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What Dog Food Ingredients Should I Avoid?

A small white dog lays next to a pile of various foods

Here you can find a comprehensive list of common ingredients found in dog foods that may not be great for your pet.

Why Should Some Dog Food Ingredients Be Avoided?

If there are things your dog shouldn’t eat, why would they be included in dog food? Most often, fillers are the culprit! Dog food companies need to meet a certain protein requirement and will add fillers to meet it. This may sound okay, but in reality, this protein filler does not add anything to the nutritional value. Filler can also be added for texture or density to make the food seem healthier to the consumer.

These ingredients can be just plain unhealthy. Current research is bringing to light that many of these unhealthy ingredients can trigger allergies in your dog.

What Dog Food Ingredients Should You Avoid?


BHA, or Butylated Hydroxyanisole, is a chemical preservative found in many dog foods and treats. It is used to preserve fats and oils.

BHA has been listed by the CDC as a known carcinogen that has negative effects on the liver and kidneys of animals. It is actually banned in some countries but is currently allowed in small quantities by the United States. Unfortunately, if your dog’s food has just a small amount, but they are being fed this food every day, BHA can pose a real threat to your dog’s health.

White Flour

White flour is usually used as binding and filler in dog food. It is a bleached flour that contains little to no nutritional value.

Although it may seem like a harmless filler, white flour is proven to cause spikes in blood sugar that have a steep drop off. This means they will make your dog feel full, but not for a sustained period. This can lead to weight issues in dogs. Obesity is one of the biggest health problems our pets face today. These weight issues have lasting effects on our dogs, including diabetes.

Unspecified Meat or “Meat Meal”

With an “unspecified” meat in your dog’s food, what it is can be a mystery. These meat meals are usually low quality, leftover meats with minimal regulation or quality control. These can include expired or diseased meat, fatty tissue, waste from restaurants like grease and fats, and even dead animals from shelters and feedlots.

These products are in most dog foods, but if possible, try to avoid them. At least pick a food where the specific type of meat meal is listed. Since there is little regulation on these meat products, they must be heavily processed to be deemed “safe” for your dog to consume. All around they do not add a safe viable source of protein.

Artificial Colors and Flavorings

Artificial coloring and flavors are added to dog foods to create a more appealing look or smell to pet parents. They are usually listed specifically, and the most commonly found dyes in dog foods are Blue 2, Red 40, and Yellow 5 and 6.

These artificial ingredients are unnecessary. They are chemicals added to food to make them more visually appealing. They have also been linked to hyperactivity, hypersensitivity, and allergic reactions to foods.


MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is not usually listed on pet food ingredients lists. It is more often found as hydrolyzed protein, protein isolate, texturized protein, natural flavors, autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed yeast, yeast extracts, soy extracts or concentrate, sodium caseinate, calcium caseinate, monopotassium glutamate, glutamate or glutamic acid, or disodium inosinate or guanylate. These ingredients are used to add flavor to dog food.

The ingredients found in dog food should not be so low in quality that artificial flavor needs to be added. MSG is added to food because the low-quality ingredients would not be appealing to your dog’s palate.

Corn Syrup

Corn syrup is a concentrated sweetener that is derived from corn. It is cheap to make and is often added to processed human and dog foods to add flavor without costing too much money.

Corn syrup, like white flour, causes your dog’s blood sugar to spike. These spikes are not good for your dog’s health and can cause long term health problems like obesity and diabetes.

Farmed Salmon

Farmed salmon refers to salmon that is grown inland in artificial habitats. These fish are not from the ocean, have never seen or been in the ocean, and are grown specifically to be harvested for food. If they are found in your dog’s food they will be simply listed as salmon, salmon meal, or salmon oil. If the salmon in your dog’s food is wild-caught, it will be listed as so.

Farm-raised salmon is not nearly as nutritious as wild-caught. It can be deceiving when listed as a healthy ingredient in your dog’s food. Farmed salmon has higher levels of mercury, pollutants, and cancer-causing toxins.


Xylitol is a low-calorie sweetener that is deceivingly listed as a healthy alternative to sugar. It is a newer alternative, and its novelty means less research has been done on its risks.

More recent research has shown that xylitol can be toxic for dogs. It causes severe spikes in blood sugar that can lead to obesity and diabetes. However, more severe side effects have shown xylitol’s toxicity can cause hyperglycemia in dogs, as wells as seizures, liver failure, and death.


Nitrates, more specifically sodium nitrite, is a common preservative found in dog foods. It is used to preserve meat products.

These preservatives, although currently deemed safe to be used in dog foods, have been linked to a blood disorder called methemoglobin as well as cancer.


STPP, or sodium tripolyphosphate, is a common ingredient in laundry detergent that softens the water. In dog food, it is used as yet another preservative.

Since it is a chemical that does not contain any nutritional value, it is best to avoid it in your dog’s food. This ingredient is harmful to your pet's health.

Rendered Fat

Like meat meal, rendered fat is a non-specific ingredient which means it can be made from a number of questionable sources. It can include fat from diseased animals that can come from zoos, shelters, roadkill, and euthanized animals.

These rendered fats are often rancid and can be high in toxins. These toxins are terrible for your dog and can be highly concentrated in the fat content of your dog’s food.

Propylene Glycol

Propylene glycol is a common ingredient found in wet or semi-moist foods. It is also a common ingredient found in today’s antifreeze.

Antifreeze is a red flag product for pet owners. It is well known to be highly toxic to dogs. Propylene glycol has been deemed safe by the FDA in small quantities, but why leave it to chance?

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Vegetable Oil

Vegetable oil is usually made from corn and soybean oils. These contain high levels of omega-6 fatty acids.

Most dog foods already contain an excess of essential fatty acids so this additive is not good for them. Excessive amounts of omega 6 fatty acids can cause unhealthy inflammation in your dog's joints.


In dog foods, by-products are often made from animals. This term is a blanket for ambiguous ingredients used to meet nutritional requirements in dog food.

These ingredients aren’t always bad. There is enough regulation that only contains edible parts of the animal. However, since the term is vague, it allows for little quality control. This means that the by-product may provide little to no nutrition.

The dog food selection available to us can sometimes be overwhelming. There are trends in dog diets just like there are with people. It is easy to find contradicting information about what your dog should be eating. You can find a dog food with limited ingredients, omitting things like wheat and grains. You can find single protein foods or mixed protein foods.

You can find foods advertising organic, non-GMO ingredients. You can even find raw foods prepared for your dog. With all these options available it can be difficult to narrow down good food for your dog. With this list of ingredients, you should avoid, it may be easier to narrow down good food for your dog.

Meet The Author 

Nicole DeVault author of 3 Homemade fruit treats for dogs

Nicole DeVault

Canine Specialist & Trainer

Nicole is a professional dog trainer who has been in the business for about 5 years. She has two dogs of her own. Milli is a ten-year-old Beagle with plenty of sass to go around, and Axel is her three-year-old Pit bull who has more energy than anyone knows what to do with. Both of her dogs are rescues who came to her with their own set of issues. Working with troubled dogs is where her passion for dog training started. She has grown to learn that teaching people how to communicate with their fur babies allows them to enjoy happy and stress-free lives together.

Working through a multitude of different dog problems has allowed Nicole to become very knowledgeable of the best products out there: collars, leashes, toys, treats, beds, crates, and even hiking, camping, and boating gear for pups with a more “extreme” lifestyle. Nicole is always learning and growing, so she can find what is best for her dogs and yours!

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