101 Dog Care Tips: #154 – How To Read Your Dog’s Food & Treat Ingredient List

Now, more than ever, people are concerned with what’s in their food. So, of course, pet owners are no exception. We want to give those that we love good, nutritious food.  But when you flip the dog food or treat bag over and that glaring block of text is staring back at you, how do you decipher it?

Best Bully Sticks wants to help make sense of your dog’s food or treat ingredient list. Here are a few easy steps to sort through the gibberish that might make up your dog’s food.

1. The First Ingredient says a lot. The first ingredient in your dog’s food or treats is the main ingredient and that one ingredient usually makes up about 80% of the total product. Ingredients are also determined by weight but include any water content that might be present. It’s important to note that without water weight, a “meat” ingredient might be listed lower in the list.

2. Byproduct & Meal versus Meat. First let’s start with some definitions:

Byproduct: The FDA (U.S. Food & Drug Administration) states, “Meat byproducts also can contain blood, bone, brains, stomachs, udders, and cleaned intestines, according to the Association of American Feed Control Officials. Byproducts don’t include hair, horns, teeth, and hooves, although an exception is allowed for amounts that occur unavoidably during processing.”

Meal: Again, the FDA states, “Meat meal also may contain animal parts that many people consider to be byproducts.  An ingredient listed as “chicken” or “beef” may include the heart, esophagus, tongue, and diaphragm.”

Meat meal is not meat per se, since most of the fat and water have been removed by rendering. “Meat meal” is “the rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of any added blood, hair, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents.” Thus, in addition to the processing, it could also contain parts of animals one would not think of as “meat.”

Meat: Once more, the FDA: “Meat is “defined as the “clean flesh of slaughtered mammals and is limited to…the striate muscle…with or without the accompanying and overlying fat and the portions of the skin, sinew, nerve and blood vessels which normally accompany the flesh.”

Just as we stated before, any simple “meat” ingredient, by natural design, will have water added in as well. For example, an ingredient listed as “Chicken” will be about 75% water. So, when you’re looking at a list and the first item is Chicken, then Corn, most likely, there is more Corn by weight if the water is taken out of the equation.

All of that being said, avoiding byproducts and meals are a personal choice. There are some by-products that are high in vitamins and minerals, like liver for example. Byproducts can be iffy and have resulted in a lot of controversy in the past few years. Meal might give you a better idea of just how much animal protein there is versus meat, but it’s still not 100% meat either. Veterinarians and other animal health experts don’t say byproducts and meal are inherently bad, but having that conversation with your vet is certainly a good step to understanding this subject better.

3. The Big Un-Pronounceable Words.  Once you start reading past the easily pronounceable words like, Chicken and Wheat, you might start seeing words like butylated hydroxyanisole and ethoxyquin.  These are preservatives, artificial colors or stabilizers in your dog’s food. Some of these are genuine vitamins while others are used just to keep your dog’s food fresh. The FDA recognizes these to be “generally recognized as safe” but maybe not for an every day diet. 

Susan Wynn, DVM and a nutritionist for Georgia Veterinary Specialists in the Atlanta says, “There is a debate about whether there is a need to avoid artificial ingredients like these, as conventional safety testing says they’re fine. I wouldn’t want them in my diet every day though, and I try to avoid them in my dog’s daily diet.”

High levels of some preservatives, such as ethoxyquin have been thought to cause cancer in dogs.  It’s important to remember that lots of artificial foods in a daily diet aren’t good for humans, so why would they be good for your dog? Some say a good rule to follow is that if you can’t pronounce the word, don’t feed it to your dog.

BBS knows this is a lot to think about, but you can count on our company for one thing: simplicity. We don’t have funny sounding words in any of our treats and chews. The vast majority of the time, we only have 1 ingredient. One, that’s all. So, if your conflicted, come to us, we’ll take all of the guess work out of the equation. 

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