When it comes to your pet’s health, diet plays a major role. Healthy and wholesome ingredients supply the energy, vitamins, and nutrients your pet needs. They can also improve the overall health and longevity of your dog. As you might know, your pet has nutritional needs, and you should be doing all you can to meet those needs. However, the ingredients that must be avoided in dog food are just as important to remember as the healthy ingredients. So, what do you really know about the long list of ingredients printed on commercialized dog food labels?
Best Dog Food for your Pet
You want to provide the best for your pet, right? Which is why you look for top quality dog food in the first place. Unfortunately, finding the best dog food requires a little bit of leg work and observation. Though a bag of dog food might indicate it is healthy, natural, or well balanced does not necessarily mean it is completely safe. The bag could have pictures of roasted chicken, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, but that doesn’t mean the dog food includes these fresh ingredients. Also, just because your dog seems to enjoy eating the food doesn’t mean it is providing well balanced nutrition. You want to be sure the food inside the bag, the nutrition beneath the label and pictures, is actually good for your pet. The first place to start is with the list of ingredients.
Checking the Dog Food Label
Do you read the label on dog food bags? If not, then you should. It is important to be aware of what is going on while looking at dog food labels because they can tell you so much about what is really in your pet’s food. Unfortunately, sometimes looking at the label feels more like cracking a code. What you should remember is that the actual list of ingredients gives you a great picture of the kind of quality dog food you are looking at. Make note of the names of ingredients and the order in which they appear. A quality protein should be the number one ingredient listed. It should not be corn, or wheat, or soy. Look for easily recognizable ingredients with specific descriptions. Chicken meal, potatoes, and roasted venison are all considered premium ingredients. Animal fat, soy protein concentrate, and crude protein are not. One last thing you want to see is the AAFCO guarantee. This does not mean the dog food is ideal, but it does mean the food at least meets the minimum requirements for complete and balanced pet nutrition.
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15 Main Ingredients to Avoid in Dog Food
Pet food recalls are a continuing problem and an obvious cause for concern to many pet owners. There are deadly contaminants turning up in commercialized pet food, and you need to be aware of what your dog is eating day in and day out. Not only can poor ingredients immediately affect your pet’s health through vomiting and diarrhea, but it can impact their life expectancy and long term health. Things like by-products, fillers, and artificial ingredients can hurt your pet. They, as well as some other poor ingredients, should be avoided if possible.
Propylene Glycol or Gallate
This ingredient is used in antifreeze solutions and solvents, and that should pretty much explain why propylene glycol should not be used in your pet food. Some manufacturers add this ingredient to dog foods to keep them semi-moist. Honestly though, there is no added nutritional benefit to your pet when the food doesn’t dry out. In fact, quite the opposite. This ingredient could be toxic to your dog if consumed in large or frequent amounts over time. Studies show the use of Propylene Glycol is especially harmful to the liver, kidneys, and brain. Think about it. When it comes to dog food, your pet’s diet will be much the same for days, weeks, months and maybe even years on end. Do not let this ingredient sneak past your radar, otherwise you will be exposing your pet to a dangerous substance that could poison them.
BHT, BHA or Ethoxyquin
These are some pretty dangerous preservatives. In fact, many countries have banned these ingredients from human consumption. Unfortunately, the United States does not have such holds on and these preservatives can often be found in low-end pet foods. Specifically ethoxyquin is a harmful substance used as a fat preservative in dog food. It is also used as a pesticide and is part of the process for making rubber. Though it is not likely to be added directly to your dog food, it could still happen. More likely though, ethoxyquin will be indirectly added to recipes with certain poultry or fish meals. In these cases it does not have to be listed on the label. Most food experts agree that if ethoxyquin is used properly, it will not be toxic, but you may still want to be cautious. The other preservatives however, both BHA and BHT, are dangerous. They have been linked to kidney disease, thyroid disease, reproductive illness and immune disorders. They are also known carcinogens. It is up to you to regulate these preservatives and make sure you avoid dog foods with these ingredients.
Sugar or Sweeteners
For some reason many manufacturers feel the need to sweeten dog food. Yes, dogs like sweet things and will more readily eat sweet foods. But, you shouldn’t allow your dog to develop a sweet tooth. Sugar in dog food is often used to mask or make unsavory ingredients more palatable to your pet. It can also cover up rancid or rotten foods. If that isn’t underhanded enough, you can imagine that sugar will have some adverse effects on your dog as well. Too much sugar in your pet’s diet will often have the same effect as it would in humans. Sugar often leads to weight gain, diabetes, hyperactivity, hypoglycemia, tooth decay, and even changes in behavior. Sugar additives in dog food might appear as cane molasses, corn syrup, sorbitol, sucrose, fructose, dried plain beet pulp, and glucose on the label. Also, besides natural sugars, you will also want to watch for artificial sweeteners like xylitol and sorbitol. Watch for these sweeteners, and make sure to avoid these ingredients in dog food, or at least cut them out of your pet’s diet as much as you can.
