What’s In Your Dog’s Food?
What Are The Ingredients?
By: Dr. Eddy Collins, DVM
One of the first steps in determining the quality of a dog food is evaluating the ingredients listed on the label. Before you can attempt to decipher the label you must first be able to interpret what the ingredients actually are and their significance to your dog’s diet. Along with helping to assess the food’s true nutritional value, the ingredients can also expose the potential dangers associated with feeding it to your dog.
As a general rule, the more processed an ingredient is the less nutritional value it will have. Processing reduces or destroys much of the nutrient and vitamin content. Processed ingredients are also much more likely to become contaminated due to increased exposure during the actual processing, transport, and storage before they ever make it into the food.
The names of some ingredients can be very similar, but a slight difference in the name can mean a huge difference in what that ingredient actually is, its nutritional value, and the risks it may pose.
CORN: Corn has a very high carbohydrate content, but dogs are carnivores. Dogs like the sweet taste of corn, but as carnivores their systems are not made to process it, especially in large quantities.
Due to government subsidies, it cost less to buy corn than it does to grow it and dog food manufacturers take full advantage of this. Corn is thus the most common low cost ingredient in dog foods.
Unfortunately, corn, especially in all of its many processed forms, is the second most likely ingredient to be contaminated with Mycotoxins. These are naturally occurring toxins that are produced by fungi or mold and known to cause many diseases.
Corn can be listed on a label in many different forms including ground corn which is made from the entire kernel. Corn meal and corn gluten meal are corn by-products. These are an inferior source of protein, but are still used as low cost alternatives to animal protein.
WHEAT: Wheat, and its many different processed forms, such as wheat gluten, wheat mill run, and wheat bran, is widely used in dog foods as an inexpensive protein source. In addition to it being another un-needed source of carbohydrates, wheat products are also the most likely ingredients to be contaminated with Mycotoxins.
From a nutritional standpoint, wheat is an inferior, incomplete source of protein. Chronic exposure to wheat has also led to dogs developing allergies and intolerances to many wheat products.
SOY: Soy is also used as an inexpensive substitute for meat, and its protein, but it doesn’t come close to providing the same nutrition. It is also a very common cause of canine allergies due to a dog’s carnivorous nature.
Soy has estrogen-like properties, which can wreak havoc on a dog’s hormonal system and lead to increased tumor growth, decreased lifespan, and infertility. Soy can also be present in processed forms, such as soybean meal and soybean oil, which is used as a substitute for animal fats.
FILLERS: Fillers are used to inexpensively increase the volume of a dog food. They are usually by-products of human food production and typically have no nutritional value. They also include peanut shells and the most common source of cellulose, powdered wood.
Corn cellulose and corn bran, rice hulls and oat hulls, along with soybean mill run and wheat mill run are also part of a long list of ingredients that are used as fillers by many manufacturers. When examining a label, be aware that these ingredients serve no other purpose and possess no nutritional value.
MEATS: Meat is an animal’s flesh and its related structures. This is by far the most desirable ingredient in a dog food. These will be listed on the label simply as the name of the animal or the type of meat that it is, such as chicken, beef, pork, lamb, and so on.
Unfortunately, meats can also include 4-D meats, which are Dead, Dying, Diseased, or Disabled animals that have been rejected for human consumption. These along with road kill, dead stock, and supermarket refuge animals can also be legally used in making any of the processed meat ingredients.
Due to the pet food manufacturing standards, meats that have already become rancid can also be used in the manufacturing process. This leads to many problems in the final product, including Salmonella contamination issues, and also contributes to spoilage factors that occur even in chemically preserved, dry dog foods.
MEAT MEAL and ANIMAL FATS: Meat meal and meat bone meal are produced by processing various parts from mammal tissues. They are ground, cooked, and then their fats are removed from the resulting mixture. These fats are the largest source of animal fat in most dog foods.
