Dog Food, Safety and Ingredients

19 Dog Food Ingredients You Should Always Avoid

Dog Food Ingredients You Should Always Avoid

Selecting dog food carefully is essential for your pet’s long-term health and well-being. The right ingredients ensure proper nutrition, while harmful additives can lead to health issues. By checking the ingredients, pet owners can avoid allergens, toxins, and low-quality fillers, guaranteeing their canine companions a healthier, happier life.

Dog Food Ingredients You Should Always Avoid

19 Ingredients to Avoid in Dog Food


BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) are synthetic antioxidants used to extend the shelf life of foods. While they prevent fats and oils from spoiling, their inclusion in dog food has raised concerns.

Prolonged exposure to these chemicals has been linked to animal health issues, including the potential for promoting certain cancers. Thus, many pet owners and experts advocate selecting dog foods without these additives to ensure the safest nutrition.

Meat Meal

Meat meal is a concentrated protein source derived from cooking and drying animal tissues. While it can provide essential amino acids for dogs, the quality and source can vary widely. Inferior meat meals might include diseased tissues, unspecified animals, or even roadkill.

This lack of transparency and potential inclusion of low-quality ingredients raises concerns about the nutritional value and safety of such products for canine consumption. Choosing dog foods that specify the type of meat meal or prioritizing whole meat sources can help ensure better pet nutrition.

Meat Meal

White Flour

White flour, often referred to as refined or all-purpose flour, is made by stripping whole grains of their nutrient-rich bran and germ. While it’s a common ingredient in many processed foods, it offers limited nutritional value for dogs.

Regular consumption can lead to unhealthy weight gain and may contribute to spikes in blood sugar. Additionally, white flour lacks the essential fibers and nutrients in whole grains, making it a less optimal choice for canine diets. Pet owners seeking balanced nutrition often seek dog food with healthier grain or grain-free alternatives.


Ethoxyquin is a synthetic antioxidant used to preserve the color of animal feeds and prevent fats from turning rancid. While approved in limited amounts for pet foods, concerns have emerged about its potential health effects on dogs.

Chronic exposure to ethoxyquin has been linked to liver damage, skin issues, reproductive complications, and potential cancer risks in various animals. Given these concerns, many pet owners opt for dog foods that use natural preservatives or those that are free from ethoxyquin altogether.


Artificial Food Coloring

Artificial food coloring is used in various products, including dog foods, to enhance or maintain vibrant colors, making the product more visually appealing. However, these synthetic dyes have been a point of contention regarding their safety.

Some artificial colorings have been linked to allergic reactions, behavior changes, and potential carcinogenic effects in animals. For dogs, there’s no nutritional benefit to these dyes, and they’re purely cosmetic. Given the potential risks and lack of benefits, many pet owners prioritize dog foods free from artificial colorings, focusing on natural and holistic ingredients.

Rendered Fat

Rendered fat is a by-product produced by heating animal tissues to separate fat from water and protein. Used as a flavor enhancer in dog foods, it boosts the energy content and palatability. However, the source of this fat can be ambiguous, sometimes derived from non-specific animals or even animals in poor health.

Such undefined fat sources can introduce contaminants or lower-quality nutrients into the dog’s diet. Furthermore, rendered fat can be a breeding ground for harmful bacteria or mold if not properly stored or handled, potentially leading to digestive or health issues in dogs. As a result, discerning pet owners often look for foods that specify the origin of fats or use higher-quality fat sources.

Rendered Fat

Corn Syrup

Corn syrup is a sweetener derived from corn starch, and it’s often used in processed foods, including some dog foods, to enhance flavor and texture. Its inclusion in canine diets, however, has raised eyebrows.

Corn syrup can contribute to unnecessary weight gain in dogs and may be linked to a rise in blood sugar levels, potentially leading to diabetes in the long term. Furthermore, just like in humans, excessive sugar in a dog’s diet can result in dental issues and a preference for sweeter foods over more nutritionally dense options. Given these concerns, many dog owners prefer to choose foods without added sugars or sweeteners like corn syrup.

Related Guide: Can Dogs Eat Corn? Is Corn Safe For Dogs?

Farmed Salmon

Farmed salmon is raised in controlled farming operations rather than caught in the wild. While it provides an abundant and consistent supply of fish, there are concerns about its use in dog foods. Farmed salmon often has a higher fat content, and it can accumulate pollutants and toxins, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), from the feed they are given.

Moreover, these fish are sometimes treated with antibiotics and pesticides to manage diseases and parasites, which can then make their way into the food chain. As a result, when considering salmon as a protein source for dogs, many pet owners and veterinarians recommend sourcing wild-caught salmon or ensuring that farmed salmon comes from reputable and sustainably managed operations.

Farmed Salmon

Vegetable Oil

Vegetable oil is a generic term that refers to oils extracted from various plants and is commonly used in human and pet foods as a source of fat. In dog foods, vegetable oil can provide essential fatty acids, but its quality and nutritional benefits vary widely depending on the source. Some generic vegetable oils may be overly processed or derived from GMO crops, potentially containing pesticide residues.

Additionally, these oils may have an imbalanced ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, which could contribute to inflammation when consumed in excess. For these reasons, discerning pet owners often look for dog foods that specify the type of vegetable oil used or that prioritize oils known for their nutritional benefits, like flaxseed or fish oil.

