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Reading labels is important and the crucial point is to look for a clear ingredients list. All pet foods are expected to come with a list of the ingredients listed in order of their weight. Broad umbrella terms like ‘cereals’ and ‘meat and animal derivatives’ could refer to a wide range of ingredients of varying quality which makes it impossible to know what your dog is eating. Manufacturers use them either because the recipe regularly changes or, more likely, because naming the ingredients would put customers off. In general, if an ingredients list includes ambiguous terms like these, it is probably best to assume the worst and avoid the food. This is particularly important if your dog is prone to dietary intolerance as identifying and eliminating problem ingredients is not possible unless you know exactly what you are feeding. One tactic used by manufacturers to disguise less desirable ingredients is breaking an ingredient into several different smaller ingredients and listing them individually. For example, a product list could contain chicken, ground corn, corn gluten, ground wheat, corn bran, wheat flour, wheat middling, etc. If we were to group all of the corn ingredients as one, they would probably far out-weigh the amount of chicken, and wheat. An increasing trend is for dog food manufacturers to list the ‘total meat content’ rather than the percentage of the individual meat ingredients. This allows the amounts of all of the meat ingredients to be grouped together. For example, instead of: “Ingredients: Chicken meal (20%), chicken oil (5%), chicken digest (2%)… ”  you might now find: “Total chicken content: 27%. “

As a consumer, you must read all of the ingredients carefully including the ingredients at the end, to know  if the product contains preservatives and colourings. We have listed a few of the more common ingredients and their definitions.

ORGANIC MEAT: Meat is the clean flesh of slaughtered animals that have been raised according to the organic certifications, fed with an organic diet (no pesticides or herbicides), no GMO, no antibiotics or growth hormones, the animals get to range freely outdoors.

MEAT: Meat is the clean flesh of slaughtered animals (chicken, cattle, lamb, turkey, etc.). The flesh can include striated skeletal muscle, tongue, diaphragm, heart, oesophagus, overlying fat and the skin, sinew, nerves and blood vessels normally found with that flesh.This meat, though natural, can come from animals bred in intensive industrial farming, where they can be treated with growth hormones, antibiotics, industrially fed with corn or soya OGM.

MEAT BI-PRODUCTS: Meat bi-products are clean parts of slaughtered animals, excluding the meat. These include lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, liver, blood, bone, some fatty tissue, and stomach and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth, or hooves. Normally these parts are processed at high temperatures and reduced to a pâté with little nutritional value.

POULTRY BI-PRODUCTS: Poultry bi-products are clean parts of slaughtered poultry such as heads, feet, and internal organs (like heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and intestines). It does not contain feathers.

A Multitude Of Different Meats Qualities and Costs


Organic Meat

Single Protein

Organic Meat

Multiple Protein

or Derivatives

Natural Meat
Single Protein
With Beef
Rendered meat and
animal Derivative

Origins Rendered meat and
animal Derivative
Rendered Meat and
Animal Derivative with
less than 4 % Chicken
Natural Organic fed with Organic
diet No Pesticides, Herbicides
Organic fed with Organic
Diet No Pesticides, Herbicides
Hormones, Antibiotics
intensive/industrial breed
Possible GMO
Hormones, Antibiotics
intensive/industrial breed
No GMO No GMO, No Hormones,
No Antibiotice
range freerly outdoor
No GMO, No Hormones,
No Antibiotice
range freerly outdoor
+ Min. Beef


(according to www.allaboutdogfood.co.uk)


Dairy Products

Although milk contains several beneficial nutrients, it also contains a high proportion of the sugar lactose. As in humans, many dogs have real difficulties digesting lactose and as a result milk products can bring on stomach pains, flatulence, diarrhoea and even vomiting. This condition is known as lactose intolerance. If your dog has a sensitive stomach, Dairy products are generally best avoided.



Digest is formed from the breakdown of animal tissues and is used to improve the taste of dog foods. It is also usually unclear what products of what animals the digest is derived from. Where digest is present, we would recommend looking for both the animal and the part of the animal to be specified (e.g. ‘chicken liver digest’ instead of just ‘digest’). If you are unclear of whether or not your dog food contains digest, you should give the producer a call and put these questions to them.

Meat and animal derivatives

This entails all the fleshy parts of slaughtered warm-blooded land animals, and all products and derivatives of the processing of the carcass or parts of the carcass of warm-blooded land animals
(according to the European law). It must be said that this ingredient encompasses all meats, from the very best, to the very worst and its presence is not necessarily a bad thing but can contain very low-grade, poor nutritional animal product to keep the cost low. Also, because the species isn’t specified, manufacturers are able to change their meat source between batches depending on what is available at the time. If your dog is prone to food intolerance, it is certainly wise to steer away from meat and animal derivatives and all other non-specific ingredients.


Fish and fish derivatives

The EC defines ‘fish and fish derivatives’ as “Fish or parts of fish, fresh or preserved by appropriate treatment, and derivatives from the processing the reof”. Although broad terms like this attract a lot of
criticism, it must be said that this ingredient encompasses all fish products, from the very best, to the very worst and the term ‘fish and fish derivatives’ is used for some low-grade and high-grade fish derivatives depending on the laws in the country of production Also, because the species isn’t specified, manufacturers are able to change their fish source between batches depending on what is available at the time and costs.

If your dog is prone to dietary intolerance, it is certainly wise to steer away from this and all other non-specific ingredients as identifying and eliminating problem ingredients is impossible unless you know exactly what you are feeding.



