Artificial color in your doggie's food and treats isn't there for him, but it's strategically added in order to appeal to you. In fact, your dog can only see a very limited range of colors, so he doesn't really care about how brightly colored his biscuits are as long as they taste and smell great. Unless you plan to eat the pup's kibbles yourself because they appear palatable according to your human senses, it's best to choose a food without the artificial colors, as they are in no way beneficial nor appealing to your pup!
Artificial Coloring in Dog Food
History of Color in Food Products
According to a Forbes magazine article, adding color to food for humans and animals has been done for centuries. At the beginning of the 20th century, concern regarding the presence of toxic mercury, copper and arsenic in natural-based colorings prompted scientists to develop synthetic alternatives. By 1906, when the Pure Foods and Drug Act was passed, there were more than 80 different colorings being used in human and animal foods. The next three decades saw research into the effects of those colorings eliminating the ones deemed unsafe, thus narrowing the field to only 15 allowed colors by 1938. As of 2012 that list has been pared to only seven artificial colorings that many consumer advocates still lobby against. Forbes indicates that Yellow No. 5 -- an approved yet controversial artificial coloring commonly used in dog foods -- is being further tested for links to hyperactivity and cancer in human children.
Federal Veterinary Regulation of Food Color
According to the Veterinarian Newsletter produced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a series of federal agencies regulate the addition of artificial food coloring to animal foods, including products marketed for dogs. Any proposed additions of new colors must first be approved by the Labeling and Compounds Review Division housed with the Department of Agriculture. Although only seven colors are currently allowed, manufacturers regularly apply to increase that number in an effort to market different products. The FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition administers the 1960 Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act currently governing the use of artificial colorings in a variety of products, including dog food. Staff from this center for food safety work in conjunction with veterinarians and animal scientists with the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine to ensure the safety of animal food products and accurate labeling of ingredients contained.
What Colors are Allowed
According to the FDA, seven artificial colorings are allowed in a category known as "Foods Generally," which does include dog food. The colors are: Blue No. 1, Blue No. 2, Green No. 3, Red No. 3, Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6. The Dog Food Guide lists suspected health problems linked to four of these colors that scientists are still studying. Blue No. 2, for instance, may be connected with a dog experiencing increased sensitivity to various common viruses, while Yellow No. 5 could be the potential culprit for the onset of allergic reactions and Yellow No. 6 might be a contributor to increased risk of cancer in the kidneys and adrenal gland.
Read the Labels
In an effort to inform consumers regarding the potential risks of a variety of ingredients -- artificial food coloring included -- that are used in the production of dog foods, the Dog Food Project maintains a lengthy online list detailing why each item on the list is potentially hazardous to your pup. It is recommended that human companions thoroughly scan the ingredients listed on their pup's food bag if they have concerns regarding its safety.
By Amy M. Armstrong
Dog Food Guide: Are Artificial Colorings in Dog Food Bad for My Pet?
The Dog Food Project: Ingredients to Avoid
Forbes: Living in Color: The Potential Dangers of Artificial Dyes
U.S. Food and Drug Adminstration: Animal & Veterinary: Ask CVM: What Are The Rules Concerning The Use of Color Additives in Animal Feeds and Pet Foods?
U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Color Additives: FDA's Regulatory Process and Historical Perspectives
U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Animal & Veterinary: Resources for You: Pet Food Labels
About the Author
Amy M. Armstrong is a former community news journalist with more than 15 years of experience writing features and covering school districts. She has received more than 40 awards for excellence in journalism and photography. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Washington State University. Armstrong grew up on a dairy farm in western Washington and wrote agricultural news while in college.