When evaluating dog food, our reviews consider key ranking factors such as the ingredients used to produce a specific brand. These ingredients play a crucial role in determining the nutrients present in the dog food. On a dog food label, you will find a variety of ingredient types, including protein sources, carbohydrate sources, and fat sources.
These ingredients play a major role in determining the quality of the dog food product as they provide essential nutrients to our canine friends. As pet owners, we need to understand what goes into our dog’s food and how it can impact their overall health and well-being.
What are dog food ingredients?
Dog food ingredients are the raw materials used to make dog food. They include a variety of sources such as meat, poultry, grains, fruits, vegetables, and other additives. These ingredients provide essential nutrients like protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals that are necessary for our dogs to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Types of Dog Food Ingredients
- Protein Sources: These are the most important ingredients in a dog’s food as they provide essential amino acids necessary for their growth and development. Common protein sources include chicken, beef, lamb, fish, and eggs.
- Carbohydrate Sources: Carbohydrates serve as an energy source for dogs and help them maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Good carbohydrate sources in dog food include whole grains such as brown rice, oats, and sweet potatoes.
- Fat Sources: Dogs need healthy fats in their diet for proper brain development, shiny coat, and overall energy levels. Good fat sources include chicken fat, fish oil, and flaxseed oil.
- Fruits and Vegetables: These ingredients provide essential vitamins and minerals to dogs and also add flavor to their food. Common fruits and vegetables used in dog food include apples, blueberries, carrots, and peas.
- Additives: These ingredients are added to dog food for various reasons such as preserving freshness, enhancing the flavor or appearance of the food, or providing additional health benefits. Some common additives include vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and probiotics.
Understanding Dog Food Labels
When shopping for dog food, it is important to understand the information on the label to ensure you are making a healthy choice for your pet. Here are some key things to look for on a dog food label:
- Ingredients List: The ingredients list should be listed in order of their weight, with the heaviest ingredient listed first. This means that the first few ingredients make up the majority of the food. Look for high-quality protein sources and avoid foods with fillers such as corn or wheat.
- Guaranteed Analysis: This section lists the minimum and maximum percentages of protein, fat, fiber, and moisture in the food. This can help you determine if the food meets your dog’s nutritional needs.
- Nutritional Adequacy Statement: This statement indicates if the food is complete and balanced for a specific life stage, such as growth or maintenance. Look for foods that meet the guidelines set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
- Feeding Guidelines: These are general recommendations for how much to feed your dog based on their weight and activity level. Keep in mind that these are just guidelines and your dog’s individual needs may vary.
- Manufacturer Information: This includes the name and contact information of the company that produces the food, as well as where it was manufactured.
Choosing a Quality Dog Food by Analysing Ingredients:
When selecting dog food, look for brands that use high-quality ingredients and have undergone feeding trials to ensure their food is complete and balanced. Avoid foods with added artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. Instead, look for natural sources of vitamins and minerals such as fruits and vegetables.
Consider your dog’s individual needs when choosing a food. For example, puppies have different nutritional requirements than senior dogs. If your dog has specific health concerns or allergies, consult with your veterinarian to find the best food for their needs.
It’s also important to read the ingredient list carefully. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight, so the first ingredients make up the majority of the food. Look for whole protein sources, such as chicken or beef, at the top of the list.
How we rate ingredients in dog food by their sources:
This is the most important ingredient in a dog’s diet, as it provides essential amino acids that are necessary for muscle growth and repair. High-quality protein sources include chicken, beef, fish(salmon), and lamb. Brands that indicate the source of protein also get a boost in their rating as it shows transparency and accountability.
When evaluating protein sources using the objective metric of protein biological value (BV), animal proteins are generally considered superior to plant sources. The BV of a protein is determined by factors such as its amino acid composition, digestibility, and absorption. Animal proteins tend to have a higher BV compared to plant proteins due to their better digestibility and amino acid composition. Read more about protein biological value for different sources such as beef (74), chicken (80), egg(100), fish(94), etc. here.
In terms of meeting the essential amino acid requirements for dogs, plant-based proteins may contain lower levels of certain amino acids such as methionine, cysteine, and tryptophan. On the other hand, animal proteins are more bioavailable for dogs, meaning they are easier to digest and absorb, providing valuable nutrients.
