Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant, and one of the vitamins and minerals dogs require for optimal health. Aside from fending off free radical damage and helping to keep the immune system in peak performance, vitamin E has other applications—most notably for skin problems.
From benefits and uses, to side effects and tips for administration, we guide you through what you need to know about vitamin E for dogs.
What is Vitamin E?
Vitamin E comes in eight forms, the most common of which is a potent antioxidant called alpha-tocopherol. It shares something in common with vitamins A, D, and K. “Vitamin E is one of the four fat soluble vitamins that are metabolized like fat and stored in fatty tissue and the liver,” says Dr. George Melillo, chief veterinary officer at Heart + Paw, headquartered in Philadelphia.
Natural sources of vitamin E are found in a number of foods including:
- Fruits and vegetables: Spinach, broccoli, avocados
- Vegetable oils: Wheat germ, sunflower oil, safflower oil
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds
- Seafood: Rainbow trout, Atlantic salmon
Manufacturers also add vitamin E to fortify pet foods, as well as human foods like cereals, fruit juices, and margarine. It’s also offered in supplement form.
In human wellness regimens, vitamin E helps prevent blood clots and boosts the immune system (which aids in warding off illness), but it’s mostly coveted for its powerful antioxidant properties. Antioxidants protect cells, organs, and tissues from the havoc caused by free radicals, like air pollution and the sun’s ultraviolet light.
Benefits of Vitamin E for Dogs
Is vitamin E good for dogs? Dr. Melilo explains that vitamin E for dogs offers plenty of benefits. “It helps keep a dog’s immune system, muscles, heart, liver, nerve cells and skin healthy,” says Melillo. It also helps stabilize cell membranes, he adds. Membrane stabilization plays a potential role in canine pain management.
Additionally, “It’s an antioxidant that helps protect cells against damage from free radicals, and it has some immune and anti-inflammatory benefits,” says Dr. Gabrielle Fadl, a veterinarian at BondVet, based in New York City. In fact, one study suggests higher doses of vitamin E might be effective for reducing inflammation and signs of pain associated with canine osteoarthritis (CAD).
Though veterinarians say vitamin E deficiencies in dogs are rare, when they do occur, Fadl says they “can lead to problems with the eyes, nervous system, and reproductive system.”
Vitamin E for Dogs’ Skin
Vitamin E supplements for dogs are most commonly used to help with dog skin conditions, including canine atopic dermatitis (CAD). One study found low vitamin E levels present in dogs with CAD, which supports the idea that vitamin E supplementation may help dogs with skin problems.
“While not all dogs need vitamin E supplementation (it’s already part of a complete and balanced dog food), sometimes vets recommend additional vitamin E for dogs with specific conditions that could benefit from it,” says Fadl. “Skin problems are a common example, including allergic skin disease, dry skin, itchy skin, ear problems, and irritation from skin mites.
How to Give Vitamin E to Dogs
Vitamin E deficiencies in dogs are rare, so your dog may not need supplementation. In fact, too much vitamin E can be harmful. This is why, “Before giving a dog any supplement, I recommend that a pet parent first consult their veterinarian,” says Melillo.
Natural Vitamin E for Dogs: A Complete and Balanced Diet
If you feed your dog a complete and balanced commercial diet, chances are she’s already getting an adequate amount of vitamin E.
Some foods with vitamin E for dogs that you might recognize on dog food labels include:
- Sweet potatoes
However, you don’t need to go searching for individual ingredients. “Most quality commercial dog foods have at least the minimum daily requirements of vitamin E so the great majority of dogs do not need supplements,” says Melillo. “If a dog food says it contains the essential vitamins and minerals or that it is complete and balanced, you can be confident it contains adequate amounts of vitamin E.”
How can you be certain the food you’re feeding your dog is complete and balanced? “The FDA regulates pet foods and most states also adopt the regulations set forth by The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). This group helps set profiles that provide the proper levels of nutrients and vitamins required for dogs,” adds Melillo.
Note that unless they’ve been approved by a veterinary nutritionist, home-cooked diets are prone to nutritional imbalances, says Fadl. So they may not contain adequate amounts of vitamin E for dogs.
