We all love our dogs and want the best for them and thankfully many owners are starting to realize that proper nutrition plays just as important a role in the overall health and well being of their pets as it does for them.

Unfortunately given the lack of proper regulation and transparency when compared to human food the decision on what to feed your dog is not an easy one. With so many different dog foods to choose from and so much, often conflicting, information out there it can be a confusing and stressful process for pet parents especially knowing that poor choices in the pet food aisle can have a lasting impact on your dog’s health and potentially expose them to harmful toxins.

While every dog and household is different and will have different preferences there are some ingredients that should always be avoided and that unfortunately appear all too often on dog food labels. To help you find a healthy dog food we list 7 types of ingredients you never want to see in your dog’s food and the reasons why.

Meat meal and by-products

Meat meal and by-products are created through a process called rendering which uses animals, parts of animals and waste products that are deemed not suitable for human consumption. This can include dead and diseased animals and commercial waste from food processing. These are then heated to extremely high temperatures to remove the fat and kill bacteria. What remains is a mystery mix that contains very little bio-available nutrients and can contain harmful toxins. The FDA has even found phenobarbital, a chemical used in the euthanasia of dogs and other animals in commercial dog foods containing poor quality meat meal and by-products.

Where possible we suggest avoiding dog food containing generic meal where the animal source if not specified (for example, Meat Meal, Animal Meal or Bone Meal) or has the word ‘by-product’ in its ingredient list. Instead, look for natural named proteins like Chicken Meal, Beef Meal or Turkey Meal. It should be noted however that even these more certain ingredients may not be as nutritious when found in commercial dry and canned wet foods as these are similarly heated to high temperatures to kill bacteria and make them shelf stable. This process denaturalizes the nutrients making them less bio available and more difficult for your dog to absorb. The best type of protein to include in dog’s diet is whole food ingredients such as chicken, beef, turkey etc. rather than using a meal derivative.

Artificial Colors – Red-40, Blue-2, Yellow-5 & Yellow-6

There is no real reason to use any artificial coloring in dog food and they are added only to improve the look to the human owner rather than to increase palatability to our canine friends (after all, dogs can only see limited colors!). Whilst we would recommend avoiding foods with artificial colors altogether, the four you should absolutely never see in your dog’s food are Red-40, Blue-2, Yellow-5 and Yellow-6 which have been shown to cause irritability, behavioral problems and cancer in humans. Whilst they are banned as potential carcinogens in many regions they still appear in some dog food brands and should be avoided at all costs.   

Artificial Preservatives – BHA, BHT & Ethoxyquin

Similar to artificial colors there are a number of chemical preservatives that you really should avoid in your dog’s food. Butylated-hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated-hydroxytoluene (BHT) are chemicals added to the oils in some dog foods and treats (and some human foods) to help extend shelf life. Both are known carcinogens and BHT has also been shown to cause serious organ damage in rats. BHA and BHT should be avoided in both your own and your dog’s diet.

Ethoxyquin is another preservative that has been banned for use in human foods but is still added to pet foods in many countries to preserve fats. Ethoxyquin has been linked to severe liver issues in dogs. Unfortunately it does not always make the label and can be present in some foods containing farmed fish or poultry where it is added to the stock feed.

Wheat Gluten & Melamine

Melamine is a toxic compound that has known to be illegally added to food products in order to increase the apparent protein content. Melamine causes severe kidney issues in dogs and melamine contamination was the reason behind one of the largest recalls of pet foods in 2007. It was found that a number of commercial pet food brands sourced wheat gluten from China where it was found they were using melamine intentionally to artificially inflate the protein content of the product.

Unfortunately melamine testing is still not required in many countries and has been found in commercial dog foods as recently as 2017 and as such to be safe we recommend avoiding wheat gluten wherever possible.

Propylene Glycol

Propylene Glycol (PG) is used in some pet foods as a softening or moistening agent. It is also approved for use in some human food and beverages as it is only toxic to humans in very high quantities. There has been some suggestions that it may be toxic for dogs at far lower quantities than humans although unfortunately there has not been enough research to conclusively prove this. Either way it is an artificial ingredient that offers no health benefits or as such to be safe we wouldn’t recommend feeding it to your dogs.

Corn Syrup 

Corn syrup is added to some commercial dog foods as a sweetener and although not toxic it is best avoided where possible. Corn Syrup is very high in sugar, contains little in the way of nutrients and the sweetness does not even make the food more palatable for your dog. Dogs that eat too much sugar on a regular basis are at a much greater risk of developing diabetes and obesity which bring a whole host of other health issues as the dog grows older.

Once you start inspecting dog food labels closely you may be surprised at how often some of these potentially harmful ingredients appear. We recommend making a habit of always checking the full ingredients list on all of your dog’s food & treats to make sure you are not exposing them to any unnecessary health risks. Using low quality foods filled with cheap fillers and potential toxins can have lasting adverse effects on your dog’s health however these can be easily avoided by paying close attention to exactly what is going into your dog’s bowl. Where possible choose a dog food made from wholefood ingredients with no artificial additives and minimal processing. And importantly, always try to read and understand the label – your dog will thank you for it!