mixedtocopherolsinpetfood270For pet owners trying to make healthy choices for their pets, the ingredients used in pet products can be confusing and overwhelming.

There are hundreds of ingredients that are difficult to pronounce, and even harder to understand. Trying to decipher among the myriad of beneficial and detrimental ingredients used in today’s consumable pet products can make your head spin.

While most of us try to focus on pet food ingredients that are completely natural and beneficial, it can take some research to figure out what they are.

Mixed tocopherols are one of those commonly misunderstood ingredients. Tocopherols are found in everything from kibble, to training treats, supplements, shampoo, and more. In fact, tocopherols are one of the most common ingredients used in pet goods. But what are they, and why are they so popular?

To explain it simply, mixed tocopherols are a combination of different sources of Vitamin E. They can be a mixture of alpha-tocopherol, beta-tocopherol, gamma-tocopherol, and delta-tocopherol, which are all natural forms of Vitamin E. Tocopherols do differ very slightly in chemical structure, but are essentially the same. They’re usually sourced from nuts, seeds, healthy oils, and even spinach.

Vitamin E is important for many pets, including dogs and cats, as it serves a variety of important functions. Firstly, Vitamin E acts as a powerful antioxidant, helping prevent cell damage from free radicals, which are closely associated with a number of serious diseases including cancers, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and more. Secondly, Vitamin E is a dynamic helper for both the immune system as well as the circulatory system. It helps to maintain strong, healthy muscles, keeping your pet agile as they age. On top of these benefits, Vitamin E also contributes to better eyesight, a healthy skin and coat, and more.

While Vitamin E deficiency is rare in pets, cats can be slightly more susceptible to it than dogs. For example, all-fish diets are generally lower in Vitamin E - which is essential for natural fat metabolism - so without proper supplementation pets may be at risk of developing a disorder called Yellow Fat Disease. Most commercial pet foods are properly balanced in this regard, so diet-related Vitamin E deficiencies are not a common problem today.

Surprisingly, the reason Vitamin E is found in so many pet products isn’t because of its health benefits; mixed tocopherols are an exceptionally effective preservative. Over the last couple of decades, pet product manufacturers have been meeting an increasing demand for all-natural, healthy pet foods and treats. Part of this trend has been the removal of unwanted synthetic preservatives.

When being used as a preservative, mixed tocopherols work by naturally reducing oxidation of ingredients in consumable pet products, extending their shelf life significantly.

Synthetic preservatives are less costly to the manufacturer than mixed tocopherols, and preserve pet foods longer. However, there are many concerns regarding the safety of long-term exposure to artificial preservatives like BHT, BHA, propylene glycol, propyl gallate, and ethoxyquin. The International Agency for Research on Cancer lists BHA as a possible human carcinogen. While ethoxyquin is considered to be non-toxic to pets if used properly, it is also used in pesticides and in making rubber products, like tires. This really makes you question the number of potentially harmful things our pets are unknowingly exposed to.

When it comes to our pets, we only want what is best for them. The next time you choose a consumable product for your pet (or yourself), ask first what is it preserved with?

Brandon Forder, known as The Pet Expert, is vice-president of Canadian Pet Connection, an industry leader in healthy pet lifestyles. Brandon holds multiple certifications in pet nutrition, and has more than twenty-five years' experience specializing in pet health and behaviour. He has written hundreds of informative pet-related articles for newspapers, magazines, radio, and the popular Ask the Pet Expert Blog. Brandon is highly skilled in pet problem solving, and enjoys teaching others about smart and responsible pet ownership. To learn more, visit