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Copper (Cu) in Powdered Milk Replacers



Dietary considerations


Copper is an essential trace mineral, and the third most abundant after iron and zinc. Copper promotes and maintains strong and healthy bones, blood vessels, nerves and immune function. Along with iron, copper enables the body to form red blood cells. While there are substantial amounts of copper in the skeleton and skeletal muscle, bone marrow, and skin, the highest concentrations of copper are in the brain and liver.


Copper concentration imbalances


Based on studies in animals and humans, the effects of a copper deficiency include anemia, connective tissue disorders, osteoporosis and other bone defects, abnormal lipid metabolism, ataxia, and increased risk of infection. In rehab, animals could present with symptoms such as lethargy and weakness, weak bones, difficultly with mobility and impairment of normal rate of growth.


Chronic exposure to high levels of copper can result in liver damage and gastrointestinal symptoms (e.g., abdominal pain, cramps, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting). While likely rare, animals may inadvertently consume water containing high levels of copper as a result of accessing stagnant water in copper-containing pipes and fixtures.


Milk replacer analysis


Copper concentrations, as tested and as measured in parts per million (ppm), are shown below by product. Some of the PetAg products list copper proteinate or copper gluconate in the ingredients on the product labels.


For most of the Fox Valley products, the list of ingredients reflects that copper sulfate is included. However, the lab tests showed a variability between very low levels (47% of the samples) and those levels that were not detectable by the standard measurement test (53%). This relative absence of dietary copper, as measured by these tests, could lead to one or more of the copper deficiency conditions discussed above.


Since the correct range of concentration values for all species are different, and since wild species milk composition is very limited, reference values for whole and lowfat dry milk are provided in the chart. Additionally, the EPA maximum level for copper (ppm) in U.S. municipal water supplies is shown for reference. The actual amount of copper available in "tap" water will vary depending on the concentration of cooper from the supplier, such as a public water utility or well water, as well as any copper that may leach from piping and distribution systems.

Copper concentration chart4.jpg

Since averages can at times be misleading, a closer look at a few of the products where multiple test values are available between time periods, can reveal how the concentration values may have changed over time. Then if those changes are significant, either increase or decrease, the reader may want to focus on the most recent profile of the product. 


Even though some of the changes reflected below may be significant over time, simply trying to adjust with supplements requires considerable knowledge and has the potential to worsen an adverse situation. Please review the section on mineral supplementation in the minerals overview.

Copper changes over time.jpg

References and further reading (not intended as an exhaustive list)


National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements. Copper, Fact Sheet for Health Professionals.


Monty C. Dozier, et al. Drinking Water Problems: Copper. Texas A&M AgrLife Extension Service, Texas A&M University. 2006. This publication was funded by the Rio Grande Basin Initiative administered by the Texas Water Resources Institute of Texas Cooperative Extension, with funds provided through a grant from the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under Agreement No. 2005-45049-03209.

The information included on this website for dietary minerals is extremely narrow in its scope and nature. It is limited to certain charts and graphs displaying content values (% of total) of various powdered milk replacers as tested by an independent chemical lab. Extremely brief overview information is provided as to the primary nutritional and medical benefits of each mineral, as well as a limited discussion of issues that may arise from concentration levels in the body that may be considered deficit or toxic. Entire textbooks on dietary minerals are written for the medical and veterinary professions, in addition to the internet providing ready access to both scholarly and popular literature. Some of those references are included above.


The data values presented above only represent the test values for the presence and concentration of the mineral conducted according to standard chemical testing methods in a controlled laboratory setting. Any point test value is accompanied by a measurement uncertainty range of +/-20%. The concentration values are in no measure an indication of how much of the mineral may be provided to an animal in reconstituted formula or its bioavailability (its degree of digestibility, absorption, or ultimate utilization). Additionally, no testing was performed as to the source of the mineral in the product (such as inorganic salts) or the grade of any added supplements containing the mineral.


What the data can do is inform the reader as to (1) concentration levels in a product as most recently tested (2) changes over time and between lots, and (3) comparisons of relative concentration levels between products. It is merely data that may serve as a starting point when deciding on a milk replacer product(s) and a recipe, or information to consider if certain medical symptoms appear that could be a result of absence or excess of a specific mineral in the formula. The reader is encouraged to consult veterinary or nutritional professionals prior to providing additional supplementation of any mineral.

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