Animal Fat or Parts
Animal fat and animal parts might be something you expect in high protein dog foods, and may seem harmless enough. Truth is, fat from well-sourced animals is safe for your dog in the right amounts, even good for them. The same goes for protein sources and liver. Safe ingredients are named ingredients, like chicken fat or chicken liver. What is concerning about animal fat and animal parts in dog food is the use of the term “animal”. These should be considered unspecified ingredients, and are usually not top quality. The only rule for “animal” fat is that it comes from animal tissue. The manufacturer does not have any obligation to state the particular source of this kind of fat. Thinking of it in those terms, the animal fat could come from road kill, euthanized animals, animals that died naturally, or slaughtered animals. Because it is not indicated, you can have no real idea where these poor quality dog food ingredients come from. Instead of animal fat or animal liver or any other animal part, find dog food that makes the protein and fat sources clear and distinctly named.
These ingredients are basically waste products from human food production. A good example of a poor dog food ingredient is beef meal or bone meal, both by-products. These are made from all the parts of a cow deemed unfit for human consumption including hooves, bones, and cartilage. Beef meal or bone meal is often used in commercialized dog food because it is a cheap source of protein. The by-products hardly ever contain quality cuts of meat. They could come from any part of the cow. They will not necessarily give your dog any nutritious value needed to thrive. In fact, these by-products cannot even be considered as meat, because there is no actual meat content. For these reasons, by-products are ingredients you want to avoid in dog food. Instead, your pet needs high quality meat sources to be listed as top ingredients in dog food and pet snacks.
As with all animals, your dog does need some salt. It helps your pet maintain a proper balance of fluid in their cells and body. If however, salt is directly listed with the ingredients in dog food, it often suggests the other ingredients are not real high quality. Salt should never be listed in the top five ingredients in your dog food. Aside from making food savory, eating too much salt can cause your dog to be excessively thirsty and urinate more often. Other problems caused by too much salt include increased blood pressure and a greater risk of heart disease. Most distressing though, is that too much salt can mean sodium ion poisoning for your dog. Some indications that your dog has had too much salt include body swelling, strained urination, vomiting, diarrhea, depression, elevated temperature or seizures. If your dog starts showing these signs you should take them to the vet right away. Other ingredients to avoid are tetrasodium pyrophosphate, sodium tripolyphosphate, sodium nitrate, and sodium hexametaphosphate.
Onion Powder and Extract
Many people do not realize that onions can be deadly for dogs. In fact, the chemicals in onions and other plant sources like it, can damage red blood cells and lead to anemia. Despite this, onion products can still be found in a small percentage of dog foods, especially canned foods. Many would argue the amounts of onion and garlic in pet foods is well below toxicity levels, but it is still better to be safe when it comes to your furry companion. Because the damage is caused on a cellular level it may not be realized until too late. Some signs of anemia include abdominal pain, vomiting, lethargy, increased heart rate and breathing, diarrhea, and a yellowing of the skin, gums, or whites of the eyes. Don’t let it come to this and just avoid onions in your dog food.
Any artificial colors are completely unnecessary and should be avoided in dog food if possible. Some specific artificial colors to avoid include Blue 2, Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Titanium Dioxide. Your dog doesn’t care about how pretty the food looks. In fact, your pet may not even be able to make out the different colors. So why add them to dog food? It would be one thing if the artificial coloring was harmless. But truth is, the coloring agents are common allergens and are known to cause cancer. Other harmful side effects of artificial coloring include low blood pressure, discolored skin, and acid reflux. There is no reason to risk it. Plenty of dog foods on the market do not include these harmful additives and you can easily avoid this dog food ingredient.
You might not have known, but soy is one of the most common allergens in dogs. Despite this fact, soy is often used in some of the more inexpensive dog foods as a filler or substitute for meat protein. One of the main complaints pet owners have about soy is that 89 percent of soy crops have been genetically engineered. These types of foods, when used as ingredients in dog food, can adversely affect your pet’s wellness and health. Not only do you have to worry about allergic reactions to soy, but the estrogenic properties can wreak havoc on your pet’s hormones. As such, soy can cause an increased risk of tumors, infertility, and even reduce the life expectancy of your pet.
