What to look for in dog food ingredients


Have you ever read a list of dog food ingredients and often wondered what it all meant and if it's the best dog food for your dog?

Many of us want our Shih Tzu or any of our pets to be healthy and eat quality meals, but we aren't quite sure how to read the labels on the back of the containers.

In general, dog foods sold at the grocery store are of lower quality ingredients than foods sold at a pet specialty store or online pet retailers.

However, buying dog food from the grocery store is often more convenient for many people and often less expensive than higher-quality pet foods.

So what’s a dog owner to do?

How to choose the right dog food?

The number one thing you should look for when buying foods for your pet, no matter where you buy it, is the AAFCO approval statement.

It will read something like this...

"XYZ product is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food nutrient profiles for growth and maintenance."

AAFCO provides minimum standards for dog food ingredients and their manufacturers, so you know that foods carrying this statement are a complete diet.

But remember that these are minimum standards, so just because the container has the AAFCO statement on its label does not mean that it is great, however, it is better than one that doesn’t have it on the label.

There are also some ingredients that you should search for, while others should be avoided if possible.

How to Read Dog Food Ingredients on Labels

dog food ingredients

Ingredients must be listed in order from the largest to the least, which means that the first ones listed weigh more than the last ones listed.

If the first ingredient is corn, you know that there is more corn in the food than anything else.

Dog food experts frequently say good food selections should have a couple of meats listed in the top five ingredients.

It should preferably be listed first, showing that it’s the largest ingredient by weight before processing.

Your dog can digest meat protein from chicken, lamb, turkey, fish, beef, and venison more easily than protein from corn or other grain sources.

  • Meat is the clean flesh of chicken, turkey, lamb, etc. It includes the tongue, heart, esophagus.
  • The term “by-products” is the clean parts of animals other than meat. These include lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, stomach, and intestines.

    Doesn’t that sound yummy? Well, to a dog, it doesn’t sound all that bad.

    If the by-products are defined by the name of the species, for example, beef by-products or chicken by-products (although not as pleasing as just beef or chicken), it is more acceptable than a non-defined animal by-product usually listed as “Meat by-product, Poultry by-product, or “animal by-product.”

    So if you decide to go with dog food containing by-products, the better choice is to pick one that specifies which animal it came from.

    If you can avoid a by-product entirely and go with dog food which lists, for instance, beef, carrots, rice as its ingredients, this would be a much better choice.

  • Real vegetables, whole grains, and real fruit.
    Dogs can derive health benefits from certain unprocessed vegetables and fruits in their foods, such as sweet potato, carrots, and blueberries.

    Some unprocessed fruits and vegetables have antioxidant properties which are suitable for your dogs' health.

    They should never be the main ingredient, but small amounts are beneficial to your dogs' diet and provide some nutrition.

  • Every dog needs a bit of oil and fats in its daily diet.
    Look for foods that use chicken fat, flaxseed oil, canola oil, and any food with Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.

    Many lesser quality foods contain generic animal fats, and you don’t know what the ingredients are; it could be any animal. Instead, look for named sources of fat.
  • Avoid artificial or chemical preservatives like Ethoxyquin, BHA, and BHT.  
    Look for foods with natural preservatives like Vitamin C and Vitamin E instead, also known as Tocopherols.

    Ethoxyquin has been suspected of causing liver damage and other health problems in dogs

  • Corn is a popular food ingredient in most grocery store brands of dog food, and you can even find it in some premium foods.

    It’s used because it is a less expensive source of protein than meat protein.

    But it’s not the most nutritious ingredient...and it should never be the first ingredient in your dog food.

    Dogs are not vegetarians and don’t digest vegetable matter particularly well.  In fact a  dog only digests about 50 percent of the corn they eat.  This means the rest of the corn (corn meal, ground yellow corn, whole corn, etc.) passes through his gastrointestinal tract and doesn’t get the nutrients from it, the rest you pick up as waste in your yard or when you walk him.

  • Flavorings are often added to food to make it taste better or more appealing to a dog, but they are not a necessary part of the dog food.

    Read the food labels to find out what types of flavorings are added.

    The best type is a specific broth or stock. Try to avoid unspecified flavorings or artificial ones.

  • Avoid artificial colors and sweeteners. Your dog just doesn’t need these in their diet.
small shih tzu with bowl of dog food

Trudging Through Your Own Trial and Error

Before discovering the importance of good dog food ingredients, I fed our Shih Tzu Cesar dog food.

On a routine visit to the vet, she asked what we were feeding them. She gently suggested that they may fare better with a more nutritious and complete dog food.

I’ve been reading labels ever since.

It took a little trial and error, but I found the best dog food I could that they will actually eat, cause let’s face it, what good is having high-quality ingredients if they won’t eat it.

There is so much information about dog food ingredients available these days. It is beneficial for not only our dogs but for ourselves, to learn all we can about keeping our precious fur-babies healthy, and making sure we know exactly what we are feeding them. 

To learn more about the dangers of dog food, check out "Dog Food Ingredients Secret," you may just be surprised what your dogs are eating in some commercial food.

It has really opened my eyes to how important it is to know exactly what we are feeding our beloved pets, and how we can keep our precious little fur-babies healthier.

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