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11 Ingredients To Avoid In Dog Food [& The Ones To Look For Instead]

As a long-time dog owner who’s tried almost every dog food brand out there, I’ve spent countless hours discussing the various options with vets and researching the market to find the best brands for my dog(s).

It turns out not all dog food is created equal. 

So today, I’m going to share some ingredients you should avoid in dog food and which brands are known to use them.

Then, conversely, I’ll discuss the ingredients you should look for instead and my recommended dog food brands that seem to have got it right. 

So without further ado, let’s look at those hidden nasties, shall we?

What Ingredients Should You Avoid In Dog Food?

When it comes to choosing the right dog food, there are a few ingredients you’ll want to steer clear of. 

Here are some of the top culprits:

Artificial Preservatives

These chemicals help extend the shelf life of dog food but can also cause health problems in dogs. 

Some common artificial preservatives include BHA, BHT, and ethoxyquin.

Artificial Colors and Flavors

While they might make the food more appealing to your dog, artificial colors and flavors can cause allergies and other health issues. 

Look for natural alternatives instead.

Fillers and Low-Quality Grains

Cheap fillers, like corn and wheat gluten, can lead to digestive problems and don’t offer much nutritional value.

 Instead, look for whole grains or grain-free options.

By-products and Rendered Meats

These ingredients come from the less desirable parts of animals (like beaks, feathers, and hooves) and can contain harmful bacteria.

Opt for high-quality, named meat sources, like chicken or beef.

Propylene Glycol

Propylene glycol is a synthetic compound used to maintain moisture in some dog foods, but it can cause health issues like skin irritation and gastrointestinal problems. 

Look for natural alternatives like vegetable glycerin instead.

Added Sugars

Some dog food brands add sugar or other sweeteners to make their products more appealing. 

However, added sugars can lead to obesity, dental issues, and diabetes in dogs. 

Your dog’s food should derive its sweetness from natural sources like fruits and vegetables.

Generic Animal Fats

Vague animal fat sources, like “animal fat” or “poultry fat,” can be lower in quality and more susceptible to spoilage.

Opt for named fat sources like chicken fat or salmon oil to ensure your dog is getting healthy fats.


Carrageenan is a thickening agent often found in wet dog food. 

While it’s derived from seaweed, it can cause inflammation and gastrointestinal problems in some dogs. 

Look for dog foods that use alternative, safer thickening agents like guar gum or xanthan gum.

Soy and Soybean Meal

Soy and soybean meal are often used as inexpensive protein sources and fillers in dog food. 

However, they can cause allergies and are less easily digestible than high-quality animal proteins. 

Additionally, soy can interfere with nutrient absorption in your dog’s digestive system.

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

MSG is a flavor enhancer sometimes found in dog food to make it more palatable. While it’s generally recognized as safe for human consumption, it can cause adverse reactions in dogs, such as headaches, nausea, and weakness. 

Opt for dog foods that rely on natural flavors and avoid those containing MSG.

Sodium Hexametaphosphate

This chemical compound is sometimes added to dog food as a dental tartar reducer. 

However, it can cause skin irritations, digestive issues, and has been linked to kidney damage in dogs. 

Instead, look for dog foods that promote dental health through natural ingredients like enzymes and consider using other methods like dental chews or regular brushing to keep your dog’s teeth clean.

What Dog Food Brands Include These Ingredients?

Unfortunately, many popular and readily-available dog food brands contain some (or several) of the ingredients you’ll want to avoid. 

Let’s take a closer look at a few that spring to mind.

Kibble and Bits

Kibble and Bits is a widely available brand, but it’s not the best choice for your dog. 

This brand often uses artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, low-quality grains, and by-products.

Learn more: Is Kibble And Bits Good For Dogs? [Should You Feed This Food?]


Pedigree might be a household name, but it’s not always the best option for your dog. 

Some Pedigree formulas contain artificial preservatives, fillers, and by-products.

Learn more: Is Pedigree Good For Dogs? [Should You Feed This Food?]


IAMS is a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to ingredients. 

While some of their formulas use high-quality meats and whole grains, others contain artificial preservatives and by-products.

Learn more: Is IAMS Good For Dogs? [Should You Feed This Food?]

Blue Delights

Blue Delights, a sub-brand of Blue Buffalo, offers wet dog food options. 

While their ingredient list is generally better than some other brands, they have been known to use artificial preservatives in some of their products.

Learn more: Is Blue Delights Good For Dogs? [Should You Buy This Food?]

What Ingredients Are Best Included In Dog Food?

Now that we’ve talked about what to avoid, let’s focus on the good stuff! Here are some ingredients to look for when choosing dog food:

High-Quality Protein Sources

The best dog food will include named meat sources like chicken, beef, or fish. This ensures your dog gets a high-quality protein to support muscle growth and overall health.

Whole Grains or Grain-Free Options

Whole grains, like brown rice or barley, provide essential nutrients and fiber for your dog. 

If your dog has a grain allergy or sensitivity, look for grain-free options like sweet potatoes or peas.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and veggies provide essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to support your dog’s immune system and overall health.

Healthy Fats

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, found in ingredients like fish oil and flaxseed, are important for maintaining your dog’s coat and skin health.

Natural Preservatives

Instead of artificial preservatives, look for dog food that uses natural alternatives like vitamin E (tocopherols) and vitamin C (ascorbic acid) to keep the food fresh.


Some dog foods include probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that can help support your dog’s digestive and immune health.

Recommended Dog Food Brands Made From Optimal Ingredients

Let’s discuss some recommended brands that use high-quality, optimal ingredients to keep your pup healthy and happy.

Sundays for Dogs

Sundays for Dogs is a brand that focuses on using human-grade, natural ingredients in their recipes. 

Their air-dried dog food is made without artificial preservatives, fillers, or by-products.

Instead, they use wholesome, named protein sources like beef, chicken, and turkey, along with fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats. 

Not only this, but just beyond their high quality food, this brand have made ordering food a breeze.

You can order on subscription and get it delivered, just when you need it, right to your door.

Visit Sundays for Dogs to learn more.

Just Food For Dogs

Just Food For Dogs is another brand that takes pride in using human-grade ingredients in their recipes. 

They offer fresh, cooked meals for dogs made with high-quality proteins, whole grains or grain-free options, and a variety of fruits and vegetables.

 Veterinarians and pet nutritionists carefully formulate each meal to ensure it meets your dog’s specific dietary needs. 

Just Food For Dogs also offers customized meal plans and delivery options for your convenience, too.

I love the fact you can buy their food frozen, or fresh, depending on your needs, storage options and preferences.

Visit Just Food for Dogs to learn more.


When it comes to feeding your dog, choosing the right dog food is one of the biggest on-going decisions you’ll need to make. 

By avoiding ingredients like artificial preservatives, colors, and flavors, as well as fillers and by-products, you’ll be going a long way to meeting your dogs nutritional needs without exposing them to potential issues down the line.

Keep an eye out for brands that prioritize high-quality protein sources, whole grains or grain-free options, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, natural preservatives, and probiotics. 

Remember, always consult with your veterinarian when making changes to your dog’s diet and make sure to transition them slowly to avoid any digestive upset.

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