Top 7 Ingredients to Avoid in Your Dog’s Food

By Evelyn Gray | Updated March 29, 2019

You want to always feed your dog the best food available to keep them happy and healthy, but do you know which ingredients should be an immediate deal breaker when you look at the label? There are certain dog food ingredients that can cause problems for your dog like digestive upset, dull coat, flaky skin, and they have very few actual nutrients for your dog.

We're going to outline the top seven dog food ingredients to avoid, and we'll also give you very good reasons why you want to avoid them. This way, you'll be able to buy your dog's food with confidence because you know that every ingredient is adding value to your dog's diet.

The Top Seven Ingredients to Avoid in Your Dog's Food

Dog food ingredients to avoid feeding your dogAlthough there are potentially several more ingredients that can cause issues for your dog, we're going to highlight the top seven. We'll also give you very good reasons why you want to avoid these seven ingredients in your dog's food.

1. Animal Byproducts

First up on our list is a very common ingredient that manufacturers use to bulk up their dog food formula, and you'll typically see this as some form on animal byproduct. This doesn't necessarily sound bad in itself, and most dog parents wouldn't give it a second thought if they saw it listed on their dog food's label.

Meat or animal byproducts are the parts that have very little nutritional value for your dog, and the manufacturers add them to increase the bulk of the formula while not giving any nutrients. Byproducts can be anything from diseased or rotten meat, beaks, feathers, hooves, wool, and other waste products that come from the processing process.

As you can imagine, these things can be very hard on your dog's digestive system, and they don't contain any vitamins or nutrients to support your dog's growth. They can be very difficult for your dog to digest, and this can cause problems like constipation, appetite changes, vomiting, diarrhea, upset stomach, bloating, and gas.

If your dog eats the same food at every meal and gets the same reaction, you could find yourself with chronic digestive problems that could quickly turn into more expensive problems because your dog could get dehydrated, lose weight and more. Also, if you see just "meat" on the label, avoid it because it's most likely an unrecognizable mix of many different types.

2. Artificial Preservatives

Artificial preservatives are the things that make your dog's food last longer, and this can be weeks or even months longer than they're actually healthy. Additionally, some of these preservatives are not fit for human consumption, and you wouldn't want your dog to eat them either. They include:

  • BHA/BHT - Did you know that both BHA and BTH are strong links to various forms of cancer? They make your dog's food last longer, and they're also very hard for your dog to digest.
  • Ethoxyquin - Ethoxyquin is a preservative that can cause liver damage and liver issues for your dog in large amounts. While they don't get a lot in their food, repeated exposure could potentially cause issues.
  • Propylene Glycol - Your dog's system simply isn't equipped to handle and digest Propylene Glycol, and it can cause digestive upset with repeated exposure. It can also potentially cause nervous system damage, and it's a main ingredient in antifreeze.
  • Sodium Metabisulfite - Finally, Sodium Metabisulfite is capable of triggering allergic reactions in dogs, and they can be severe. It can also lead to circulation problems and nervous system damage.

3. Dyes and Additives

Many people don't think about this, but your dog isn't able to distinguish between the different colors or shapes of their food. Dog food manufacturers design their dog food to look more appealing to humans because they're the ones buying it for their dogs, and this can lead to a lot of unhealthy dyes and additives including:

  • Artificial Colors - Common artificial colors that give each type of dog food their unique look include things like caramel coloring, red 40, blue 2, yellow 5. They add no nutritional content to your dog's food, and they can trigger digestive upset in sensitive dogs.
  • Copper Sulfate - Although Copper Sulfate gets added with good intentions of supplementing the trace amounts in your dog's system to support healthy growth and development, it's not good. It can build up in your dog's liver and eventually lead to a toxic overdose.
  • Sweeteners - Sweeteners are unnecessary in your dog's food, and they can lead to obesity. You want to avoid things like xylitol, corn syrup, and sugar because your dog doesn't process them well, and we sure to double check treats.

4. Fillers

Many dog foods contain some form of filler ingredients that help to bulk up the dog food formula without adding any nutritional value. Depending on the filler ingredient, they can actually cause problems as your dog tries to digest them. They include:

  • Cereal byproducts
  • Citrus Pulp
  • Corn Bran
  • Corn Gluten
  • Corn Hulls
  • Modified Corn Starch
  • Oat Hulls
  • Peanut Hulls
  • Rice Bran
  • Rice Hulls
  • Soybean Hulls
  • Soybean Meal
  • Wheat Gluten
  • Wheat Mill Run

Many dogs have or develop a gluten intolerance and an intolerance to grains that can cause a variety of healthy problems like allergic reactions, digestive upset, vomiting, diarrhea and more. Avoiding these filler ingredients can help to reduce the chance that your dog have problems in general, and you want to look for a dog food that has healthy alternatives from fruits and vegetables.

5. Wheat and Corn

Did you know that the highest percentage of dog allergies come from wheat, corn, and gluten? When you consider this fact along with the fact that dogs don't have systems that are able to digest corn or wheat, you can see why you'd want to avoid these ingredients at all costs.

They offer no nutritional value for your dog, and this is like you eating junk food. It may add flavor to the food, but it doesn't do anything good to their system but add bulk into the formula. It's also important to note that high-quality dog food doesn't use these ingredients, and it's usually a good indicator of the quality of the food as a whole when you see corn or wheat filler.

Take a look at the first three ingredients on the dog food label because these three things are going to be the main ingredients in your dog's food. If you see corn or wheat in any form as one of the first three ingredients, you're most likely looking at a lower quality food that you want to avoid buying.

6. Plant Proteins

We're wired to think that food that contains a high level of plant proteins must be good for your dog because they're good for us, right? However, dogs are carnivores by their natures, and this means that their bodies are more adept to getting the nutrients they need from animal protein than plant protein.

Common examples of plant protein that may not do much for your dog but they're popular in many dog food brands include things like pea protein, beans, legumes, and potato protein. While these are healthier for your dog than corn or wheat would be, your dog can't digest them as easily as they can animal-based proteins.

Another important point to consider is that plant protein is generally less expensive than animal protein sources, and if your dog food is cutting corners here, where is could it be cutting corners when it comes to quality? A lot of the time, dog food manufacturers add plant protein as a way to bulk up the food's protein content without spending the money that they'd need to spend if they added more expensive meat-based protein.

7. Soy

The final product on our list of things that you want to avoid seeing on your dog food's label is soy and soy products. It's one of the most common food allergens for dogs along with wheat and corn, and soy is a very cheap source of protein that manufacturers routinely use to increase their food's protein content without spending a lot of additional money.

Soy can trigger an allergic reaction, but soy also contains phytoestrogens. These are chemicals that can directly mimic estrogen's effects on your dog, and this can lead to a variety of health problems and complications if your dog routinely eats soy products in their food.

You can notice things like increased itching, flaky skin, dull coat, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, a change in appetite, and even thyroid problems. These things may go away if you switch your dog to a diet that doesn't contain soy or soy products, and there are several brands of dog food that don't use it.

Bottom Line

Your dog's overall health and wellness have direct ties to the quality of the food they eat on a daily basis. We've shared seven dog food ingredients to avoid along with why you want to avoid them for your dog's health.

It's always a good idea to do your own research when you're not sure about something on your dog food label, and your veterinarian is an excellent resource who can tell you what should and shouldn't be in your dog's food.