we just have to be proactive. Our environment is causing issues that have been defined as an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency because we don’t live like we lived fifty or a hundred years ago. We work inside. We live inside and if we go outside we wear sunscreen. An SPF of 15 or greater in a sunscreen will block 99% of the synthesis of vitamin D—no one wears 15 anymore.Why vitamin D? And do animals need it?I will admit this—I am old enough to remember when sunscreen came out. There was 2 and then 4 and if you were really nervous, 8. Now it’s like a 50 or a 100 right, and it’s in clothing and make-up. We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water. No one wants to get skin cancer. I understand that and I totally agree with that; but the sun won’t kill you. The sun is life giving and we are designed to get some sunshine. That’s the way we make vitamin D. So don’t just knee-jerk the opposite way because really the impact could be very, very negative.
Neily:Important information! Question—do animals make vitamin D?
ToddThat’s a great question. For those who don’t know Jennifer, she really, really loves animals. About four years ago I got a brand new baby black lab by the name of Emma and she is as black as black could be. I could not figure out why—in the middle of summer here in Texas when it is like 140 degrees—Emma would want to go out in the backyard and just lay in the sun. When she had enough, she would come and knock at the door. So I had that question.There is a researcher at Creighton University, Robert Heaney. I called Dr. Heaney and asked if animals make vitamin D? He said yes, they do—they have receptor sites in their fur. He said he knew a bit about it but the guy that really knows about it is at UCLA. His name is John Adams—not the president—but a doctor. Since I went to school at UCLA and am not shy as you can probably tell, I called Dr. Adams and started talking about animals and vitamin D. The reason he was brought to Los Angeles, (he came from Harvard) was because the LA zoo was having problems with their New World primates. These monkeys they brought to the zoo from central America were lethargic and just out of energy. The first thing he did is put sun lamps in the cages. In a week, they perked up and they were back to their old selves.

So even though there is a lot of sun in Los Angeles it’s not nearly as powerful or as strong as in Central America along the equator where the UVB light is really intense. So you’ve taken that creature out of its natural environment, put it in a different environment and it wasn’t performing well. That’s exactly the way we work. Animals get it. Probably not consciously but Emma knows and your dogs know and your dogs probably know—go outside, get a little sun and feel better. So animals need it, as do humans. It just makes sense.

Neily Interesting! Thank you, Todd. I love learning things I don’t know! (Stay tuned for the next 3 segments with Cooper Aerobics exec Todd Whitthorne) Thanks for watching Neily on Nutrition.

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Jennifer Neily, MS, RDN, LD, FAND
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist | Wellcoach® Certified Health Coach


  1. Katherine Henderson

    Wow what a great article! You know, we worry about our families & kids getting enough Vitamin D, but I never thought about our pets (which are in fact members of our families)! Yes, my dogs love the sun! My dachshund Elliot will sunbathe all day. He does seem to have quite a bit of energy after his routine tanning sessions. I know I can definitely feel the difference after being out in the sun for a while myself. Thanks for a great article!

    • Jennifer Neily, MS, RD, CSSD, LD

      Thank you so much Katherine! I too loved learning about the animals – makes so much sense! And now that I think about it, that’s probably why I moved to sunnier Texas from Chicago!
      I have 3 more interviews to post with Todd but you can watch all the videos on my youtube channel: http://www.youtube.com/neilyonnutrition. Thanks again for your response.



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