Mixed Tocopherols for Dogs–What Are They?

by Sundays

Scruffy dog sitting on floor

Mixed tocopherols is another way of saying that your dog’s food has a variety of natural sources of vitamin E. 

You’re scanning the ingredients list on your dog’s food, and you come across “mixed tocopherols.” It’s often near the top of the list, in parentheses after another ingredient that seems legit, where it explains that the ingredient was “preserved with mixed tocopherols.” So what are mixed tocopherols? It seems pretty sus. 

They definitely don’t sound like anything you’d want to show up in your dog’s food. But you’ll be surprised to find out that it’s actually completely natural. Whoever named it didn’t do this ingredient any favors, though. Mixed tocopherols is another way of saying that your dog’s food has a variety of natural sources of vitamin E. 

Let’s find out why they call it mixed tocopherols and why it’s even in your dog’s food to begin with.

Mixed tocopherols explained

Time to get into some science to explain the details about where mixed tocopherols come from. 

Vitamin E has eight natural forms, and four of those are different types of tocopherols. These can be alpha, beta, delta, or gamma. Alpha-tocopherol is the most biologically active, which means it has the biggest effect on the body. But we don’t need to go too deep into that. You can find these natural tocopherols in foods like fish, vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, cereals, and leafy greens like spinach.

Tocopherols can also be made synthetically, but the body absorbs the natural version much more easily and readily. It takes a lot more of the synthetic stuff to do what a smaller amount of the natural stuff can do.

Why are mixed tocopherols in dog food?

The first thing to know is that there’s not a large amount of mixed tocopherols in dog food. They are what the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) considers to be a “minor ingredient.” 

So how did they end up there in the first place? Usually, if you look at the list of ingredients, you’ll see “mixed tocopherols (preservative),” or it could come after a major ingredient like this: “chicken fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols).”

Mixed tocopherols keep ingredients like healthy fats and oils from separating and oxidizing. You don’t want that to happen, because that’s what makes the food turn rancid and spoil. The natural form can also make the food more flavorful than the artificial version.

In Sundays for Dogs recipes, when you see the ingredient “mixed tocopherols (preservative),” you can be confident in knowing that the vitamin E is distilled from vegetables, which helps preserve the freshness of our unique air-dried USDA beef, chicken, and turkey.

Dog food manufacturers use mixed tocopherols as natural preservatives because they are easier on a dog’s digestive system. They don’t last as long as synthetic or artificial preservatives, but they still give the dog food a pretty long shelf life–about 12 months. 

Do mixed tocopherols have any health benefits for dogs?

If mixed tocopherols are basically vitamin E, and vitamins have benefits, do they offer any benefits in dog food? Probably not enough to make a difference. In general, vitamin E is a great antioxidant that neutralizes free radicals. When vitamin E is listed as “mixed tocopherols,” its real duty is just to help preserve the food. 

AAFCO creates and updates nutrient profiles that serve as a guide for how much of each nutrient a dog food should have. In these profiles, it shows that dogs need 50 IU/kg of vitamin E, but it must be kept in a certain ratio to the polyunsaturated fatty acid in the diet, too. So you don’t want to add too much vitamin E. 

There’s already enough vitamin E that occurs naturally in ingredients like plant oils or green veggies that are listed in your dog’s food. These ingredients supply the amount of beneficial vitamin E that dogs need. It’s also good to know that vitamin E deficiencies in dogs are rare.

Mixed tocopherols vs. other preservatives in dog food

Now you know that you don’t have to worry about seeing mixed tocopherols on a dog food label, but what are some of the other preservatives you should know about?

In terms of natural preservatives, you might also see vitamin C (or ascorbic acid) or rosemary oil, all of which help from keeping those fats and oils from spoiling. What you don’t want to see are artificial preservatives like ethoxyquin, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT).

Ethoxyquin is used in pesticides and in making rubber. It’s been said to cause significant liver and blood issues, also. BHA and BHT have been noted by the World Health Organization to possibly cause cancer. So when you’re reading labels, make sure your dog’s food is using only naturally derived preservatives.

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