What is in Your Dog’s Food?

You might think your dog is eating good food, but it may not be. Here is an easy to read guide pointing out good and bad ingredients.

While cats are true carnivores, dogs do not need as much meat in their food. Many commercially available dog foods use a lot of filler. As a result the dog must eat more food to get at the nutrition. These lower quality foods also use FAT to give the pet a glossy coat.

Many owners feel a glossy coat = a healthy pet = good food. Unfortunately in combination with the lower quality of the food, the dog must eat a lot more food, thereby eating a lot more fat. Thus contributing to obesity and other health problems.

Because food brands vary from country to country and each brand may change its’ formula from time to time I will not get into brand names. I will refer to the more common ingredients and discuss why they are good or bad. YOU can then determine if your dog is on a good, or poor, quality food.

The first five ingredients are the ones you want to pay most attention to. If the top ingredient is a good meat source, but the remaining four are all cheap filler, your food may not the best.

If the food indicates that it is Human Grade, that is even better, as it indicates the food is fit for human consumption. If it does not say human grade then it can even be meat from animals who were euthanized.

Chicken Meal, Lamb Meal, Turkey Meal: Good

Any meat marked with “MEAL” following it is a good source of actual meat. One of these should be the first ingredient listed on your bag (with the exception of senior food for overweight dogs). These are the gentlest on a dogs tummy and the least likely to cause allergies. Fish Meal, is something that some breeds, particularly northern breeds used for mushing, benefit from.

Meatmeal, Animal Fat, etc.: Bad

Any unspecified meat is mystery meat. It can come from ANY animal that died and was rendered that day. When you feed mystery meat, you can contribute to pet allergies as the food will not be consistent from bag to bad. It is best to stick with a consistent meat source.

Beef, Pork, and Soy: Bad if your dog has food allergies.

These are among the top 5 allergy causing ingredients for dogs (the other two being corn, and wheat). If your dog has “hot spots” or itchy areas check the ingredient list and avoid these ingredients. Some breeds, have problems digesting soy, and it has been linked to causing behavioral problems.

Corn and Corn Gluten Meal: Bad if in any of the top 3 positions, or for dogs with allergies.

A filler, corn is of no nutritional value and is a common allergen. Corn is a carbohydrate, and should never be higher than fourth on your pets food ingredient list. Carbs may make your dog fat!

Wheat: Bad if in any of the top 3 positions or for dogs with allergies.

Cheap filler, common allergen.

Chicken By-Products, and by-Products in General: Bad

Cheap filler of low digestibility. By-Products are waste left over by the rendering process. Beaks, feet, undeveloped eggs, intestines and even feathers. Not exactly yummy. But even worse is that by-products are preserved with a nasty chemical pesticide known as Ethoxyquin (see below).

Ethoxyquin: Very Bad

A preservative. It is a chemical pesticide considered so bad it is banned from use in some countries. Ethoxyquin may be used on its own or hidden in the by-Product and as such is considered part of the by-product so may or may not appear listed on the ingredient list. Has been linked to health problems.

BHA and BHT: Bad

Cheap chemical preservatives, used in lower quality pet foods. Both have been linked to numerous health problems.

Tocopherols (Vitamin E): Good

This is a more expensive preservative. It is natural, safe, and will preserve a food up to 12 months.

Rice: Acceptable, with explanation

Rice is a filler, Brown Rice being exceptionally better than Brewers Rice. Rice Flour also being low in value for nutritional purposes.

Yucca: Good

You wont find this in the top spots, it is a lesser ingredient used primarily to help control odor in the stool. Also believed to help with arthritis.

Flavors and Colors: Bad

Color dyes serve no purpose other than to make the people buy the food. The dog does not care if the pieces are different colors, the chemicals used to make flavors and dyes have been linked to health and behavioral problems.

Glucosamine/Chondroitin: Good, especially for older dogs, and large breed dogs.

Believed to help with arthritis and joint health.


There are certainly more ingredients than I have listed, but these are important ones to watch for. Better food is more expensive because of the use of quality ingredients, but as a result your pet wont need to eat as much, have fewer health problems, and best of all, have fewer messes in the yard.

Large Breed dogs require food for Large Breed dogs, particularly when they are pups – you really want to slow down their growth so their joints are not stressed too quickly, these dogs often can be fed puppy food up to 18 or 24 months of age.

