Are your dogs and cats getting enough vitamin E?

One of three dogs will die of cancer.  Perhaps one of the contributing factors to the cancer epidemic in dogs and cats is that our pets are not consuming enough vitamin E, and that the vitamin E they do consume is not the complete form of vitamin E.  This is an easy situation to correct; giving our dogs and cats real foods high in all forms of vitamin E may help reduce the incidence of cancer, and debilitating conditions like allergies and arthritis. 


Components of Vitamin E

Vitamin E is comprised of two groups of molecules, tocopherols and tocotrienols, each with four forms (alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocopherol, and alpha-, beta-, gamma- and delta-tocotrienol). Each form has its own potency and functional use in the body.


Research is beginning to focus on specific tocopherols and tocotrienols, rather than on just “vitamin E.” New studies suggest that vitamin E should be consumed in the broader family of mixed tocopherols and tocotrienols. However, the vitamin E most often used in pet foods is the alpha-tocopherol form. This specific tocopherol has incredible antioxidant benefits, but gamma-tocopherol seems to be the only form of vitamin E that actually inhibits the proliferation of cancer cells.


A few years ago, the USDA nutrient database listed just the amount of alpha tocopherol or alpha tocopherol equivalents in food.  Now, this database lists the four different tocopherols for many foods, but does not yet list the tocotrienols. (1)


Vitamin E in Pet Foods

Unlike people, who get most of their vitamin E from food, most dogs and cats get almost all their vitamin E from the vitamin E added to pet foods.  Pet food regulators consider only alpha tocopherol as a form of vitamin E – you can be sure that with most petfoods, the “vitamin E supplement” is only alpha (although many companies may use mixed tocopherols to preserve the fat in the food.)


Pet food regulators recommend a minimum of 14 IUs of alpha tocopherol for every 1,000 kcals (Calories) of food. (2) — a typical 50 dog requires about 1,000 Calories per day.  The vitamin E is there when the manufacturer produces the dry or frozen foods.


That does not mean that 14 IUS of vitamin E will be in the food when you feed it to your dog or cat.


Vitamin E degrades quickly once you open a bag of dry pet food; the vitamin E in frozen foods also degrades significantly. Studies we’ve seen show that processing and storage of foods can result in substantial tocopherol losses, with 70% of the tocopherols lost after one month storage at room temperature, and 60% after one month storage in the freezer.(3) (See our article about storing pet food for more information)


Add vitamin E in its whole form to your animal’s food.

Add a variety of nuts and seeds, finely chopped vegetables, or raw or lightly cooked eggs to your animal’s diet. 


The requirement of vitamin E is related to the selenium content of the diet. The more selenium in the diet, the less one needs to add vitamin E.  Adding a Brazil nut provides both a good source of vitamin E and selenium.


For gamma tocopherols, add crushed walnuts and pecans, and for the tocotrienols, crushed sunflower seeds. 

One nut or a few seeds per day for a 50 pound dog is sufficient. Buy a small quantity of mixed raw nuts, preferably organic, and crush one per day. 

Rotate the nuts: one day a Brazil, the next day a pecan, then a walnut, then a few sunflower seeds. For smaller dogs, give a nut or a few seeds every other or every third day.


Spinach has one of the highest vitamin E to Calorie ratios, so it is a good source of vitamin E and selenium for overweight dogs and cats. Juice or finely chop a small amount of spinach once per week. Spinach is high in oxalates, so dogs and cats with oxalate crystals should not eat spinach.  You can also add juiced broccoli, romaine lettuce (high in gamma tocopherols) and other vegetables up to 1 cup per day for a 50 pound dog.  A crushed broccoli stalk is ideal.  For 32 Calories you add 3.3 micrograms of selenium, 0.78 mg of alpha tocopherol and .17 mg of gamma tocopherol.


Raw eggs or lightly cooked eggs provide a full range of vitamin E and selenium.  Use feed high omega-3 content eggs. For a 50 pound dog, an egg every three days is ideal. A typical egg provides 1 mg of alpha tocopherol and .5 mg of gamma tocopherol – a great addition to your pet’s diet!


Many people add fish oil to their diets; and many may add fish or fish oil to their dog’s or cat’s food.  We recommend this – but only if the proper fish oil is added (fish oil with vitamin E like Carlson Fish Oil) or if you add other vitamin E sources to your pet’s diet.  The more polyunsaturated fats you feed your dog, the more vitamin E she will need.


If you’re adding vitamin E from a full spectrum supplement, we recommend adding 1-2 mg for every ten pounds the dog weighs (1-2 mg per day for cats). If your dog consumes a lot of polyunsaturated fats (flax or fish oil), 2 mg for every 10 pounds may be best. 



(2) Official Publication, Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO)

(3) de Man, John, “Principles of Food Chemistry, 3rd Edition, 365-368.


copyright Steve Brown and Beth Taylor

See Spot Live Longer

this article may be reproduced for educational purposes with the above credits included


~ by naturalpaw on November 18, 2007.

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