Feeding your dog the right food is amongst the most important things you can do for the health of your dog. You’ll already know that there’s a myriad of different food types on the market, with different price tags to match. Because of this, it can be incredibly difficult to know what’s best to buy.

In the UK, pet food manufacturers produce products in line with the FEDIAF (European Pet Food Industry Federation) Nutrition Guidelines and the NRC Guidelines (National Research Council). These guidelines detail the nutritional requirements of dogs at varying life stages and they are regularly reviewed by independent nutrition experts throughout Europe and the United States.

There’s also strict legislation governing what ingredients can be used in the manufacture of pet food. This legislation is laid down by Europe and also applies to imported, commercially-prepared pet foods.

So far so good, however there are also ingredients that are technically allowed to be in dog food, but that you might want to avoid. Read on to discover what these are, and what healthier alternatives you can opt for, instead.

What Ingredients Should Be Avoided in Dog Food?

1.  BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole)

BHA is a chemical additive used as a preservative in fats and oils and is licensed for use in human consumption despite the fact that it has been proven to cause cancer in rats. It isn’t a necessary ingredient so it’s best to avoid it if you’re able. It’s routinely found in pet food so it’s important to check the label whenever you buy your dog’s food.

Healthy alternative: rosemary extract. Research states that the antioxidant effectiveness of natural extracts is higher than synthetic antioxidants.

If you want to avoid chemical preservatives altogether, consider buying canned dog food.  The canning process does not require the addition of artificial preservatives in the same way that other dog foods often do.

2. Meat Meal

Meat meal is the mass-produced dry ingredient that most cheap dog food is made from. It’s produced from the animal byproducts of human-grade meat and is safe for dogs to eat. The process involves heating the products at very high temperatures to render it down and then is dehydrated to create a powder.

The major issue with this ingredient is that the primary source of meat is not apparent as it can be made from any animal. Nor is it considered to be the most nutritious way in which your dog can get its daily protein intake. 

Healthy alternative: dog food that is made from fresh, single-sourced protein like chicken, wild boar or sustainably-sourced fish.

3. Artificial Colours

Pet food manufacturers are clever marketeers and know how, as pet owners, we want the best for our dogs. By making dog food look more appetising to us as humans, they know we will think it is more nutritious.and delicious.

Of course, our dogs don't give a jot what their food looks like – it's all in the nose for them. Artificial colourings aren’t healthy, having been found to cause hyperactivity in human children, for instance.

Healthy alternative: if you can’t ditch the aesthetic – but trust us, your dog really doesn’t care when it comes to what its food looks like – then you might find some advanced pet food companies using natural colouring like beetroot or turmeric.

4. Gluten

Mainly found in wheat, many dog foods use grain as a filler because it's cheap. Gluten is increasingly seen as an ingredient which can cause allergies in dogs including skin problems and ear infections. It is also hard for dogs to digest, and can therefore create sensitive stomachs and loose stools as a result.

Healthy alternative: pulses and easy-to-digest carbohydrates like sweet potato are a better ingredient than grains and will have your pup bounding around in no time.

5. Sugar

Sugar in all sorts of forms – including caramel, syrup, sucrose, etc. – show up in dog food because like humans, dogs like the taste. Also as with humans, however, it’s not great for them, and can cause obesity, hyperactivity and tooth decay.

Healthy alternative: if your dog has a sweet tooth consider looking for foods that include carrots and sweet potatoes – a much healthier option.

6. MSG (Monosodium Glutamate)

Commonly used in human foods to enhance flavour, MSG is sometimes used in dog food for the same effect. Some dogs are allergic to the chemical, however, and may suffer seizures as a consequence. Dogs also cannot tolerate the amount a human could and, you probably know from your own experience, that MSG can make you extremely thirsty and can cause dehydration. So it’s best to stay clear of it wherever possible.

Healthy alternative: if you are feeding your dog a high-quality, singular protein source dog food, then there’s no need for any flavour enhancers as it should be palatable enough for your pup already. If you have a fussy eater, consider trying a few different flavours to see which they prefer.

7. Salt

Dogs do need salt in their diet but it should be less than 1% of their daily intake in a balanced diet. There should be enough present in the raw ingredients without the need for adding any extra. Unfortunately, just like us humans, dogs like the taste and so some dog food manufacturers may add it, therefore keep an eye on the ingredients for salt or sodium chloride. It can also be present in dog treats, too.

Healthy alternative: there isn't a substitute for salt, but if a dog's food is nutritious and tasty, then they won't know the difference.

What is the Healthiest Food for Dogs?

To keep a dog healthy, their diet needs to contain: water, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins in the right quantities. The number 1 ingredient in dog food should be protein but they also need grains, or other carbohydrates and vegetables too. If dog food is labelled as complete and balanced, then you can be sure it includes everything your dog requires – at least, it should do, otherwise there’s a case for false advertising.

In Conclusion

When looking for a good, dry dog food, concentrate on which have the fewest ingredients and a single source protein with no added flavourings or colourings and you shouldn’t go far wrong.