Dog Food Ingredients Explained

Not all dog foods are made equal. While all dog food sold must meet certain minimum requirements, there are plenty of differences between them. Having a basic understanding of what goes into dog food will help you decide what's best for your pet.


Understanding the Label

If the food is identified as "chicken dog food," by law it must be made up of at least 95 percent chicken. This applies to all meats. However, since water is added during processing, canned dog food actually contains no more than about 70 percent meat by the time it's done. If the dog food is labeled as "chicken dinner" it only has to have 25 percent chicken, while "dog food with chicken" may contain as little as 3 percent chicken. The ingredients are listed on the back of the label in the order of relative quantity. The first item is the main ingredient, and there's less and less of each subsequent item.

Meat Quality

Read the label to not only figure out the quantity of meat but the quality as well. This is especially important with dry dog foods, since it's harder to tell its ingredients by appearance. If it simply says the kind of meat, such as chicken, or "chicken meal," the food contains the same parts of the chicken that humans might eat. If it specifies "chicken by-products" or just "meat by-products," it could be any part of the animal, including beaks, lungs, feet and skin. The nutritional value of meat by-products is usually pretty low.


The use of fillers is very common in dog food, especially dry food. To some extent, grains or other ingredients are needed to allow the production of dry dog food. All too often, however, grains or other non-meat products are just a cheap way of making more dog food for less money. Common fillers are corn, rice, wheat or beet pulp. While dogs are omnivores and can benefit from some plant matter, when non-meats show up first on the list of ingredients, or when they appear more than once, it's usually because they're being added as filler.

Other Ingredients

Dog food may contain a host of additives that are included for different reasons. Vitamins and minerals are frequently added to boost the food's nutritional value, and many dog foods contain some type of preservative as well, which is usually identified as such. Both dry and canned foods may have vegetables added, and it's common to find peas, carrots and potatoes in the list of ingredients, especially in the various canned stews. Premium dog foods may even add strawberries, bananas or other fruits. All of these are good for dogs and can benefit your pet when fed along with meat.

By Cindy Quarters

About the Author
A recipient of a business and technology degree from the master's program at West Coast University, Cindy Quarters has been writing professionally since 1984. Past experience as a veterinary technician and plenty of time gardening round out her interests. Quarters has had work featured in Radiance Magazine and the AKC Gazette.