After the fat is removed, the remains are then pressed to remove the moisture content and the dried product is the meal. The result can be a very concentrated source of protein, but the specific source of that protein is not known.
4-D animals can also be used in the production of these ingredients. This category has also been known to include euthanized companion animals, which typically contain sodium pentobarbital.
BY-PRODUCTS: This is not meat, but the other parts of animals that are left over “waste” from human food production or from 4-D sources of meat. These are used purely to minimize the overall costs of ingredients. They are not actually classified as meat and thus definitely do not contain the nutritional value of meat.
When listed, some of these will contain the name of a specific animal, such as chicken by-products which only contain chicken parts. They also may have a more general name, such as poultry by-products which contain parts from any type of poultry or meat by-products which can contain parts from many different animals.
FLAVORINGS: There are many artificial flavorings that are available for use in dog foods, but more commonly you will see the words “natural flavorings” on a label. Manufacturers aren’t required to give any more of a description, but these flavorings are frequently another form of meat by-product called “Digest”.
Digests are animal parts that are chemically treated to produce an ingredient used to flavor dog food. These parts can be from 4-D sources and if labelled simply as “Animal Digest”, they can come from any animal source, which means there is no control over quality or contamination. They have been implicated in many outbreaks of Salmonella.
PRESERVATIVES: These chemicals are used to preserve the fats in dog foods and are an inexpensive way of providing the prolonged shelf lives necessary for commercial foods.
BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene) are both banned from use in human products in many countries, while BHT has been banned from being used in baby products in the U.S. Ethoxyquin, is both a preservative and a pesticide, and is a suspected cancer causing agent. It has been banned from use in all human products. Propyl Gallate and sodium nitrite/nitrate are also commonly used chemical preservatives. The use of all these preservatives has been linked to cancer and organ toxicity in both people and pets. All of these chemicals are currently being used in commercial pet foods.
An interesting label requirement, or lack of requirement, means that these chemicals are in many dog foods, but not actually listed on the food’s label. This is because, if any of these chemicals are added to an ingredient prior to the dog food manufacturer obtaining the ingredient, it doesn’t have to be listed on the dog food label. Also, if the manufacturer adds the chemical to an ingredient themselves and not to the actual food, it is not required to be listed. This is just another example of the lack of transparency in the pet food industry and of what’s actually in your dog’s food not always being on the label.
There are some healthy natural fat preservatives, but their effectiveness is limited. These include citric acid and rosemary extract. Also, α-tocopherol (vitamin E) and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) are used to prevent fats from becoming rancid, while also increasing the nutrient content as well. What you can’t be sure of, is if any of the other chemical preservatives are in the food as well.
SWEETENERS: These are added simply to enhance the taste and make it interesting to the dog by increasing the sweetness. In addition to sugar, in its many forms, there is one very dangerous chemical used in dog foods.
Propylene Glycol is very similar to Ethylene Glycol. Both are chemicals used in automobile antifreeze solutions and known to cause kidney failure in dogs and cats. While it has been banned from being used in all cat foods, due to it causing kidney failure, it is still widely used as a sweetening and moisturizing agent in dog foods.
COLORING: Dies are used to give color to otherwise colorless dog foods. Their use in human foods has been linked to cancer and other diseases. The addition of coloring puts dogs at risk solely so the food can be better marketed to dog owners. The fact is that dogs don’t care what color their food is. Color has no effect on how well they like it or eat it. It also contributes no nutritional benefit.
These ingredients are being used in the most popular brands by many of the major dog food manufacturers including, but not limited to Science Diet, Hill’s, Royal Canin, Eukanuba, Purina, Pedigree, Iams, Ol’ Roy, Cesar, Kibbles ‘n Bits, and Nutro.
Dr. Eddy Collins, DVM
Next we will use all of the components of the dog food label to help you make the best decision for your dog’s nutrition.
What’s In Your Dog’s Food? (Part 4) 2017
What’s In Your Dog’s Food?