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E is for essential: Vitamin E for dogs

by Dr. Pippa Elliott November 09, 2020 4 min read

A bunch of leafy greens

Vitamin E belongs to a group of vitamins for dogs that must be supplied in food, because dogs cannot make it for themselves. Being deficient in this vital vitamin can lead to health problems such as bad skin, poor eyesight, a weak immune system, and infertility.

What is vitamin E?

In a nutshell, vitamin E is essential for good health. Like the the mortar that holds the bricks in a wall together, vitamin E plays an understated role in making the body work. It is a fat-soluble vitamin that allows the body to squirrel away a reserve of vitamins in the fats naturally found in the body. This means althoughvitamin E must be supplied in food, the body does have some stored for a rainy day. This is in contrast to water-soluble vitamins, such a vitamin C, which the body can't store and must be given regularly. 

Why vitamin E is important for dogs

What do superheroes do? They protect the world from attack. In much the same way, the antioxidant properties of vitamin E shield the body from the harm done by free radicals. It is free radicals that cause cell damage and speed up tissue aging. To combat this, Mother Nature created her own Marvel Universe in antioxidants, including vitamin E. 

Vitamin E has a vital role in the way most of the body's tissues work, including the skin, nerves, eye, muscles, immune system, circulation, and reproductive system. Without it, things start to fall apart with the potential to cause problems ranging from the irritating (such as dry skin) to the serious (such as blood clots causing strokes). 

How much vitamin E do dogs need?

How much vitamin E a dog needs is one of those 'How long is a piece of string?' questions. This is because the more challenges the body faces, the greater its need for the protective power ofvitamin E. For example, an inner city dog that walks along a highway and breathes in exhaust fumes has a greater need for antioxidants than a country dog that romps in open fields. Pollution is a huge cause of oxidative damage and the body requires greater protection—and more vitamin E. 

Another factor that changes the requirement ofvitamin E for dogsis the amount of fat in their diet. There are several reasons for this, of which the simplest is that fat soaks up vitamin E. If the food is fatty, then less vitamin E makes it into the bloodstream. 

All that said, the recommended daily allowance ofvitamin E for dogs is 1–20 international units per day for a medium-sized dog. Vitamin E is also beneficial for skin when applied externally, such as in a shampoo rich in vitamin E.

Signs of vitamin E deficiency

What happens if a dog doesn't get the right amount of vitamin E? A fascinating fact is that vitamin E doesn't cross the placenta and a mother's milk is low in this vital vitamin. This means it's super important that pups get good-quality food when they're weaned or risk suffering deficiency disease as they grow. 

But adults can also suffer a deficiency if they have a rubbish diet. Typical signs include: 

  • Red, raw, flaky skin
  • Weak muscles
  • Poor eyesight
  • Persistent infections
  • Infertility

Of course, these symptoms are very general and no owner should diagnose a deficiency based on poor skin alone. Always see the vet if your dog is under the weather. 

Can Vitamin E be dangerous for dogs?

Vitamin E does have a wide safety margin and is considered largely nontoxic. However, it is wise to remember that water is nontoxic, but in extreme amounts it can kill. The biggest worry with vitamin E is that large amounts could block other fat-soluble vitamins from being absorbed and cause deficiency diseases of those vitamins.

How to give dogs vitamin E

All good-quality commercial foods have to meet stringent nutritional requirements laid down by law. Thus, commercial foods all contain enough vitamin E for good health. But if you feel your dog needs a vitamin E boost, many natural foods will do this. 

Natural foods that are high in vitamin E

Vegetables and plant oils are rich sources of vitamin E. To give your dog a vitamin E turbo charge, offer leafy green vegetables, whole grain cereals, or wheat germ. If your dog likes nuts, you could try hazelnuts, peanuts, or almonds—but be sure to grind them up first as a greedy dog may choke on a whole nut.  

Are human vitamin E supplements safe for dogs?

If your best buddy needs a vitamin E supplement, then always use one formulated for pets. It is best to avoid human multivitamin supplements. This is because the dosages are specifically for people and tend to be much higher than what dogs need. While vitamin E has a high safety margin, this isn't so for all vitamins (such as vitamin D), which can be toxic. Dogs are relatively small compared to people, so it could be possible to do more harm than good when giving a human supplement.


The article was written by Pippa Elliot, BVMS, MRCVS on November 9, 2020.
Dr. Pippa Elliott
Dr. Pippa Elliott

Dr. Elliott graduated from the University of Glasgow, UK, with a Bachelor of Veterinary Medicine and Surgery. She has over three decades of experience working in companion animal practice and is the designated veterinarian for the Cats Protection rescue center, Harrow. In addition to hands-on work in the clinic, Dr. Elliott is an editor for small animal, veterinary textbooks from Improve International. She also writes a regular newsletter piece for the Webinar Vet and contributed to The Veterinary Times. Dr. Elliott is also qualified as an Official Veterinarian to oversee the export of animal products abroad.



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