Natural vs Synthetic Vitamins

Let’s be real: Why natural vitamins are so different from synthetic vitamins

We all know that essential vitamins and minerals are an important part of your pet’s overall health. They offer a range of benefits, from boosting the immune system and improving skin, to heart and eye health - and much more! But when it comes to the type of vitamins that they’re getting, it can be hard to know whether synthetic vitamins are really up to the task. Read on for some key differences between synthetic and natural vitamins - and why synthetic vitamins might not be such a good choice for your furry friend after all.

What is the difference between natural and synthetic vitamins? 

Natural vitamins, as the name suggests, are found in whole foods and are generally more bioavailable, making them more easily absorbed by the body. Fruits, vegetables and meats are just some of the food sources that provide these essential vitamins. Synthetic vitamins, unlike natural vitamins, are produced in laboratories and designed to mimic the structure of naturally occurring vitamins. They are not as bioavailable as their natural counterparts (1), and your dog’s body will struggle to recognise and properly absorb and use them. If your pup can’t recognise these vitamins, they will simply be treated as toxins, passed through the kidneys and liver, and subsequently excreted. But take note that detoxification in this manner can be hard on the organs and cause issues over time.  

Another big difference between synthetic vitamins and natural ones is when dogs consume real food and natural vitamins, they’re also benefiting from the other nutrients they provide, such as antioxidants (fruit is packed with them!), fibre, and phytochemicals that can provide additional health benefits. Synthetic vitamins may be identical in structure, but the benefit to your pet is not:

“Although synthetic and food-derived vitamin C is chemically identical, fruit and vegetables are rich in numerous nutrients and phytochemicals which may influence its bioavailability and that the majority of animal studies have shown differences in the comparative bioavailability of synthetic versus natural vitamin C” (2)

When it comes down to it, synthetic vitamins just don’t work as well as natural ones - and don’t offer as many benefits.

So what about pet food?

Most pet food brands contain a vitamin or mineral ‘premix’ which is produced from entirely synthetic components and typically manufactured abroad. Adding these premixes to a highly-processed kibble that has already lost a significant portion of its nutritional value through high heat extrusion means that these foods can be labelled and sold as ‘complete and balanced nutrition’, despite being demonstrably deficient in nutrients.

Where do synthetic vitamins come from?

The truth? Most vitamins are manufactured in China. The scary truth? China’s track record for pet food safety is… not good. In 2007, there was a widespread recall of many cat and dog food brands imported from China due to contamination with melamine and cyanuric acid. Over 4,000 cats and dogs died as a result. And yet, most of the synthetic vitamins in dog food are still manufactured in China, in areas that are among the most polluted in the world.

Even worse, many vitamins found in pet food are actually manufactured from waste products of the petroleum and coal industries, and hydrogenated sugars (3). Vitamin B-9, for example, is produced with Isobutyraldehyde with formaldehyde, vitamin A is made from methanol, benzene, petroleum esters, acetylene, refined fish or palm oils and vitamin D is produced with irradiated animal fat/cattle brains or extracted with solvents. Chemicals such as these may be cheaper to produce and last longer on the shelf…but none of them sound like ingredients that should be anywhere near your dog’s bowl!

Where to look for natural vitamins in food

If you’re still wondering how best to get your pet the essential vitamins they need, without any synthetic supplements, we’ve put together a list of food sources that you can look for:





Beta Carotene

Pumpkin, carrots, spinach, kale, salmon, herring & more



Salmon, pork, chicken liver, pork liver, pumpkin seeds & more



Meat, organ meats, leafy green vegetables & more



Fish, beef, legumes, grains & more



Salmon, lean pork, chicken, organ meat, sweet potato, broccoli & more



Organ meats, salmon, herring, chicken, lean pork, spinach, squash & more


Biotin or d (+) biotin

Carrots, spinach, asparagus, kidney beans, flaxseed, sunflower seeds & more



Carrots, spinach, asparagus, kidney beans, flaxseed, sunflower seeds & more


Choline, phosphatidylcholine

Liver, heart, kidney, chicken, pork, salmon, halibut, haddock & more


Ascorbate or dehydroascorbate

Liver, kidney, heart, spinach, fish, kale, pineapple, kiwi & more


Vitamin D

Liver, kidney, salmon, dairy & more


RRR-alpha- tocopherol

Mango, carrots, kidney, liver, spinach & more



Spinach, blueberry, carrots, pumpkin, blackberry  

Here at Smack, we add no artificial vitamins or synthetics - all the nutrition and goodness comes from the food itself! So when your dog or cat gets to enjoy Smack in their diet, they’re also reaping all the other benefits of our superfood ingredients - boosting their digestive system, improving their skin and eye health, helping their cardiovascular system and much, much more!

Check out our superfood ingredients

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