Things like corn, cornmeal, or corn gluten meal are often used as fillers in commercialized dog food. The sweet taste of corn might be something your pet loves, but corn provides very little in the way of nutrition for your dog. Instead, corn is a heavily subsidized crop and does not cost much to produce or process. So early on, corn became a popular ingredient in most dog food. Truth is though, corn is not a suitable ingredient for your dog and is often abused and overused. Not only is it the most abundant ingredient in pet foods, but it also at the root of many diseases. Problems like obesity, chronic inflammation, skin irritations, and diabetes have all been linked to corn in dog food.
This harmful ingredient in dog food can manifest in a number of forms. Rice hulls, rice gluten, rice flour, rice bran, and just plain old rice are all used as cheap fillers. They come with many side effects that can be extremely harmful to your pet. Not only is this grain harsh on the digestive system, but can also cause bowl distress, diabetes, and can even be toxic. A recent discovery by the FDA showed high levels of arsenic, especially in brown rice. It is concentrated on the outer layers of the grain, which is why your dog will be at even greater risk, eating mostly by-product from human processing. Be a good animal caretaker and avoid rice in dog food.
Despite the danger, this problematic dog food ingredient can still be found in up to 25 percent of commercial brands. What is it for? It adds texture to the kibble, making it dry and hard. Dicalcium Phosphate is an ingredient to avoid when buying dog food because of the number of problems it can lead to. This ingredient cannot absorb water, making it nearly insoluble. In turn it acts as an alkalizer, contributes to soft tissue calcification, and from some studies is proven to lead to kidney stones. Do not let this ingredient become toxic to your pet.
This dangerous dog food ingredient might also be sneakily added to your pet’s diet. It is an additive that comes from red seaweed. Though it is edible, and harmless enough in the beginning, because it is a highly processed ingredient in dog food it could prove more dangerous to your pet. In dog food Carrageenan is most often used as a stabilizer, thickener, and emulsifier. For humans it can be found in toothpaste, yogurt, ice cream, and even shampoo. Unfortunately degraded carrageenan, or poligeenana, can induce inflammation in animals. If your pet has digestive problems, or requires soy in their diet, they could react with ulcerations or cancer. Though many argue the food-grade carrageenan is safe for animal consumption, and research shows mixed results, this harmful dog food ingredient could cause problems.
This ingredient should generally be read as egg waste product, and is commonly found on the list of many dog food ingredients. It is any product obtained from egg breakers, egg graders, and hatchery operations. The egg can be dehydrated, liquid, rehydrated, or frozen. Even if they are listed as whole eggs, that does not mean they are any better quality. Eggs are basically a waste product many pet food suppliers are trying to turn into a usable product. Most often it is only used by lesser quality brands as a cheap way to inflate protein. The best advice is to simply skip any dog food containing egg product.
Certain Fruits and Vegetables
For the most part the fruits and vegetables are not ingredients to avoid in dog food. They add nutrients and help supplement your pet’s nutrition. However, there are some ingredients you do not want to see listed on your pet food bag. These include apple pomace, citrus pulp, and grape pomace. These are all inexpensive by-products leftovers from human food processing. As such, they contain little in the way of nutrients. In fact, they are mostly made from peels, rinds, cores, and some sticks and leaves. For these ingredients there are possibilities of residue left over from fertilizers and pesticides. Specifically grapes possess a toxic substance that is extremely toxic to your dog and should not be fed to them at all. If this appears on a bag of dog food it is a crying shame and should certainly be avoided.
What Ingredients You Should Look for in Dog Food
There are some basics you may already know about picking out a premium dog food. Firstly, because your canine descends from wolves, their diet should be higher in proteins and only supplemented with carbohydrates, fruits, and vegetables. Your dog needs amino acids and fatty acids for energy and development. Dogs are carnivores and you should feed them accordingly. You also want to see human grade ingredients, or ingredients fit for human consumption. This cannot be directly spelled out on the label, but you can easily find the information by skimming the brand’s marketing, websites, and even finding hints on the bag.
Chances are you are probably feeding your pet a dog food which contains one or more of these ingredients. Sometimes it will be impossible for you to avoid all these ingredients unless you are making your pet’s food from scratch. The main thing you can do to better care for your pet is to be aware of the most harmful substances and make sure to avoid them as best you can. Read the labels and make sure you are getting top quality nutrition for your pet without risking their health and wellness.
I've been a dog lover since the day I was born but it's the current four legged love of my life, Phoebe who inspired me to create the Munch.Zone.
We moved together from Israel to New York in 2013, love hiking together, and never pass up a trip to the dog park. Watching her over the years sparked so many questions about dog behavior and health needs, and it wasn't always easy to find answers. Thus, the Munch.Zone was born.
On any given day you'll find me watching Netflix originals, eating popcorn, and thinking about how to get into house flipping.