Vegetable Oil


Melamine is a chemical compound primarily used to produce plastics, laminates, and other industrial applications. It gained notoriety in the realm of pet foods during a significant 2007 recall where it was found adulterating wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate to artificially boost the apparent protein content.

When ingested, melamine can lead to kidney stones, renal failure, and even death in dogs. Its presence in dog food was linked to numerous illnesses and fatalities, highlighting the critical importance of rigorous food safety and quality control in pet food manufacturing. Given the severe risks, pet foods must be free from contaminants like melamine.


Nitrates and nitrites are chemical compounds commonly used as preservatives and color fixatives in processed meats. In dog foods, they help prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and maintain a fresh appearance. However, there are concerns about their health implications.

When consumed, nitrates and nitrites can convert into nitrosamines, potential carcinogens. There’s also a risk of methemoglobinemia, a condition where the blood loses its ability to effectively transport oxygen, if high amounts are ingested. Given these concerns, many pet owners and veterinarians recommend choosing dog foods free from artificial preservatives like nitrates and nitrites or those that use safer alternatives.


By-products in dog foods refer to secondary products derived from the primary processing of animals, excluding prime muscle meat. This can include organs, bones, and tissues. While they can provide nutritional value, the quality and source of by-products can vary widely.

Due to concerns about transparency and the potential inclusion of non-nutritive parts, many pet owners opt for dog foods that specify the type of by-products or prioritize whole meat sources.


Artificial Colors, Flavors & Preservatives

Artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives are synthetic additives that enhance dog foods’ appearance, taste, and shelf life. While they make products more appealing, they offer no nutritional benefit. Concerns include potential allergic reactions, behavior changes, and long-term health risks for dogs. As a result, many pet owners seek dog foods that rely on natural ingredients and avoid these artificial additives.

Sweeteners (Xylitol)

Sweeteners, especially xylitol, enhance the taste of various products. However, in dogs, xylitol can cause a rapid insulin release, leading to hypoglycemia, which can be life-threatening. Symptoms include vomiting, loss of coordination, and seizures. Due to its high toxicity to dogs, pet owners should select dog foods and treats free from xylitol and other artificial sweeteners.

Also Read: Can Dogs Eat Vanilla Ice Cream? 

Propylene Glycol

Propylene glycol is a synthetic compound used in dog foods to maintain moisture and prevent products from drying out. While the FDA classifies it as generally safe for dogs in small amounts, it can be harmful in large doses, causing digestive issues and allergic reactions. Because of its controversial nature and potential side effects, many pet owners opt for dog foods that do not contain propylene glycol.

Propylene Glycol


Found in grains such as wheat, barley, and rye, gluten is a protein that some dogs can be sensitive or allergic to. While many dogs can tolerate gluten, those with sensitivities can experience gastrointestinal upset or skin issues when consuming it.

MSG (Monosodium Glutamate)

A flavor enhancer used in various foods, MSG can cause adverse reactions in some dogs, such as headaches, dizziness, and nausea. While its effects are debated, some pet owners choose to avoid it in dog foods.

Sodium Hexametaphosphate

Used in dog foods to reduce dental tartar, sodium hexametaphosphate can be effective in promoting dental health. However, in large amounts, it might disrupt the mineral balance in dogs, making it important to ensure it’s used appropriately.

Sodium Hexametaphosphate


A thickening agent derived from red seaweed, carrageenan is used in various pet foods. While it’s considered safe by some standards, there are concerns linking it to gastrointestinal inflammation and potential digestive issues in dogs.

Ingredients to Look for in Dog Food

  • Protein: Essential for muscle development and repair, protein supports various bodily functions in dogs, promoting growth, energy, and overall vitality. It’s the cornerstone of any balanced canine diet.
  • Carbohydrates: Serving as a primary energy source, carbohydrates fuel a dog’s daily activities. When sourced from wholesome grains or vegetables, they can be easily digested and provide sustained energy.
  • Fiber: Aiding in digestion, fiber helps regulate bowel movements and can support a healthy gut flora. It also assists in weight management by promoting a feeling of fullness.
  • Fats and Oils: Crucial for skin and coat health, fats and oils also supply essential fatty acids and serve as a concentrated energy source. They aid in nutrient absorption and improve the palatability of food.
  • Vitamins and Minerals: These micronutrients support various metabolic processes, from bone health to immune function. A well-rounded diet ensures dogs get a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals for optimal health.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can a dog be vegan or vegetarian?

Yes, dogs can survive on a vegan or vegetarian diet, but it’s crucial to ensure they receive all essential nutrients, especially protein and certain vitamins, which are primarily found in animal sources.

Are raw diets (BARF) diets better for dogs?

Raw diets, like BARF (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food), have their advocates, but they’re debated among veterinarians. While some believe raw diets can offer natural nutrition, others warn of potential bacterial contamination and nutrient imbalances.

How do I check if my dog is allergic to a certain ingredient?

To determine if your dog is allergic to a particular ingredient, an elimination diet, where potential allergens are removed and then gradually reintroduced, is typically recommended. Observing any reactions helps identify the culprit. Consulting a vet is advisable for guidance.

Do I need a vet to formulate my dog’s diet?

While some knowledgeable pet owners can create a balanced diet for their dogs, consulting a veterinarian or a pet nutritionist is recommended to ensure all nutritional needs are met, especially if formulating a homemade diet.

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