Overall, animal proteins have advantages in terms of their digestibility, amino acid composition, and bioavailability, making them a preferable protein source for dogs.
Protein meals and by-products:
These are highly processed forms of protein, and while they can still be a good source of nutrients, they may not be as beneficial as whole proteins. However, meals and by-products that have specified sources (e.g. chicken meal) are ranked higher than those with unspecified sources (e.g. meat meal).
When looking at the ingredient label, make sure the crude protein contains the following nutrients;
- Arginine: important for protein synthesis and helps maintain healthy blood vessels.
- Histidine: aids in tissue repair and growth.
- Isoleucine: essential for muscle growth and repair.
- Leucine: crucial for protein synthesis and helps regulate blood sugar levels.
- Lysine: aids in calcium absorption and collagen production.
- Methionine: supports liver health and the production of essential proteins.
- Phenylalanine: important for neurotransmitter production and brain function.
- Threonine: supports immune system function and helps maintain proper protein balance in the body.
- Tryptophan: necessary for serotonin production and promotes relaxation and sleep.
- Valine: essential for muscle growth, repair, and energy production.
Carbohydrate type: Carbohydrates provide energy to our dogs but should not be the main source of nutrition. Look for whole grain or gluten-free options such as brown rice, sweet potatoes, and peas instead of highly processed carbohydrates like corn or wheat. Avoid carbs with fillers such as corn gluten meal, brewer rice, or wheat flour.
Fats and oils:
Fats are vital for a dog’s coat, skin, and brain health. Look for named sources of fats like chicken fat or fish oil rather than generic terms like “animal fat.” Avoid added oils such as vegetable oil or canola oil, which provide little nutritional value.
Look for sources like salmon oil, flaxseed, or chicken fat, as they provide omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that are beneficial for your dog’s overall health.
When looking at the ingredient label, make sure the crude protein contains the following nutrients;
- Linoleic acid: essential for skin and coat health.
- alpha-Linolenic acid: an omega-3 fatty acid that supports brain function and reduces inflammation.
- Arachidonic acid: promotes healthy skin, coat, and joint health.
- EPA and DHA: two types of omega-3 fatty acids that support heart health and aid in reducing joint inflammation.
These are essential for a dog’s overall health and should be listed on the ingredient label. Look for natural sources of vitamins and minerals, such as fruits and vegetables, rather than synthetic supplements. Below is a list of all essential minerals and vitamins dogs need in their diets:
- Vitamin A: essential for vision, immune function, and growth. Read about Vitamin A deficiency in dogs here.
- Vitamin D: helps with calcium absorption and bone health. Read more about Vitamin D benefits here and get details of Vitamin D deficiency and symptoms in this guide.
- Vitamin E: an antioxidant that supports skin and coat health. Learn more about the benefits of Vitamin E including how to spot a dog deficient in this Vitamin.
- B vitamins: are important for energy metabolism and nervous system function.
- Thiamine: supports healthy digestion and metabolism. Read this guide on thiamine to learn why most wet food are deficient of this nutrient.
- Riboflavin: aids in the production of red blood cells and promotes healthy skin and eyes. Read this guide to learn the benefits and recommended doses of riboflavin to dogs.
- Niacin: important for energy production, nervous system function, and healthy skin. Dermatitis or inflamed skin is a common symptom for niacin-deficient dogs. Read more about Niacin here.
- Pantothenic acid: helps with hormone regulation, immune function, and wound healing.
- Pyridoxine: needed for amino acid metabolism and nerve function.
- Folic acid: essential for cell growth and reproduction.
- Biotin: important for healthy skin, hair, and nails.
- Choline: vital for brain and nervous system function. Read more here.
Minerals are also crucial for a dog’s health, especially in maintaining strong bones and teeth. Below is a list of all the necessary minerals dogs should have in their diets:
- Calcium: needed for bone and teeth health, as well as muscle function. Read about Calcium nutrient requirements by dogs and doses.
- Phosphorus: important for bone and teeth formation, energy metabolism, and kidney function. Worried about Phosphorus deficiency? Read this guide.
- Ca:P Ratio: the ratio between calcium and phosphorus is crucial for a dog’s health. An imbalance can lead to various health issues, including bone deformities and kidney disease.
- Magnesium: aids in enzyme production and nerve function.
