Are Dog Food Preservatives Dangerous?

Key points

  • Two groups of preservatives, namely artificial and natural, are added to pet foods. While natural preservatives are generally considered safe, synthetic compounds pose a significant risk to your dog’s health.
  • Both BHA and BHT can promote tumors in pets and, therefore, should be avoided. Vitamin E, vitamin C, and plant extracts are most commonly used as natural preservatives.
  • The canning process is another popular method of food preservation. That is why canned pet food does not require either natural or artificial preservatives.

Today, there’s a lot of discussion about preservatives – both in products made for human consumption and pet food. But what are preservatives? Why are they necessary? And what alternatives are there to preservatives?

Preservatives are ingredients that prevent food from spoiling, expanding its shelf life. There are two main groups of preservatives in pet food: antimicrobials and antioxidants. Antimicrobials are used to stop the growth of yeast, bacteria, or mold. At the same time, antioxidants are added to food to slow the oxidation of fats and lipids, resulting in rancidity.

The pet food industry uses both natural and artificial preservatives. While there are many reasonable concerns about the effects of artificial preservatives on pet health, nowadays, they are widely used in most commercial dog foods.

Artificial Preservatives in Dog Food


BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole or E320) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene or E321) are the two most commonly used antioxidant preservatives. BHA is a synthetic alkylphenol. This chemical is very difficult for a dog’s body to process and eliminate, so it often accumulates in adipose tissue. BHA is known to cause allergies, hamper liver function, increase blood lipid levels, and even affect the fetus in pregnant pets.

BHT is also a synthetic product that accumulates in adipose tissue as a metabolic toxin. It can trigger significant changes in the immune system, thyroid, and liver and cause cancer and allergies.

Moreover, studies by the Department of Health and Human Studies in the US and the University of Hamburg show that both BHA and BHT can promote tumors in pets.

The World Health Organization considers BHT and BHA to be suspicious cancer-causing ingredients. BHA is also identified as a possible carcinogen by the State of California.

These artificial antioxidants can even result in behavioral problems such as aggression and a severe deficit in learning. Unfortunately, BHA and BHT preservatives are still used in dog food in Europe and the US.


Also called E324, this is an artificial antioxidant linked to allergic reactions, skin disease, behavior problems, and other severe health conditions. In addition to being a preservative, this chemical is also used as a pesticide. Unlike others on this list, this dog food additive was suspended by the European Food Safety Authority in 2017. Ethoxyquin is also not permitted in Australia. However, in other parts of the world, its use is still quite widespread.

Potassium Sorbate

Potassium Sorbate (also known as E202) is among the common dog food preservatives. However, studies have shown that this preservative can irritate skin and eyes and cause white cell damage. It may also promote tumor formation.

Propyl Gallate

Propyl Gallate (E310) is another artificial preservative used in pet foods together with BHA and BHT. You should try to avoid dog food that contains this ingredient since it might contribute to tumor formation. All of the above-mentioned synthetic preservatives pose a real danger to your pet, so it is best to choose pet foods that contain only safe, natural preservatives.

brown pug with yellow and red scarf

Natural Dog Food Preservatives

Natural preservatives are becoming more and more popular among commercial pet food manufacturers. Vitamin E, also known as tocopherol, vitamin C, also referred to as ascorbic acid, and plant extracts are commonly used to protect pet foods against oxidation.

Mixed Tocopherols in Pet Food

Mixed tocopherols, which are different forms of vitamin E, are some of the most commonly used natural preservatives in dog food. By inhibiting the oxidation of fats, tocopherols help minimize and prevent food spoilage. According to the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, mixed tocopherols are a by-product of the soybean industry. Many vets prefer tocopherol preservatives since they are a safe and healthy alternative to potentially harmful chemical preservatives. The use of mixed tocopherols in dog food is especially widespread in the UK. These compounds are not only safe, but they also might even have a positive influence on your dog’s health.

In comparison with artificial preservatives, mixed tocopherols are absorbed more easily. Transport proteins present in your pet’s body deliver natural tocopherols to different tissues, where they are used up in biochemical processes. Mixed tocopherols have also been a part of the human diet for a long time, as they are essential for maintaining a healthy immune system, improving skin health and vision.

Other common natural preservatives are vitamin C (ascorbic acid) and plant extracts such as rosemary oil.

While natural preservatives in pet food are safe and healthy, there’s one disadvantage: these compounds are significantly less effective than artificial preservatives, making the shelf life of naturally preserved foods shorter. The solution here is to buy only small amounts of food at a time so that it does not spoil before consumption. If you want to purchase pet foods containing only natural preservatives, don’t blindly trust packages that have an “all-natural” label on them. Instead, look at the ingredient list and check if there are BHA or BHT on the list.

Canned Pet Foods

Another good option is feeding your dog only canned food. Since the canning process already preserves food quite well, these foods usually don’t contain natural and artificial preservatives. If unopened, a can of pet food can last for ages in a cool, dry place. Of course, canned pet food generates more waste and is not as cheap as dry food, but if you want to avoid BHA in dog food, it can be an excellent alternative.

The type of preservatives used in pet food is not the only thing you need to pay attention to when choosing a diet for your furry friend. The pet food you select must contain a combination of high-quality ingredients that together provide your pet with balanced and complete nutrition. Are you searching for pet food that’s sustainable, nutritious, and safe food for your dog? Give insect-based pet food manufactured by Petcan a try!

brown peanuts in blue plastic bowl


Are tocopherols toxic?

Mixed tocopherols are different forms of vitamin E, so they can be safely consumed as part of your pet’s diet. In fact, they are some of the most commonly used natural pet food preservatives.

Are tocopherols safe for dogs?

Tocopherols (vitamin E) are generally considered to be safe for dogs and other pets. Therefore, these compounds are often used as natural pet food preservatives.

Does BHA cause cancer in dogs?

The World Health Organization considers BHA to be a suspicious cancer-causing compound. It is also identified as a possible carcinogen by the State of California.

Are BHA and BHT banned in Europe?

Unfortunately, BHA and BHT preservatives are still permitted in dog food both in Europe and the US.

What preservatives are bad for dogs?

Synthetic preservatives, such as BHA and BHT, potassium sorbate, propyl gallate, and ethoxyquin, pose a real danger to your pet, so it’s best to choose canned pet food that doesn’t contain preservatives or dry food preserved with safe, natural compounds.