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Choosing the right food for your dog can be a daunting task. Many of us have found ourselves overwhelmed standing in the pet food aisle, staring down a long line of bags, boxes, and cans, all promising to provide the very best and complete nutrition for our pets.
In an industry that is highly under-regulated, one that basically allows manufacturers to make whatever claims about health and nutrition they want, no matter how truthful, it’s important for pet parents to take an active role, to read labels, and to do their research.
After all, unlike humans that usually have a few different meals every day, with different protein sources, and a variety of ingredients, our dogs typically eat the same food every day, at every meal. Because of this simple fact, finding food that is safe, even after months or years of daily consumption, is vitally important to their health and well-being.
The list below is hardly all-inclusive, but will point you in the right direction to find the perfect food for your furry family. When you find a pet food that leaves out these known harmful ingredients, it’s highly likely you’ve found a food that leaves out all the other junk used by the commercial pet food industry too.
In addition to the ingredients below, if there are words you can’t pronounce on your pet food label, find out what exactly those ingredients are in this article, A Guide to Understanding Dog Food Ingredients.
Pet Food Ingredients to Avoid:
By-Products: By definition, a by-product is an incidental or secondary product made in the manufacture or synthesis of something else. In dog food, by-products can include parts of the meat protein source not normally suitable for use such as bones, skin, beaks, feet, feathers, intestines, even urine and fecal waste. Further, by-products, by law, CAN include tissue from dead, diseased, disabled, and dying animals. In the pet food industry, these are normally referred to as “The 4D’s.” By-products do not include healthy “muscle meats,” but rather, the parts normally discarded during meat processing. By nature, by-products can be high in protein and are used by many manufacturers as a cheap alternative to healthier meats.
Sugar: Sugars are a common ingredient in commercial dog food, usually disguised as sucrose, dextrose, maltodextrin, corn syrup, etc., because it makes the food tastier to a dog’s natural sweet-tooth. In addition to contributing to obesity, sugars interfere with your dog’s ability to digest protein, calcium, and other minerals and inhibits the growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria. Studies have also shown that excessive sugar intake can lead to behavioral problems.
BHA/BHT: Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are chemical preservatives often added to pet food to lengthen their shelf life. The World Health Organization has deemed these chemicals “suspicious cancer-causing” compounds. Yet, both remain commonly used by the pet food industry to make our dog’s food last longer on the shelf. In addition to proven cancer-causing effects, BHA and BHT can cause allergic reactions, fetal abnormalities, and negatively affect kidney and liver function.
Ethoxyquin: (Also known as Santoquin) Another artificial preservative, ethoxyquin is also a pesticide. Prolonged ethoxyquin use has proven to destroy normal liver function. Although ethoxyquin is banned from use in human food, it can still be legally added to pet food. Still, due to controversy surrounding the ingredient, many pet food manufacturers don’t add the ingredient directly, but add it indirectly by using certain poultry and fish that contain it. In effect, when reading your pet food label, this ingredient may be present even when it’s not listed. Do your research and ask your manufacturer to be certain.
Sodium Nitrate: Sodium Nitrate is added to dog food to help it retain color. Since our dogs don’t see colors vividly, or make food choices based on what color they are, this ingredient is strictly used to enhance its appearance to humans. Besides being a completely unecessary ingredient in pet foods, sodium nitrates can cause cancers, severe arthritic symptoms, abnormalities of the dog’s immune system, and has even been linked to death.
Artificial Colors/Flavors: Artificial colors and flavors have both shown potential to be carcinogenic (cancer-causing). Choose foods that are naturally flavored with real, whole ingredients, without added artificial colors.