Would you eat unhealthy fast food every day of your life and expect to live a healthy life? Most likely not, but did you know that some dog foods are akin to just that, feeding your dog unhealthy fast food every single day of his or her life.
As loving pet parents, we know the benefits that feeding our dogs beneficial and healthy dog food. Feeding your dog a quality diet can enhance not only their cognitive function, activity levels, and growth, but can contribute to a longer life.
However, there may be some things you are unaware of when it comes to feeding your dog. Below are 10 things you should always look out for and avoid when choosing a good dog food for your fur baby.
1. Artificial Colors & Food Dyes
Did you know that some studies show a possible connection between artificial colors in foods and hyperactivity in children? (Source) While there haven’t been many studies specifically about dogs and artificial colors in their foods, it most likely isn’t a great additive. In fact, it really serves no purpose other than making the food look more appealing to humans, as dogs are pretty much color blind!
These dyes may be linked to allergies and possibly cancer in humans and animals. It is an unnecessary ingredient, so avoid them at all cost
How do you avoid artificial colors in your dog’s food? While it should be on the ingredients label another way to determine if your dog’s food has artificial colors is if the food is brightly colored. Usually, these foods have dyes like Blue 2, Yellow 5, or Red 40. Also, caramel color as it contains 4-methylimidazole (4-MIE), a known animal carcinogen.
Sugars are added to some dog foods to enhance the taste (just like in our foods), however, it comes with unnecessary calories and adds no nutrients to your dog’s diet. Some dog foods include sugars, many times in the form of corn syrup which doesn’t need to be in your dog’s food. While sugar is a necessary part of a dog’s diet, it should come in the form of natural sugars like fructose from fruit, not one’s added. (Source)
Dogs do have a sweet tooth and can become addicted to sugar just like humans. Too much sugar can also affect dogs in the same way as humans so you may see obesity or weight gain, hyperactivity, hyperglycemia, and tooth decay so steer clear of any dog food that has added sugar. Here is a really good article about sugar in dogs food.
Also, artificial sweeteners like xylitol can be extremely toxic dogs so they should be avoided at all costs!
How do you avoid sugars in your dog’s food? When reading the ingredients listed on your dog’s food look for sugar which can be listed in various ways:
- maple syrup
3. Artificial Preservatives
Most pet food companies include artificial preservatives to help the food last longer but many times these additives can cause significant issues in pets when fed long term.
How do you avoid artificial preservatives in your dog’s food? Do these things to avoid feeding your dog preservatives
- Opt for foods with natural preservatives like vitamin C (ascorbic acid) or vitamin E (mixed tocopherols). Want to know more ingredients to look for in high-quality dog food? Read our article here about how to choose a beneficial food for your dog.
- Feed canned Food: While you may probably not want to feed only canned food, the canning process usually eliminates the need for these preservatives
- Look for these common artificial preservatives on the ingredients label:
- BHA/BHT: Butylated-hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are preservatives found in pet and human food alike. They have both been linked to issues like kidney damage and cancer and have been banned in some countries. Fun fact, BHT is used as antiviral medication to treat herpes and AIDS!
- Ethoxyquin: was created by Monsanto and is widely used in animal feed and sometimes dog food to protect it against lipid peroxidation or fat degradation, but it is also used in pesticides. As of now, it cannot be used in any food for human consumption (except spices, e.g., chili), but can pass from feed to farmed fish, poultry, and eggs, so human beings can be exposed. (Source) It has been associated with the development of kidney, liver damage, cancer, and other illnesses.
- Propyl Gallate: Although the FDA has stated propyl gallate is safe, recent research suggests propyl gallate may be responsible for causing health issues for dogs that eat the preservative long-term. This is due to the chemical’s ability to mimic the negative effects of the female hormone, estrogen. (Source)
4. Flavor Enhancers
While salt is necessary for both humans and their pets, too much salt has extremely detrimental, life-altering effects like high blood pressure, heart issues, and strokes. Salt is usually included in your dog’s food in adequate quantities without any extra being added directly.
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
Flavor enhancers like salt and Monosodium Glutamate or MSG are usually included in low-quality dog foods that need to make up for the lack of taste. As we know from human medicine an excess in these flavor enhances can have deleterious effects on our bodies and our pets. MSG has been linked to adverse effects like anxiety, bloating, depression, diarrhea, and infertility in humans. (Scopp, 1991)
How do you avoid detrimental flavor enhancers in your dog’s food? Look for the following ingredients in your dog’s food to avoid feeding them unnecessary flavor enhancers
Look for MSG in your dog’s food which can cause issues in their bodies, just as it can for humans. It truly provides no benefit for your dog and can contribute to allergies and possibly cancer. While it may not always be listed as MSG it may be shown on your dog’s ingredient list as one of the following:
Any ingredient with the word “hydrolyzed” is often code for MSG being in the product
MSG can also be shown as:
- Natural flavors
- Monopotassium glutamate
- Hydrolyzed flour
- Sodium caseinate or Calcium caseinate: Caseinates are sources of MSG becaue of the high heat they are exposed to during processing. The processing increased the glutamic acid that forms MSG (Source)
- Hydrolyzed proteins: Unfortunately according to this book hydrolyzed proteins are used as a flavor enhancer in food industries. Hydrolyzed proteins are precursors to produce MSG because the chemical breakdown of hydrolyzed protein releases glutamic acid, which combines with sodium to form MSG. MSG does not have to be placed on the label since MSG is not physically added to the food.