Every food markets itself as the best! I caution you not to take the advice from any one who sells a particular kind of food (and only one food) they are making money by promoting that food and will only tell you good things. This even includes veterinarians. They are paid to sell certain foods. I do not want to discredit veterinarians knowledge when it comes to helping sick or injured animals but typically they receive little or no training on food brands or ingredients except from food companies who directly approach them to sell their kind of food.

The amount of dog food to feed your dog will depend on the quality of the food – foods should have feeding guidelines on the side of the bad, you should break up the daily amount into two or three feedings (three if its a smaller breed, or a pup). If your dog is obese, follow the guideline for the weight the dog should be, not the weight the dog is.

Cost does not determine quality. Some food companies inflate their price so you think its better food, others have their prices higher because of paying for veterinarian endorsement. Food made in your own country may be less costly than a product made elsewhere.

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User Comments
  1. Shriyansi

    On April 4, 2008 at 6:21 am

    Totally agree with you here… my dogs have successfully been weaned from packaged dog food to special meals cooked for them at home – not only do they like it better, its easier on the pocket, and I know for sure of what I’m feeding my dogs!!

    I’ve posted a great vegetarian recipe at: http://doggybuds.blogspot.com/2008/04/homemade-hi-quality-hi-protein-doggy.html

    Hope you like it! :)

    P.S. My dogs aren’t allergic to Soy, thank God!

  2. Carol Q

    On July 8, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    as a result of this article I read the ingredients on my dogs food, Science Diet, I noted it had many problem ingredients, and switched to a better food, after 1 month, I noticed fewer poops and it seems like he is a happier dog. I read more and learned that Science Diet is not as good as most poeple think, I also realized my vet made money by telling me to buy it. The food my dog is now on is Nutram. thanks
    oh – Science Diet wasnt even human grade meat!!! Nutram is.

  3. Thea

    On October 21, 2008 at 10:41 pm

    Carol, I am so glad you switched away from Science Diet! I am a dog trainer and disgusted by the dog food industry in the U.S. Many people think that Science Diet is a premium dog food, but it is one of the worst. Many companies use the production of dog food to get rid of their ‘excess waste’ from other plants. Please always buy your dog food from a reputable source, NOT the pet store. A good place to shop instead of PetsMart: http://www.onlynaturalpet.com or make your own. It will save you tons of vet bills and will keep your dog living longer.

  4. Jax Appleby

    On November 24, 2008 at 11:55 am

    Your article is so true! And it’s not only Science Diet. It’s a lot more widespread than that. It’s just that there’s no real and consistent policing of our pet food factories, and the pet food companies can get away with using these ingredients.
    It’s going to take all of banding together and saying those immortal words, “We’re not going to take it anymore!”

  5. Kolby K.

    On February 23, 2009 at 2:16 am

    I have read that there is alot of concern surrounding the ingredient Menadione. Could you tell me if I should avoid this?

  6. Mrjaialai

    On July 9, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    Thanks for the share!

  7. Megan

    On October 19, 2010 at 2:14 am

    I found your writing to be revolutionary! I have been searching for a good pet food and something to sustain my hungry Siberian husky. I have to ask, however, how you came about this information on pet food brands. Did you talk to veterinarians? How did you research this information. I only ask because if you have a credible source I will be canceling my Petsmart vet plan and finding a new local vet. They always promote science diet and they never seem to know what is wrong with my dog-he has skin issues which I have researched to be a zinc deficiency. Please let me know how you got this information so that I can research it even farther and help my pet get the best nutrition possible.

    Sincerely Megan Ratay

    St. Louis, Mo

    Husky Trip thanks you!

  8. Brenda Nelson

    On October 19, 2010 at 11:21 am

    to Megan

    Vets are NOT pet nutritionalists. I have talked to many vets – (worked at an animal shelter we had a different vet from around our city come weekly – taking turns 1 month each so I was able to talk to many over 5 years working there)

    many only had 20 minutes on nutrition. some ONLY had a 2 hour ‘class” run by a Science Diet rep – they were given lots of goodies to get their loyalty but the food is CRAP!
    I wrote this exposing their cat food

    anyhow Orijen is one of the top foods – but there are many others.

    I got my knowledge from reading, and talking to many food reps too (not just one) and taking nutrition classes for pets.

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