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What Are BHA and BHT in Dog Food? Vet-Reviewed Preservatives & Canine Safety

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By Nicole Cosgrove

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Vet approved

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Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Maxbetter Vizelberg

DVM (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Have you ever looked at the ingredients in your dog’s food? There are items like chicken, by-product meal, and so on. We may know what some of the ingredients are, and some we may not. One thing is for sure, as pet parents, we cannot assume that all the ingredients in our pet’s food are safe.

Two questionable ingredients that may be listed on some dog foods are BHA and BHT. In short, Butylated hydroxyanisole or E320 (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene or E321 (BHT) are artificial antioxidants used to help your dog food stay fresh for longer. Let’s take a closer look at what these ingredients are, shall we?

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Are BHA and BHT Safe for Dogs?

If you are currently feeding your dog or cat a commercial dog food, you may want to learn about these two ingredients.

Butylated hydroxyanisole or E320 (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene or E321 (BHT) are widely used artificial antioxidants. They are added to prevent processed foods from getting rancid. BHA and BHT are chemically manufactured antioxidants used to maintain freshness and preserve foods for humans, dogs, and cats.

Like humans, dogs require certain antioxidants for proper bodily function and overall health. BHA or BHT are good at slowing the oxidation process in dog food and keeping them fresh for longer. While less effective, ascorbic acid and tocopherols may present a healthier option.

According to PetMD, BHA is a carcinogen and reproductive toxicant and is included in California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment list. The National Institute of Health claims that “dietary exposure to BHA caused benign and malignant tumors of the forestomach (papilloma in squamous-cell carcinoma) in rats of both sexes and in male mice and hamsters.

While BHT is widely used in the United States, it is no longer used as a preservative in human food in Japan, Australia, Sweden, and Romania. BHT is known to cause liver and kidney damage in rats.

labrador dog eating
Image Credit: Olena Yakobchuk, Shutterstock


Dogs and cats are exposed to smoke, pesticides, and pollution daily. Antioxidants are essential for fighting free radicals and detoxifying the bloodstream.

  • Vitamin E is a natural immune system booster to help prevent cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Vitamin E provides older dogs with needed energy and helps their body to fight off viruses and bacteria.
  • Vitamin C is important for continued health. Vitamin C can aid in wound healing, joint pain, and inflammation of the gums. For older dogs, vitamin C helps their body fight off viruses and bacteria, provides needed energy, and protects their joints from the wear and tear that comes with age.
  • Beta carotene is an essential nutrient that’s contained in vegetables and fruits. Beta carotene increases cell production and boosts antibodies in the system.
  • Selenium is a nutrient that is good for cognitive and heart function. It can decrease asthma symptoms and aid in cancer prevention and thyroid health.
  • Polyphenols help to protect against diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and osteoporosis.
dog eating from bowl in kitchen
Image Credit: Pixel-Shot, Shutterstock

There are natural and healthy choices for foods that are high in antioxidants, for example:

  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Cranberries
  • Strawberries
  • Bananas
  • Beets
  • Spinach and Kale
  • Red cabbage
  • Apples
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Pumpkin
  • Broccoli
  • Artichokes

The natural foods named can be used an alternative to BHA and BHT, given that BHA and BHT have the potential to make our pets sick, we need to get better educated about the ingredients being used in their food.

Buying better quality foods that contain ingredients, like blueberries and pumpkin, may help prevent some of the risks of illness and disease for your pet. As the saying goes, “you are what you eat”.

dog eating raspberries from the basket
Image By: alexei_tm, Shutterstock

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Not all dog food ingredients are good for your pet’s health. As dog or cat parents, it is up to us to keep our babies healthy. In doing your research and exploring your options, you will find the pet food industry has expanded over the years. There are many healthier choices for pet owners who want to provide healthy and tasty options for their pooch.

Featured Image Credit: BearFotos, Shutterstock

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Authored by

Nicole is a lover of animals of all sizes but is especially fascinated with the feline variety. She’s the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese, and works every day so he can relax in the sunshine or by the fire. She’s always had a cat in her home and has spent countless days with others, observing behaviors and softening up even the grouchiest of the lot. Nicole wants to share her kitty expertise with you so you and your cat ...Read more

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