5. Non-descript meat products
Some dog food companies will include scraps of meat which are given a very broad and generic name to encompass any and all parts of the animal. As a pet owner, this not only means that you don’t know what animal it came from, which part of the animal the meat came from, nor how much nutrition is actually in the final product. Descriptors like Animal By-products and generic meat terms like ‘meat meal’ are examples of these non-descript terms.
Animal by-products is a catch-all phrase that basically means anything left of the animal carcass once the meat and bones have been removed. Basically, slaughterhouse scraps which may not be easily digested by your dog. Fortunately, if animal by-products are listed, companies are legally required to have the food be free of feathers, hooves, hair, hide, beaks, and any other non-edible parts of the animal.
The worst aspect of having animal by-products in your dog’s food is that it is said to include diseased tissues, organs, and tumors at times, which of course is doing your dog no good. It has also usually been so processed that your dog receives little to no nutritional benefit from including animal by-products in their diets.
When a dog food companies lists unnamed, generic meat products, like meat meal, there is no telling what kind of meat it is and usually, these foods are not high-quality. If you want to know what to look for in a high-quality dog food read our article here.
It is also said that these meats can include diseased meat scraps that were heated to an extremely high temperature in a process called rendering. Rendering is a process that converts waste animal tissue into stable, usable materials by heating it to remove any pathogens. Unfortunately, this process also gets rid of most of the nutrients in the meat as well. (Source)
According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials, rendered products often have the term “meal” listed in their titles (for example, ‘chicken meal’)
How do you avoid low-quality meats in your dog’s food?
- If animal by-products are listed as an ingredient in your dog’s food bypass it and look for options that include real, whole meat. If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t feed it to your dog
- Also, look for ingredients like the list below, these nondescript meats should be avoided
- Meat meal
- Bone meal
3. Always look for whole real, whole meats, the company should tell you the specific type of meat that is included in the food like ‘chicken’, ‘beef’, or ‘salmon’.
4. Look for foods that include the part of the animals that were used like liver, heart, or kidney
6. Nondescript Fats
Just like nondescript meats as a pet owner try to avoid nondescript fats as well. Similar to generic meats, these can be from any part of the animal and maybe diseased.
Here’s how to avoid nondescript fats in your dog’s food:
- Refrain from purchasing food that lists ‘animal fat’ or ‘poultry fat’
- Choose food that names the source of their fats like ‘salmon oil
7. Propylene Glycol
Propylene glycol is a product often placed in dog food to help reduce moisture and prevent bacteria growth, however, it is also found in some anti-freeze products which if given to your dog can reach toxic levels. However, the propylene glycol included in many dog foods has been deemed safe for dogs by the FDA, but should still be avoided if possible. Since it may be toxic with long-term use and can reduce the growth of “good” bacteria in the gut and as we all know or are learning the gut is considered a second brain and beneficial bacteria is necessary for optimal performance.
If you have cats propylene glycol can cause anemia in them, so this is of extreme concern if your cat likes to partake in your dos food from time to time.
How to avoid propylene glycol in your dog’s diet: If you see propylene glycol on your dog’s food bag don’t buy it!
8. Farmed Fish
While dogs can benefit from eating fish like salmon and sardines if it is farmed it can include harmful toxins. Farmed salmon can carry added mercury, PCB’s and other toxins. It was also found that levels of 13 pollutants are almost 10 times higher in farmed salmon than in wild salmon and the cancer rate for consuming farmed fish can be up to 3 times higher in humans. (Source)
How to avoid farmed fish in your dog’s diet:
- Choose foods that say ‘wild-caught salmon’ or other types of fish on the bag, nine times out of ten if a company is using wild-caught fish over farmed they will be ecstatic to let their customers know that they are choosing the healthier option
- Avoid foods that list the following on their ingredient labels
- Salmon: oftentimes companies will refrain from stating that the salmon is farmed and just say the food includes salmon. If you are sold on a dog food and really want to know if the fish included is wild-caught or farmed you can always contact the company for clarification.
- Farmed Salmon:
- Salmon Meal
9. Corn and Wheat Gluten
In most cases, gluten is fine for dogs and is fairly harmless. However, for a small percentage, some dogs can suffer the same fate as humans that are gluten intolerant or have celiac disease such as GI upset, disruption of the gut wall, and other damage that may not be repairable in the long run.
Carrageenan is a food additive that is used to emulsify and thicken food. It has recently come under scrutiny as it is studied more and shown to have some not-so-great effects on dogs gi systems. It has been shown to cause issues like inflammation and toxicity in dogs. However, there have been other studies that exhibit no harm to animals when fed food that includes carrageenan long-term.
As a result of the mixed study results, it may be best to avoid foods that include Carrageenan in them until further studies are completed. Carrageenan is easily avoided by by-passing foods that have it in them.
Some things to always do when choosing a dog food
Always, always, always read the pet food labels. As you can see from this article there can be so many hidden ingredients that are counteractive to feeding your dog a good quality diet. This way you know exactly what your dog is eating. If you can’t pronounce something or don’t know what it is look it up!
Speak with a professional to help you choose a good dog food, this could be your local veterinarian or the associate at a pet food store
Watch your dog after they’ve eaten so you can know how the food affects them, does it give them diarrhea? Does it make them use the bathroom more frequently? Do they now like it?