There are so many odd ingredient names....what do they all mean? Which are good which aren't?

Take a look at the ingredient list in your dog food. Now, there are good dog foods out there, but there are also a lot of not so good ones. And by “not so good”, I mean scary….and not in a fun Halloween type scary way….more in a “oh no!....there is NO way I am putting that in my body much less in my dog’s body” kind of way.
First, here’s a little background information on different main ingredients:
  • Meat: Meat is the clean flesh of slaughtered animals (chicken, cattle, lamb, turkey, etc.). The flesh can include striated skeletal muscle, tongue, diaphragm, heart, esophagus, overlying fat and the skin, sinew, nerves and blood vessels normally found with that flesh.
  • Tocopherols: Tocopherols (e.g., vitamin E) are naturally occurring compounds used as natural preservatives.

Bad, Avoid, Questionable/unknown
  • Meat By-products: Meat by-products are clean parts of slaughtered animals, not including meat. These include lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, liver, blood, bone, and stomach and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth, or hooves.
  • Poultry By-products: Poultry by-products are clean parts of slaughtered poultry such as heads, feet, and internal organs (like heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, abdomen, and intestines). It does not contain feathers.
  • Fish Meal: Fish meal is the clean ground tissue of undecomposed whole fish or fish cuttings, with or without the oil extracted.
  • Beef Tallow: Beef tallow is fat derived from beef.
  • Ground Corn: Ground corn is the entire corn kernel ground or chopped.
  • Corn Gluten Meal: Corn gluten meal is the by-product after the manufacture of corn syrup or starch, and is the dried residue after the removal of the bran, germ, and starch.
  • Brewers Rice: Brewers rice is the small fragments of rice kernels that have been separated from larger kernels of milled rice.
  • Brown Rice: Brown rice is the unpolished rice left over after the kernels have been removed.
  • Soybean Meal: Soybean meal is a by-product of the production of soybean oil.
    BHA: BHA is butylated hydroxyanisole, a fat preservative.
  • Ethoxyquin: Ethoxyquin is a chemical preservative that is used to prevent spoilage in dog food.


And, from, here is a summary of what’s not so good for your animals:

What are ingredients to avoid?**
In addition to shunning food with "by-products" and "meals", there are many other food additives that should be avoided. Corn syrup, propylene glycol, and MSG are artificial flavors frequently used in pet food manufacturing to disguise inferior food quality and some of these additives give dampness and flexibility to semi-moist foods and treats. Many preservatives are known to be carcinogens in humans. When used in the production of pet food, they limit the growth of bacteria or inhibit oxidation of food. Examples of preservatives that should be avoided include BHA, BHT, sodium nitrite, and nitrate. Pets are smaller than humans and many of their foods have the same amount of preservatives as ours -- studies are inadequate to understand the consequences of chronic intake of these preservatives -- but they are best avoided. Artificial colorings are used in many pet products to entice owners into a purchase; however, they have no nutritional value and may be responsible for adverse or allergic reactions. Besides, your pet doesn’t care what food looks like -- just how it tastes.

What pet food ingredients sound healthful -- but aren't?**
I think everyone would agree that "chicken meal" sounds like something wholesome and tasty that could be served in any USA household. In my house a chicken meal would include juicy grilled chicken breast served on a bed of steamed spinach and maybe a little quinoa. But, don't be fooled, in the pet food industry, "chicken meal" takes us back to the rendering plant.    

Corn and rice. Although these foods are often thought of as staples of an American diet, they are considered "fillers" and are not healthful for your pet. Unfortunately, many pet food companies (even premium ones) use corn and rice as the main ingredients in their foods because they are a cheap way to fill up a bag and still meet basic nutritional requirements. This has led to industry-wide creation of pet foods which are high in carbohydrates, relatively low in meat protein and are a major factor in the pet obesity epidemic. Corn and rice contribute to obesity because they are carbohydrates with high glycemic index. This means they raise blood sugar levels rapidly and create hormonal signals that have negative long term effects on metabolism and weight gain. These corn and rice based diets are often responsible for chronic symptoms of maldigestion, such as gas, bloating, and diarrhea.


Here are some snapshots of leading (very common) brand’s ingredients that are quite scary:

Example #1:

Example #2:

But don’t worry, they aren’t all bad. Here’s a good one (take a look at the list of normal ingredients….no meals, BHA, digest, etc.):