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5 Ingredients You Need to Avoid When Buying Healthy Pet Food

Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on February 10, 2019
Posted in Food & Recipes

Pet owners tend to be very concerned about what they feed their dogs—and for good reason. No matter if they are puppies, adults or senior dogs, our four-legged friends require nutritious food each day to grow, stay active and remain healthy.

However, buying pet food can be very tricky. With bags upon bags of brands lining the shelves at your local pet store, it can get overwhelming to know which one is the best choice. On top of that, many brands use images of healthy foods on their packaging to make it seem like their pet food is healthier than the others’.

When it comes to choosing healthy dog food, one of the best things you as a pet owner can do is to speak with your vet to get a recommendation. You should also check the ingredients list of the food you’re about to buy to ensure that what you’re putting in your dog’s body is nutritious and healthy.

Here are five ingredients you should check for and steer clear of when purchasing healthy food for your pup.

1. Chemicals and preservatives: Many inexpensive dog foods are pumped with chemical preservatives to make them last longer on the shelves. A few of the most common preservatives are Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA), Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) and Ethoxyquin. BHA and BHT are chemical preservatives added to oils in pet food; however, they are also known carcinogens that may lead to organ damage. Ethoxyquin has also been linked to numerous health issues in pets. Feeding your dog foods containing these preservatives every day could result in dangerous levels accumulating within the body. Vitamin C and E are better, more natural preservatives to look for.

2. Corn and corn syrup: Corn doesn’t contain much nutritional value for your dog and is usually added to foods as an inexpensive filler product. Corn is also a very common allergen for dogs. A related product, corn syrup, may also be added to the food to sweeten it. Since corn and corn syrup add unnecessary levels of carbohydrates to dog food, your dog may be at risk for developing diabetes. Sweetening food may also contribute to dental disease. Instead, your dog should be eating food that is primarily protein—not carbs.

3. Propylene glycol: Propylene glycol is one of the main ingredients in “pet-safe” antifreeze. Because it absorbs water, it is commonly added to dog food to regulate the spread of moisture and prevent the growth of bacteria. The substance is considered “generally safe” for dogs, but you still don’t want it in your dog’s food. It can potentially be toxic and lead to health problems over time.

4. Meat meal or by-products: Meat meals and by-product additions are inexpensive ways to bulk up the protein and fat levels in dog food. Meat meal is a by-product of the meat rendering process (which essentially over-cooks meat to kill off bacteria). The term “meat meal” does not specify the type of meat used and, therefore, is too vague to trust. Instead of high-quality meat, these meats could potentially be sourced from unethical or low-quality animal meat. By-products are usually made from the leftovers of a slaughtered animal and are also typically very low-quality (although not all are). Please note that organ meats from high-quality protein sources are in fact a great source of amino acids, but they should always be specified (for example, “chicken liver,” “chicken hearts,” etc.). If a protein meal is listed, it should always name a specific animal—it should not simply say “protein meal” or “animal meal.”

5. Artificial coloring: Aside from being a completely unnecessary addition to dog food, artificial coloring may present health risks if consumed in large quantities. Blue 2, Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6, specially, are problematic in both humans and dogs.

What to look for

There are a lot of dog foods available, and sorting through them all can take a lot of time. In addition to avoiding foods with the above-mentioned products, keep your eyes peeled for foods that meet this criteria, as they are generally healthier for your pooch.

  • The main ingredient is protein: Dogs are carnivores by nature and require sources of meat to fuel their bodies properly. While some carbohydrates are okay, they shouldn’t be the bulk of your dog’s food. Otherwise, your dog may not be getting the right balance of nutrients and may actually develop health problems over time.
  • It has nutrient-rich vegetables and fruit: After protein sources should come fruits and veggies rich with nutrients for your dog’s body. Vegetables like corn that are mostly starch are not beneficial. Instead, look for pet foods that contain things like carrots, peas, kelp, blueberries or pumpkin.
  • Drier is not better: Some pet owners think that super-dry kibble will keep longer or be better for their dog’s teeth, but extra-dry pet food can lead to gastrointestinal problems and constipation. Your dog’s food should contain around 10 percent moisture to keep things moving properly.

When you take the time to examine what kinds of ingredients you’re giving your dog each day, you’ll be able to really take charge of its health for the better. Giving your dog food that is loaded with the right blend of nutrients and that does not contain toxic chemicals will help it stay happy and healthy for much longer.

Read also: Spooked and Startled: How to Desensitize Your Dog to its Fears

Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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