- Potassium: vital for muscle function and nerve communication.
- Sodium: helps maintain fluid balance in the body and nerve function.
- Chloride: assists with digestion and fluid balance.
- Iron: essential for red blood cell formation and oxygen transport. Among other symptoms, weight loss is common in iron-deficient dogs. Read more about iron for dogs.
- Zinc: important for immune system function, wound healing, and skin health. Here are all the symptoms of a zinc-deficient dog and some select brands of recommended dog food for zinc deficiency.
- Copper: needed for iron absorption, enzyme production, and connective tissue formation. Get more details on benefits, deficiency symptoms and more on copper for dogs.
- Manganese: supports bone health and carbohydrate metabolism.
- Selenium: acts as an antioxidant and aids in thyroid function.
- Iodine: crucial for thyroid hormone production.
- Cobalt: important for red blood cell formation.
In addition to these essential vitamins and minerals, there are also beneficial supplements that can be added to a dog’s diet. These include:
- Omega-3 fatty acids: help promote healthy skin and coat, as well as reduce inflammation.
- Glucosamine and chondroitin: support joint health and can help alleviate joint pain and stiffness.
- Probiotics: aid in digestion and support a healthy gut microbiome. Read the difference between probiotics and prebiotics for dogs here.
- Antioxidants: help combat free radicals and support overall health.
- Enzymes: assist with digestion and nutrient absorption.
Nutrients for aging dogs:
As your dog ages, their joint health and cartilage maintenance becomes increasingly important. Glucosamine, along with chondroitin and MSM, can help support joint health and alleviate discomfort in dogs with arthritis or other joint issues.
- Chondroitin: works together with glucosamine to maintain healthy cartilage and joints.
- MSM: a sulfur compound that supports joint health and can also help with inflammation.
- L-carnitine: helps convert fat into energy and maintains muscle mass.
- Taurine: important for heart health and eye function.
- Lutein: an antioxidant that supports eye health.
- Coenzyme Q10: helps with energy production and is important for heart health.
- Selenium: an antioxidant that supports immune function and thyroid health.
Preservatives help extend the shelf life of dog food but can also be harmful if used in excess. Avoid artificial preservatives like BHA, BHT, or ethoxyquin, and look for natural alternatives such as mixed tocopherols (vitamin E) or rosemary extract.
Fillers and by-products:
Fillers are ingredients used to bulk up the food without providing much nutritional value. By-products refer to animal parts that may not be fit for human consumption, such as chicken feet or pork lungs. These ingredients should be avoided, as they offer little nutritional benefit and could potentially contain harmful substances.
Other common fillers include:
- Beet pulp
- Wheat, wheat meal, grounded wheat meal
- Corn, corn meal, corn gluten meal, canola meal
- Soy, soybean meal
- Rice, rice bran, brewers rice, rice meal
- Beans, bean meal
Many dog owners choose grain-free options for their pets, believing it to be a healthier choice. However, grains can provide essential nutrients and energy for dogs, so it is not necessary to avoid them altogether. If your dog has allergies or sensitivities to grains, consult with your veterinarian before making the switch.
For dogs with food allergies, novel proteins can be a good option. These are protein sources that your dog may not have been exposed to before, such as venison or rabbit. However, it’s important to note that these types of diets are typically more expensive and should only be used under the guidance of a veterinarian.
Some dog owners may opt for organic dog food, believing it to be a healthier choice. Organic foods are made with ingredients grown without the use of pesticides or chemical fertilizers. While this can be beneficial for dogs with sensitive stomachs, there is currently no scientific evidence to support the claim that organic dog food is significantly better than non-organic options.
List of 21 Controversial dog food ingredients:
- Carrageenan: A thickener and stabilizer commonly used in wet dog food. It has been linked to digestive issues and inflammation in some dogs.
- Animal fat: An ambiguous ingredient that can come from a variety of sources, including rendered meat and even used cooking oil. It may contain harmful substances and lack important nutrients.
- Bone meal: A source of calcium and phosphorus, but can also contain heavy metals and bacteria.
- Meat by-products: Can include organs, bones, and other parts of an animal that may not be fit for human consumption.
- Wheat gluten: A protein source that is often used as a binder in dry dog food. It has been linked to digestive issues and potential allergic reactions.
