Research published today in Research in Veterinary Science reveals that vitamin D supplementation reduces the incidence and severity of tuberculosis (TB) in wild boar and red deer. The pilot study of 40 animals was conducted by a multidisciplinary team of scientists from the University of Surrey (UK), Universidad de Extremadura (Spain), and SME Ingulados (Spain).

Wild boar and red deer are key hosts of bovine tuberculosis – a chronic, infectious disease mainly caused by Mycobacterium bovis - in southern Europe, with the incidence of TB in these animals particularly high in certain areas of Spain. The research could therefore have a positive impact on animal health and – since these species are valuable in the hunting and meat products industries – local economies.

The research also concludes that vitamin D supplementation could be explored in other species such as badgers, which are key hosts for bovine tuberculosis in the UK.

Vitamin D – and other nutritional factors – are known to influence the severity of TB in humans but its relationship with cattle and other mammals has not been studied until now. The research takes an innovative ‘One Health’ approach, which explores human and animal health in a holistic way using key learnings across both disciplines. At the University of Surrey, expert in human nutrition Professor Susan Lanham-New collaborated closely with veterinary scientists from the University’s School of Veterinary Medicine.

In the pilot study, half of the animals were given a vitamin D3-enriched food while half were given no supplementation. Among animals with TB, there was a clear correlation between the severity of the disease and their blood concentration of vitamin D3. These animals were also more likely to be suffering from a localised TB infection than severe generalised TB.

Dr F. Javier Salguero of the University of Surrey said, “We know that eradicating TB – a massive problem in animals worldwide – is a complicated process. However, nutritional factors could play a significant role as a preventative measure. This research points to the fact that supplementing animals’ diet with vitamin D could be a very cost effective approach to reduce prevalences.”

The researchers are now planning to test vitamin D supplementation in wild boar and red deer on a larger scale in Spain, as well as exploring how vitamin D improves immunity against TB in these animals.