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12 Common Dog Food Ingredients You Need to Pay Attention To

12 Common Dog Food Ingredients You Need to Pay Attention To

by Melody Keilig

When shopping for dog food at the local store, do you ever wonder about the ingredients that you’re feeding to your pup? Or do you take the “I don’t want to know” approach and avoid reading the laundry list of ingredients? Either way, it’s a really good idea to tackle the ingredient list because what you feed your dog does affect their growth and well-being. Let’s go through the top twelve ingredients you should look out for in your dog’s food. 

1. Bone Meal

Food-grade bone meal is used in dog food as a supplement, but it’s often difficult for dogs to digest. It also prevents dogs from absorbing the calcium and phosphorus benefits. Oftentimes, the bone meal isn’t locally sourced and comes from unknown locations around the world. Outsourcing these ingredients raises the risk of contamination, which then causes food recalls. If that wasn’t worrying enough, anything labeled as “bone meal” is sourced from all kinds of farm animals. But you won’t know which ones are used because this information isn’t readily available to consumers. Bone meal is also sourced from decreased livestock and even expired meat products. 

2. Meat By-Products

This sneaky ingredient is often labeled as “meat by-products” or simply “meat.” This could be any meat from livestock, so you’ll never know where it came from or which part of the animal was used for the food. If the dog food company labels the meat ingredients specifically as “beef,” “chicken,” or “salmon,” that’s exactly what your dog is getting in their food. So keep an eye out for vague ingredient listing to avoid these unhealthy meat by-products. 

3. Corn Syrup

Just like in humans, corn syrup doesn’t have much nutritional value for dogs. Essentially, corn syrup is used as a sweetener in dog food. Corn syrup is very sugary and can lead to diabetes in your dog, as well as obesity in the long run. Your dog might have symptoms after consuming food with corn syrup such as excessive thirst and dehydration. So the next time you see corn syrup listed on your dog’s food, try to find an alternative with this sugary liquid. 

4. Sucrose 

Speaking of sugar, sucrose is a combination of two sugars that are often found in dog food. Sucrose is made from glucose and fructose, which can negatively affect your dog’s diet. This ingredient is added as a flavor enhancer that makes the food sweeter, so it offers no nutritional value. Sucrose can cause dental problems for your dog, such as tooth decay. It’s best to reject dog food that lists sucrose as an ingredient to keep your dog’s dental health top-notch. 

5. Sodium nitrite

Sodium nitrate is a chemical used as a preservative in dog food. Although it helps keep the food fresh for longer, it can be dangerous for dogs in high amounts. Amounts between 7.9 and 19.8 kilograms of sodium nitrate can possibly cause a blood disorder in dogs called methemoglobin. Plus, when sodium nitrate combines with proteins, nitrosamines a formed. These sneaky nitrosamines can cause cancer in animals with ingestion over time. 

6. Rendered fat

This ingredient comes from the fat obtained from animals. Just like meat by-products, it’s difficult to trace their source. Many companies get rendered fat from leftover meat by-products, which come from livestock animals but could also include roadkill. If that wasn’t bad enough, rendered fat can be contaminated with plastics, antibiotics, and even sodium pentobarbital, which is the drug used to euthanize animals. 

7. Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)

BHT is added to dog food to prevent fats and oils in the ingredients from going bad. However, BHT can also cause cancer in animals. If that’s not bad enough, this ingredient is also found in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, rubber, jet fuel, petroleum products, certain oils in electric transformers, and even embalming fluid. You’re probably thinking “Why is this in my dog’s food?”, and rightfully so! But, unfortunately, only a few countries have banned the use of BHT in any food products. So, for now, double-check your dog’s food ingredients. 

8. Fish Meal

This ingredient may be called “fish meal,” but it’s a far cry from actual fish. Also called Ethoxyquin, it’s another chemical preservative used to prevent fats in dog food from spoiling. The side effects of fish meal are so dangerous that it’s banned in the European Union. However, it’s used in dog food ingredients in the United States. It’s been shown to cause hemorrhages, cancer, and damage to the liver, kidneys, and thyroid. So steer clear from this incredibly fishy ingredient. 

9. Carrageenan

This ingredient has absolutely no nutritional value for dogs because it’s only used as a thickening agent to get an ideal texture and appearance. Carrageenan has been shown to cause intestinal ulcerations, gastrointestinal inflammation, and cancer. Overall, it’s perhaps once of the worst ingredients for your dog to consume, so avoid it at all costs. 

10. Wheat gluten

This ingredient is a protein found in wheat that is added to dog food to improve texture. Wheat gluten also helps cut costs by lowering the amount of meat in the food because it acts as a filler. However, dogs are carnivores, which means they don’t need wheat or other grains for nutritional reasons. Plus, most grains in the United States are genetically modified and can cause intestinal inflammation and autoimmune disorders. 

11. Garlic and onion

You might be thinking that all “real food” ingredients would be acceptable for your dog to eat. Although this is true for many meats, your dog doesn’t need foods like garlic and onion for health. In fact, these foods are only added to dog food as flavor enhancers and offer no substantial nutritional value. Plus, garlic and onions are in the shallot family with leeks, scallions, chives, and shallots. These foods can cause amenia in dogs in the long term, so it’s best to avoid this specific flavor enhancer for dogs. 

12. Artificial coloring and flavoring

This ingredient is tricky to label as an ingredient you should avoid because they technically aren’t going to harm your dog. However, they have no nutritional value to your dog’s health, so why spend the money on food with colorants and added flavors that are basically junk? Just like with human food, you should look out for added colors like Red 40 because they have been known to cause allergic reactions in some people. The same can be said for dogs that may have more sensitive tummies. 


Now that you know the top twelve ingredients in dog food that you should avoid, check out healthier alternatives that don’t cram in certain things for texture reasons. Instead, look for dog food that contains whole-food ingredients and no added colors. Your pup’s stomach and overall health will thank you.

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