Dog Food Label – Ingredients are not always what they seem

Tricky Dog Food Label Practices

Just like in many prepared human edibles, prepared dog food is convenient. But beware of misleading information. Learn to read and understand dog food labels and find the best food for your dog.

Some of the ingredients in dog food will gross you out – ewww! When it comes to dog food, what you don’t know can hurt you — because you could be hurting your dog. It’s a tough job to decipher a dog food label because it’s wording often isn’t as wholesome or nutritious as it sounds. Even the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), the group that sets the minimum pet food requirements says right on their website, “it is not rare at all that labeling and marketing information is designed to appeal to the latest trend in marketing human products.” So essentially, label is about appealing to you, not whether it’s good for your pet. Dog food label names, ingredients and descriptions are often vague, manipulative and misleading. It’s the responsible pet owner’s job to decode the marketing blather and to find out what’s really in the product and what it’s nutritional value is.

For an honest evaluation when you’re considering a new food visit Dog Food Advisor. Bring your phone to the store and research foods before you buy!

How To Read Dog Food Labels (what to watch out for)

Misleading product names

Names can be manipulated to make you think you’re buying more than you really are. A food named “Dinner”, “Formula”, “Blend”, Nuggets, etc. only need to have a small amount of the ingredient listed in the name. It the product is called Duck and Sweet Potato Formula, the combined total of both ingredients only has to be ¼ of the product. And that’s before the moisture is removed. Considering that 70% of that percentage is moisture, once it’s dried, there can be a whole lot less of what you think you’re feeding. If the product says beef (or chicken, buffalo, etc) dog food then that is supposed to be 95% of that meat meat. If you find one of those, please let me know.

Misleading ingredient names

Just because meat is listed as the #1 ingredient is no guarantee the product is primarily meat-based. Ingredients are named in descending order of weight before processing – not as they exist in the finished product. A pound of meat (or meat by-products) can end up being processed down to a couple ounces of protein but it gets listed first because it was a pound before processing. Just because meat is listed as the first ingredient, it ain’t necessarily so. Whatever comes after the meat ingredients can actually be present in much higher amounts than you’re lead to believe. The food that sounds like it’s largely meat could really be mostly cereal. If a meat is listed first on the label, the next thing you see should be another meat protein source. Otherwise, it’s probably not a true meat-based pet food.

Misleading terminology

Meals, meat by-products and digest are not meat. Meat by-products are animal products other than meat. Ingredients like beaks, feathers, feet, hooves, hair, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, fatty tissue, stomachs, intestines – even tumors can be processed and used. Read the section on animal fat to understand the types of animals that can be used. If you see that the source is human grade organ meats like liver and kidney you may be ok, otherwise avoid. It’s not meat anything and it’s not quality nutrition. Same for anything with the word “digest” in it—that’s a by-product of the highly questionable rendering process. At best it’s a flavoring, not a food source. At worst it’s a source of microorganisms, carcinogens, indirect chemicals and drugs, toxins and moisture that can allow bacteria and mold to thrive. Poultry, meat and bone meals aren’t quite as gross as by-products but they’re still something I wouldn’t knowingly eat. They are actually the least of the evils but know they’re highly processed and aren’t made from prime cuts of meat. Meals can include the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass or tissue that are processed at high temperatures and washed with chemicals. They can include bone, necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, and intestines but not feathers, added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure or stomach contents. Again, this isn’t meat.

Animal Fats

This cheap fat source is often rancid prior to preserving with Vitamin E. When the source animals aren’t unspecified it’s because the manufacturers don’t even know what they are. Animals used for this and other by-product ingredients can include the “4-D animals” (dead, diseased, disabled, or dying prior to slaughter), zoo animals, cats, dogs, goats, pigs, horses, poultry, cattle, other livestock, rats, snakes, skunks, raccoons, possums, deer, foxes, misc. road kill, euthanized shelter & clinic animals, restaurant & supermarket refuse, etc. Animal fat can contain cancerous or diseased tissue containing parasites, pus, worms, tumors and decomposed (spoiled) tissue as well as high amounts of rancid restaurant grease, trans-fats or other oils that are deemed inedible for humans. Pharmaceuticals like antibiotics, euthanasia drugs like pentobarbital, insecticides from cattle patches, heavy metals from pet ID tags, surgical pins and needles, and drugs from still attached flea collars can leach into the mix and the temperatures required for processing generate carcinogens.

Questionable proteins

You’ll often see manufacturers boost their protein percentages with things like corn gluten meal, beet pulp, wheat gluten meal, rice protein concentrate, dried egg product and soy protein. These aren’t quality ingredients, they’re cheap, incomplete proteins that are loaded with calories.


Preservatives, sugars and carcinogens. Carrageenan, BHT, BHA, propyl gallate, ethoxyquin, ethylenediamine, propylene glycol, potassium sorbate, ethoxyquin, potassium sorbate, ammoniated glycyrrhizin, sodium nitrite, artificial colors, flavors, sugars, corn syrup, sweeteners cause health issues and don’t belong in your dog’s food.

Some of these ingredients and practices are banned in human foods yet are common in pet foods. Some don’t even have to be listed on the label because they’re added before the processed ingredient arrives at the dog food plant. You’d be surprised how many foods contain at least a few of these — even the ones sold by veterinarians. If you’re concerned about what you’re feeding your dog, a call to the manufacturer might provide some clarity. Further research will also help. There’s a wealth of information online if you want to Google around.

For an honest evaluation when you’re considering a new food visit Dog Food Advisor. Bring your phone to the store and research foods before you buy!

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