How to Give Your Dog Vitamin E
Vitamin E supplements for dogs come in a variety of forms. These include
- A vitamin E supplement or multivitamin formulated with vitamin E, in pill, capsule, or chewable form
- Vitamin E oil for dogs that gets added to food
- Vitamin E powders that get added to food
- As part of a therapeutic dog diet prescribed by a veterinarian
- Vitamin E topical creams and balms for skin conditions
- Dog shampoos formulated with vitamin E
- Vitamin E oil for dogs that is applied topically
Vitamin E for dogs should preferably be given orally, either in food or via supplement, says Melillo. “This is the ideal way to be sure the pet ingests the amounts needed for health.”
Aside from your veterinarian’s recommendation, a deciding factor in which form you choose is ease of administration. “Dogs that love treats may benefit from a chewable. Dogs that eat their food readily may be fine with a powder or oil added to a food. Some very finicky pets may need a pill form administered to them,” Melillo adds.
Multivitamins and Vitamin E Supplements for Dogs: What to Look For
Most multivitamins contain vitamin E, says Melillo, however, “It is important to look at the label and be sure that it lists vitamin E as a component. There are some supplements that do not have vitamin E. Consulting your veterinarian is critical when deciding if any supplement is needed, especially vitamins.”
Another factor to consider when choosing supplements for your dog is product quality. “There are many different vitamin products out there, and they are not always subject to stringent regulations,” says Fadl. “So different multivitamins may contain differing amounts of various vitamins and other substances. It’s best to check exactly what’s in it, and ask your vet prior to starting a new vitamin or supplement.”
Vitamin E Dosage for Dogs
Vitamin E dosing can differ by product and will be based on your veterinarian’s recommendations. Generally, though, “The daily requirement for puppies is 400 IU of vitamin E and 800 IU for dogs over two years of age,” says Melilo. ”That is typically all that a pet needs.”
If your veterinarian advises a vitamin E supplement, the amount of the supplement should be added to what is eaten in the dog’s diet. “The total should generally be below 2000 IU per day for small dogs or 3000 IU per day for larger breeds,” adds Melillo.
Vitamin E Side Effects for Dogs
Is vitamin E dangerous for dogs? Vitamin E is generally considered safe for dogs, provided it’s given at the recommended dose and is a quality product. However, pet parents should pay close attention to the dosage and not overdo it.
“Though very rare, there could be problems if too much vitamin E is given to a dog,” says Melillo. “There is the potential for too much vitamin E causing gastrointestinal problems, muscle problems, or bleeding problems in a dog.”
If you notice any signs—like vomiting, diarrhea, or itching—after giving your dog a supplement, Melillo recommends stopping the supplement until you can discuss it with your veterinarian. Because of potential problems, it’s best to keep any supplements out of your canine’s reach.
To avoid complications, your best bet is to follow your veterinarian’s advice on form and dosage.
Where to Buy Vitamin E Supplements for Dogs
If your veterinarian agrees that vitamin E supplementation can benefit your dog, we have some tips on how to select the best products.
Which is Best: Human or Dog Vitamin E Supplements?
Unless approved by your veterinarian, it’s best to use a supplement made for dogs, says Fadl. “Human vitamins typically contain different (often much larger) doses, and they may contain other substances that could be harmful to dogs.” For example, some human-grade supplements contain xylitol, which can be toxic for dogs.
Qualities to Look for in a Dog Vitamin E Supplement
Select a brand with clinical evidence to support its claims. “Also read the label carefully and look for a lot number which conveys a certain level of quality control,” says Melillo. ”There should also be a number to contact the manufacturer with questions. Remember, these are supplements so be cautious about any exaggerated claims.”
Buying Vitamin E Supplements for Dogs
If you’re ready to shop for a vitamin E supplement for your dog, start with your veterinarian. “It is best to consult your veterinarian on the recommended vitamin supplement. Often they have vitamins that they know to be safe and effective,” Melillo says.
Once you have a recommendation, you can start shopping. A few places to check, aside from your veterinarian’s office include
- Online pet supply shops
- Brick and mortar pet supply shops
- Online general retailers
- The pet section of big box stores
- Natural grocers