8 Ingredients to Avoid in Dog Food – The Ultimate Guide

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We research and review many different kinds of dog food.

We used the knowledge we gained from our research to make these recommendations.

Ingredients to avoid in dog food:

  • BHA / BHT
  • Animal By-Products
  • Meat Meal
  • Non-Descript Fats / Oils
  • MSG
  • Artificial Colors / Food Dyes
  • Corn Syrup
  • Excessive Salt


The World Health Organization (WHO) lists BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) as a possible carcinogen. This means there is a risk it may cause cancer. While the FDA lists it as safe, California state disagrees.

Studies have shown that BHA and BHT can also cause liver enlargement and affect cell development. This is even more important for dogs as they tend to eat the same food every day.

Some experts claim that BHA and BHT are also linked to behavioral issues, though no studies have backed this up.

Canned food does not generally have BHA or BHT. The canning process eliminates the need for these preservatives.

Animal By-Products

Animal by-products are high in protein, but sometimes very low quality.

They are a mixture of all the leftovers from an animal carcass after the meat has been stripped off. This includes lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, bone, blood, and other fatty tissue.

By-Products labeled “animal” may come from various animals. In general, any non-descript label like this is generally the sign of a bad ingredient.

Meat Meal

Meat Meal is another nondescript ingredient. If it contained a high-quality source of meat, they would be sure to specifically list it.

Meat meal can be high in protein. Though, the mysterious source of it is usually an indicator of a low-quality ingredient.

Other bad variations include animal meal or meat and bone meal.

Non-Descript Fats / Oils

Non-descript fats and oils are derived from diseased or dying animals. The source can often be rancid. The term is a sneaky way of labeling these ingredients to make them sound better.

Avoid anything labeled animal fat, rendered fat, or poultry fat.

The same rule applies to oils. Choose a descript source such as salmon oil, rather than a non-descript source like fish oil.


Studies have show Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) can be toxic to the liver, brain, thymus, and kidneys.

This tasteless ingredient tricks your dog’s brain into thinking food tastes better. A great cover-up for bad fad!

Watch out for it’s other names: Various kinds of protein isolate or textured protein, yeast extract, soy extracts, soy concentrate and more.

Artificial Colors / Food Dyes

Artificial colors and food dyes have been linked to a range of ailments including aggressive behavior, insomnia, asthema, ADHA, cancel, brain tumors and kidney tumors.

They often go by names such as yellow 5, red 40, blue 2, or yellow 6.

Manufacturers add these colors to make the food look appealing to the humans who buy the food. They serve no other purpose so should be avoided where possible.

Corn Syrup

Corn syrup and other artificial sweeteners can lead to obesity and dental problems in dogs. It adds no nutritional value to dog food and exists purely to improve the taste.

If the underlying dog food was good, corn syrup wouldn’t be needed to make it palatable.

Watch out for other variants including fructose and sugar.

Excessive Salt

Dogs need some salt, but too much salt is bad and can even be fatal. It can cause dogs to drink too much water and impact their kidneys.

A 33-pound dog shouldn’t consume more than 100mg of salt. Many dog foods do have salt added to help preserve it and make it taste better. Don’t avoid all dog foods with salt, unless your dog has a specific problem.

Be sure to avoid excessive added salt in your dog’s diet.

What’s Next?

Always check the ingredients in your dog’s food. Some big brands use inferior ingredients.

If you want to learn more about healthier options, without any bad ingredients, check out our Dog Food Guides.

Photo of author
Dr. Corey, a veterinarian and owner of five dogs, fell in love with the subject of Animal Nutrition during his vet school days. He firmly believes that educating owners about dog nutrition is one of the most impactful aspects of his job.

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