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Understanding Dog Food Ingredients: A glossary of terms

Understanding Dog Food ingredients A glossary

You are what you eat, and the same goes for your furry buddy. Diet is the most crucial factor in your dog’s health and wellbeing. Feeding your dog the right quantities of different food components will protect them from many health issues. But understanding the ingredients list on dog food could be challenging. If you had a hard time figuring out the backside of dog food packaging, worry not. We are here to help you understand dog food ingredients. 

Here is a glossary of popular terms used to describe dog food ingredients. 

Zooming in on dog nutrition 

Perhaps you are in a hurry and would like to compare different brands at a glance. You can quickly scan a pet food ingredients list and check out the major and minor components. 

Major components take up the chunk (by weight) of the particular dog food. They often comprise well-known plant or animal products and would be few. Terms meat, chicken, meat or chicken by-product meal, and whole-grain appear here.

Minor components make up a smaller proportion of the dog food. They often supply minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients required in small quantities. 

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Commercial dog food also contains other non-food ingredients. Compounds like stabilisers, emulsifiers, preservatives, colour, and flavour appear last on the ingredients list. They make the food more palatable and give it longer shelf life.

Major components in dog food ingredients

Meat and animal digest 

Many brands of dog food contain meat. It refers to animal muscle tissue and is the same as what you would get at the butchery for human consumption. 

Meat for dog food is usually deboned and ground into a paste-like product. Some manufacturers provide the details of the source animal. For example, they could mention lamb, cattle, or pork. 

Sometimes manufacturers use organs or unconventional source animals (like venison or poultry) to prepare meat-meal. In such cases, the manufacturer must give details of the source.

Animal digest, on the other hand, means the dog food derived from pre-digested animal tissue. The process could be chemical or enzymatic. 

Do you know your dog’s favourite meat? Find out and make it part of their diet. 

Meat and poultry by-products

These are the non-rendered, cleaned and edible parts of an animal carcass. They may include organs such as the liver or heart and other animal parts considered unfit for humans but excellent for dog food like the head and hooves. Meat and poultry by-products also include animal parts often considered unprofitable, like tripe and cartilage. 

Meat and poultry by-products could be ground, pre-digested or sold whole. For example, poultry by-products like the back of turkey are often sold whole as dog food

Fish meal

Fish meal refers to clean, finely-ground tissue of whole fish or fish parts. The oil could be extracted or left intact. 

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Manufacturers seldom mention the kind of fish used. However, if it is unconventional or contains by-products, the manufacturer will spell it out.

Meat, poultry, fish and animal by-products are essential to a dog’s diet. They supply protein, essential fatty acids, calcium, and some B group vitamins. In addition, parts such as feathers, hooves, and fish scales contain complex carbohydrates that help to regenerate the gut flora and normalize the digestive tract. However, contrary to popular belief, they do not have fibre. To close this gap, manufacturers include plant ingredients in dog food. 

Plant ingredients

Plant ingredients such as barley, wheat, malt, and soybeans also make up major components in dog food. Apart from being an excellent source of carbohydrates, they are a crucial source of fibre and some vitamins. Some of the names you could come across include:

Beet pulp — are dried molasses derived from sugar beets but do not contain sugar. They are often added to dog food to boost the fibre content. 

Brewer’s rice — consists of the dry residue of rice after processing beer or wort from malted grain. Brown rice is the leftover unpolished rice after extraction of the kernels. 

Soybeans or soybean meal — are a by-product of soybean oil production. The debate about whether soybeans are healthy or not is still out there. Proponents say it is an excellent source of protein. Opponents insist that some dogs, like people, cannot digest soybeans. Therefore, it causes bloating, gas and stomach upsets. 

Studies show that consuming dog food with soybeans does not result in adverse nutritional or health outcomes. But there is a caveat. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition and a more recent one in the Italian Journal of Animal science indicates that hydrolysis of soybeans should be complete. Otherwise, it could compromise the digestibility of the soybean and affect your dog’s health. Therefore, it is crucial to feed your dog on reputable, high-quality brands.

Wheat — is yet another grain that is full of controversies because it contains gluten. Few dogs get food allergies due to consuming wheat. Nevertheless, the dog may be intolerant, and it may cause diarrhoea. 

Minor components 

Dog food manufacturers often use inorganic compounds and synthetic components to supply vitamins and minerals. They are low in weight (often in micrograms) but crucial to your dog’s health. Most dog food brands contain minerals such as iron (ferric or ferrous), manganese, zinc, potassium, sodium, and others. Crucial vitamins include: 

  • Vitamin D – labeled as calciferol.
  • Vitamin A.
  • Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol acetate). 
  • Vitamins B1 (thiamine mononitrate), B2 ( riboflavin), B6 (pyridoxine hydrochloride) and B12.

Immediately after the minor ingredients, you may notice other chemical-sounding names like DL-Methionine, L-Lysine, L-Threonine and DL-Tryptophan. They are protein additives. Ascorbic acid, benzoic acid and calcium ascorbate are preservatives. Names like carrageenan, propylene glycol, sodium hexametaphosphate, agar-agar, and guar gum refer to thickeners, emulsifiers, sequestrants, flavours and seasonings. They have minimal nutritional and health effects.

Dog food ingredients, the bottom line

Do not follow baseless myths when choosing dog food. Your furry buddy deserves balanced and nutritious meals from when they’re newly adopted puppies to when they grow old. Although the above list is just a sample of popular dog food ingredients, it will help you chart a healthy path for your furry buddy. Bookmark this glossary. You will need it the next time you want to shop for dog food.

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