Choosing a natural dog food for your pup can be a daunting task. Even when you know what ingredients should be in the food, you also need to know which ingredients to avoid. These 10 ingredients top the list of what shouldn't be in your dog's food.
1) Mystery Meat
Meat should be the main source of protein of any natural dog food. Natural dog foods will use named meat sources (chicken, turkey, beef) as the first few ingredients in the food. In lower-quality foods, the protein often comes from meat meal, animal meal, animal fat or animal digest. According to the American Association of Feed Control Officials, "meat" or "animal" can come from any mammal, including road kill, euthanized cats and dogs, dying, diseased or disabled farm animals and dead zoo animals. When choosing a food for your pooch, avoid food that lists "meat" or "animal" products.
Byproducts are the leftover bits after all the meat is gone. Dog food manufacturers buy the leftovers from places that produce meat for humans, but that doesn't mean the leftovers are human-grade. Byproducts can include organs, intestines, blood, brains and fat. Poultry byproducts can include heads, feet and beaks. While byproducts are technically edible for dogs, these ingredients are much less nutritious and often must be highly processed to be safe and digestible.
Your pup may have a sweet tooth, and many pet manufacturers know that. Foods with low-quality ingredients will often have added sweeteners to make it taste better to dogs. In many cases, high levels of sugar will even be addictive, and your dog may be reluctant to eat a healthier food. Too much sugar can lead to canine obesity, diabetes, hypoglycemia, arthritis and cataracts. Natural dog foods avoid using sweeteners, including sugar, fructose and corn syrup. Satisfy your dog's sweet tooth with healthier sweetness of fruit instead.
4) Corn Products
One the most common, and cheapest, ingredients in many dog foods is corn. Some manufacturers use corn to boost the protein levels of food without increasing the amount of meat. However, corn is not easy for dogs to digest and ends up as a filler ingredient with little nutritional value. Corn products may be listed as ground corn, whole-grain corn, corn gluten meal or corn germ.
5) Soybean Meal
Soybeans are another inexpensive ingredient, so soybean meal is a popular ingredient in lower-quality dog foods. Soybean meal is left over after soybeans have been processed. The leftovers are ground up and added to dog food to boost the protein content. However, as with corn, protein from soybeans is hard for dogs to digest and use.
6) Grain Leftovers
Some grains are OK for your dog, but not the leftovers swept from the mill floors. While whole-grain rice, oatmeal and millet provide beneficial nutrients, the grain hulls and brans are nothing more than the inedible bits left after the milling process. Some foods will also include "middlings," which is the dust swept from mill floors. If you see the words "hulls," "brans" or "middlings" in the ingredient list, move on.
7) Artificial Colors
Open a bag of lower-quality dog food and you may see a rainbow of colors, including orange, green and red. Dog food manufacturers want the colors to remind you of healthy fruits and vegetables. The truth is that any fruits and vegetables in the food will lose their color during processing; the colors are there as decoration. Unfortunately, food colorings are not completely harmless. Studies have shown that yellow food colorings can cause allergies, while some blue food colorings have caused tumors in mice. Food colorings are unnecessary, so natural dog foods won't use them.
LIke sugar, salt is often added to dog food to make it taste better. Sometimes, the salt will be listed as "sea salt" or "iodized salt" to make it sound healthier. But too much salt can cause the same health problems in dogs that it causes in humans. Most quality ingredients contain enough salt for your dog's dietary needs, so skip the foods that add extra.
9) Toxic Preservatives
To give dog food a longer shelf life, many lower quality foods will add preservatives known to be toxic or carcinogenic, including BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin. Instead of these, choose natural preservatives like mixed tocopherols, citric acid and rosemary extract.
10) Propylene Glycol
If your dog likes semi-moist food, often sold in pouches or shreds, he's likely eating food with propylene glycol. This chemical is commonly used in antifreeze and solvents, but is also used to keep semi-moist food from drying out. Propylene glycol has been proven to cause anemia in cats, so it has been banned from cat food. Although it's still approved for dog food, this harsh chemical should be avoided.