- Beet pulp: A source of fiber commonly found in dog food, but it can also cause digestive upset in some dogs.
- MSG (monosodium glutamate): A flavor enhancer that has been linked to headaches, nausea, and other adverse reactions in humans. Its effects on dogs are still unknown.
- Propylene glycol: A chemical used to prevent moisture loss in wet dog food, it has been linked to anemia and other health issues in cats.
- Propyl gallate: Another preservative used in dry dog food that has been linked to cancer and other health issues in humans.
- Corn gluten meal: A protein source that has been linked to digestive issues and potential allergic reactions in some dogs.Artificial colors and flavors: These are often added to dog food to make it more visually appealing and palatable, but they offer no nutritional value and have been linked to health issues in humans.
- Fillers: Whole grain corn, soybean meal, and other cheap ingredients are often used as fillers in dog food to bulk up the product. These offer little nutritional value and can contribute to weight gain and digestive issues in dogs. Some fillers in dog food can include; Wheat, wheat meal, grounded wheat meal, Corn, corn meal, corn gluten meal, Soy, soybean meal, Rice, rice bran, brewers rice, rice meal, Beans, bean meal and Oats. When they are all compared, wheat is still preferred as it has more nutritional value than the others.
- Sodium selenite: A synthetic form of selenium, commonly used as a mineral supplement in dog food. It has been linked to toxic levels of selenium in dogs.
- Food coloring: Artificial dyes are often used in dog food to make it more visually appealing, but they have been linked to hyperactivity and other behavioral issues in dogs.
- Beet pulp: A byproduct of sugar beet processing, this is often used as a source of fiber in dog food. However, it has been linked to digestive issues and potential allergic reactions in some dogs.
- Alfalfa: Another common filler ingredient in dog food, alfalfa has little nutritional value and can contribute to digestive issues.
- Garlic: While garlic can be beneficial for dogs, it should be used in moderation as it can be toxic at high doses. Read why garlic is toxic to dogs.
- Artificial preservatives: BHA, BHT, and ethoxyquin are common preservatives used in dog food, but they have been linked to various health issues including cancer.
- Gluten: While gluten is not inherently bad for dogs, it can cause digestive issues and allergic reactions in some. Read more about gluten in dog food.
- Corn syrup: A sweetener commonly used in dog treats, it offers no nutritional value and can contribute to obesity and dental issues in dogs.
- Vegetable oil: While some vegetable oils can be beneficial for dogs, others have little nutritional value and can contribute to obesity. For example, corn, canola, and flaxseed oil lack EPA, DHA, and AA which are found in fish oil.
- MSG: This flavor enhancer is often used in dog food to make it more appealing, but it has been linked to various health issues including allergies and digestive problems.
- Wheat: While not harmful for all dogs, wheat can be a common allergen and can contribute to digestive issues in some.
- Soy: Similar to wheat, soy can also be a common allergen for dogs and can cause digestive problems if consumed in large quantities.
- Food dyes: These are often used in dog food to enhance the appearance of the food, but they offer no nutritional value and have been linked to hyperactivity, allergies, and even cancer.
- Artificial flavors: Also used to make dog food more appealing, artificial flavors offer no nutritional value and can cause allergic reactions in some dogs. Read about stevia here.
- Rendered fat: This is the by-product of meat processing and can be used in dog food as a source of fat and flavor, but it has been linked to digestive issues and can also contain harmful chemicals.
- Sodium selenite: This is a synthetic form of selenium, a mineral that is essential for a dog’s health. However, this form has been linked to various health issues including cancer and reproductive problems.
Good nutrients/ingredients in dog food:
- Glucosamine: An amino sugar that helps promote joint health and can benefit dogs with arthritis or other joint issues.
- Chondroitin: Another ingredient commonly used for promoting joint health in dogs. It works alongside glucosamine to improve cartilage and joint function.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Found in fish oil, these fatty acids have numerous benefits for dogs including promoting a healthy coat and skin, reducing inflammation, and supporting brain and eye health.
- Probiotics: These live microorganisms can help improve gut health in dogs by promoting the growth of good bacteria and aiding in digestion.
- Antioxidants: Ingredients such as vitamins A, C, and E can act as antioxidants in dog food, helping to prevent cell damage and boost the immune system.