Dog Food – Killing With Kindness

What’s in your dog food and are you literally killing your dog with kindness?

I am horrified by some of the ingredients put in dog foods and treats, and you should be too. While we are actively encouraged to look at what we are feeding to ourselves and our children, we are not looking at what we are feeding to our beloved companions, who are entirely dependent on us for their dietary needs. Below is a list of some of the ingredients to avoid, and what impact on your dog they will have. It makes for startling reading. A survey carried out on one of Britain’s most popular dry foods a few years ago actually found that incredibly, there was more nutrition in the bag than there was in the food!

Get out your dog food packet and see if any of the ingredients listed below are in there. And please don’t assume that just because your dog food is expensive, or vet recommended, that it will be any better than those that aren’t.


Cereals such as wheat, sorghum, maize and corn are used in great abundance by most manufacturers. They will inform you that they are an excellent source of necessary dietary fibre and carbohydrate. Of course this may in some cases be true, but some dog foods contain up to 80% cereal.  The use of cereals in a pet food is an alternative to more expensive ingredients. Cereals are generally described as “bulking agents”. A bulking agent is an ingredient that provides a lot of bulk but often has little nutritional value and is very cheap for the manufacturer to buy.


Ash is not added as an ingredient but is an indicator of mineral content. These minerals will be potassium and phosphorus with smaller amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, sodium and zinc, and trace amounts of many others. Historically, manufacturers often boosted the mineral content of dog food with bone meal to raise calcium levels but, because of concerns about BSE, they now tend to use fish meal instead. Ash is now often listed as ‘inorganic matter’. This means that manufacturers are now able to use other ingredients that are inorganic too, such as stone (believe it or not, I saw a client whose dog food contained 4% meat, but 6% pumice stone. These are just used as bulking agents, and obviously have no nutritional benefits.


A moist food with a declared 10% protein and 80% moisture has 10g. of protein in 20g. of dry matter i.e. 50% protein on a dry matter basis.
A dry food with a declared 20% protein and 10% moisture has 20g. of protein in 90g. of dry matter i.e. 22.2% protein on a dry matter basis.

The dry food although appearing to have a twice as much protein actually has half as much on a dry-matter basis.
Veterinarians agree: Animal proteins are best. Check the label on puppy and adult maintenance dog foods. Is chicken, lamb or some form of meat listed as the first ingredient? This is important for your dog’s well being.
But dog owners should be very concerned about any food that emphasizes vegetables or vegetable-based proteins like corn gluten meal. In dogs, these proteins can actually reduce muscle mass and increase body fat, contributing to a decline in total body condition.
Check the front of dog food packages. Brands that use the word “with” before the ingredient chicken, beef or lamb may have as little as 4% of that ingredient. These foods will often compensate for lower animal protein content with less expensive ingredients and fillers. Those ingredients may not be bad – but they are an inferior substitute for high quality animal proteins.
Veterinarians agree: Dogs need the majority of their protein from animal sources. In fact, up to 90% of the protein in dog foods should come from animal sources, such as chicken or lamb.


Look for unnecessary sugars and salts in the food. They will be found listed as corn, wheat or rice gluten meal, corn syrup, or sugar beet pulp. They have been added in an effort to slow down the transition of rancid animal fats. The dog’s body will try to get rid of the rancid fats as quickly as possible, and diarrhoea is the most efficient way. Gluten and sugar hold the toxic waste in the dog’s body and make the kidneys and liver work overtime.

If dogs and cats have a complete and balanced diet, they do not need added sugar. The reason this is added to lower grade foods is because it is extremely palatable which gives that extra benefit to the company only and not to your pet.  Sugar is also potentially addictive to your pet, which can reduce the dogs desire to accept other foods and so force you to keep feeding that brand of food. You might also get sugar from pet foods such as Pedigree, as being owned by Mars, they may use the food to dispose of by-products from their primary produce – sweets.


This term allows manufacturers to use any type of vegetable matter that is not classed as a cereal.  It is generally material from the human food preparation industry. By the time it is processed at high temperature it usually contains no nutritional value but just serves as another fibre source. These ingredients are inexpensive and are classed as yet another “bulking agent”. These can include sawdust, wood shavings, leaves, bark, rootstocks or pretty much anything that originally came from a plant.


Most dog foods use meat and animal derivatives as their only source of animal protein.  These ingredients are usually made up of heads, feet, entrails, lungs, feathers, hair, fur, wool and unborn eggs. When the label lists Meat By-Products or By-Product Meal or Digest that means the food includes animal organs like lungs, spleens, kidneys, brain, liver tissue, stomach, feet, beaks, necks, and other tissue.


The main preservatives used in pet food are Ethoxyquin, BHA and BHT. These are all dangerous chemicals and have no place in any kind of food. Ethoxyquin is made by Monsanto and is a rubber stabilizer. It is also used as a herbicide and insecticide. Although it was approved by the FDA in 1956, the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) lists it as a hazardous chemical which may cause skin and eye irritations, gross changes in the liver, kidneys’ and thyroid and reduction in the survival of offspring. It is banned in Australia. BHT and BHA have been linked to liver damage, foetal abnormalities and metabolic stress.

Other preservatives are the Tocopherols (Vitamin C and E). While the use of these vitamins sounds like a healthy choice they have a very short shelf life -Vitamin E lasts about one month and Vitamin C about 12 hours. Additionally the Vitamin E is unstable when heated and light destroys Vitamin C. If the preservative is not effective, the food will become rancid and unhealthy for the dog.

Some preservatives are carcinogenic (cancer causing). Some common carcinogenic preservatives to look for and avoid are: BHT, ethoxyquin, BHA and ethylene glycol (a less toxic form of anti-freeze). Citric acid as a preservative can also be problematic as it dramatically increases the risk of bloat if the food is moistened before feeding (according to veterinary research).

Foods that are brightly coloured are intended to remind us of how we like our own food to look. This can fool us into thinking that the food is good for our dog. But remember, your dog doesn’t care what it’s food looks like – only how it tastes. Foods with bright reds and yellows are likely to contain cancer causing colourants like Omega Red, and Sunset Yellow. I would NEVER feed these types of foods to my dog.