The general terms ‘cereals’ and ‘grains’ can refer to any product of any cereal including wheat, rice, oats, barley, maize etc. Although broad terms like ‘cereals’ attract a lot of criticism, it must be said that the presence of this ingredient is not necessarily a bad thing as it encompasses all grains, from the very best, to the very worst and it is used for some low-grade and high-grade grain products depending on the laws in the country of production. But because the type of cereal isn’t specified, manufacturers are able to change their grain source between batches depending on what is available at the time and costs. If your dog is prone to dietary intolerance, it is certainly wise to steer away from this and all other non-specific ingredients as identifying and eliminating problem ingredients is impossible unless you know exactly what you are feeding.

Maize / Corn

Maize (or corn to us Brits) is widely used in dry dog foods as an alternative to grains like rice, oats and barley. Of all the grains used in dog food, maize is certainly amongst the most controversial, with vocal critics and supporters in equal measure. It has to be said though that many of the most ardent supporters of maize are from within the pet food industry. They correctly argue that maize is a good quality, nutritious carbohydrate source with a comparable nutritional profile to grains like oats and barley. Critics of maize, on the other hand, claim that it is harder for dogs to digest and is the refore much more likely to lead to food intolerance or allergies. Many canine nutritionists and some vets now recommend avoiding maize based diets altogether.

Maize gluten

Maize gluten (sometimes called maize gluten meal, corn gluten or prairie meal) is a by-product of maize processing and can be used to top-up the protein levels of dog foods, usually as an alternative to more expensive meat-proteins. Unfortunately, maize gluten protein is not as easy for dogs to deal with as protein from meat sources and as a result it can lead to health issues like skin problems and hyperactivity. For this reason, we would recommend steering clear of maize gluten, especially with sensitive dogs.


Wheat is a common staple in many lower-grade dry dog foods as it is inexpensive and is ideal for forming biscuits and kibbles. It is, however, regularly linked with dietary intolerance in dogs which makes it a highly controversial ingredient. In wheat intolerant dogs (also called celiac), the gluten protein contained in the grain damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing parts of food that are important for staying healthy. Wheat intolerance can therefore lead to wide-ranging health problems most commonly affec?ng the skin coat and digestive system.

Wheat feed

Although finding a strict definition is quite difficult, wheat feed appears to be the general term used for wheat that does not meet the standards necessary for human consumption. It is therefore only suitable for animal feed – usually for farm animals like horses, cows and pigs. Since wheat is widely regarded as a problematic ingredient for dogs and since this is the dregs of the wheat industry, wheat feed is certainly well worth avoiding.


Derivatives of vegetable origin

Defined as “derivatives resulting from the treatment of vegetable products, in particular cereals, vegetables, legumes and oil seed”, it refers to an extremely wide range of ingredients, from some of the best to some of the worst. Although it has not been proven to be a bad ingredient, it could and there’s no way of knowing. Its vagueness also allows the manufacturer to change formula from one batch to another depending on what vegetable products are available at the time or for cost issues. Because it is impossible to know what ‘derivatives of vegetable origin’ refers to, it is usually best to assume the worst and treat it with caution especially with sensitive dogs.

Pea protein

Pea protein is a by-product of pea processing and is used as a protein source in some dog foods. Although it is far less expensive, we don’t think pea protein should be used as an alternative to meat in dog foods since the quality and digestibility of vegetable proteins tend to fall a long way short of those found in meats.

Potato protein

Potato protein is a by-product of potato processing and is used as a protein source in some dog foods. Although it is far less expensive, we don’t think potato protein should be used as an alternative to meat in dog foods since the quality and digestibility of vegetable proteins tend to fall a long way short of those found in meats.

Vegetable protein extracts

Vegetable protein extract (or isolate) is another term that doesn’t shed any real light on what is in the food. It neither gives indication of which vegetables are used, nor does it say how the protein is extracted, although the most common methods involve chemical reactions that are far from what most people would regard as ‘natural’. For dogs, vegetable proteins are nutritionally inferior to those found in meat. Common sources of vegetable protein include soya, maize and wheat which have all been linked to dietary intolerance and, in our opinion, should be avoided with sensitive dogs.



Soya beans (soya, soybean protein, soya meal) are high in protein and are often added to foods as a low-cost meat substitute. Unfortunately, the proteins in soya are much less bio-available to dogs than normal meat proteins meaning that far less can be digested and used. Soya has also been consistently linked by veterinarians to food intolerance and allergies and is therefore best avoided if your dog is very sensitive.


Copper sulphate

Copper sulphate (all forms including pentahydrate) is a controversial ingredient in dog food. It widely used as a copper supplement in pet foods and is AAFCO approved but in the EU, pure copper sulphate is classified as ‘harmful’ and ‘dangerous to the environment’ as well as being an ‘irritant’. Dogs need copper but they cannot make it themselves so it must be taken in through the diet. Although all dog foods naturally contain a certain amount of copper from the raw ingredients, additional copper is routinely added as part of the multi-mineral supplement found in almost all dog foods. The levels of copper
sulphate used in dog foods are far below those generally regarded as dangerous and should therefore not cause any problems. Chelated copper (often listed as copper amino acid complex or copper proteinate) is widely regarded as the safest and most absorbable copper supplement.

Sodium selenate & sodium selenite

Selenium is essential for our dogs’ health. Its deficiency can be extremely damaging so complete foods must contain at least some selenium. It can come as a natural part of the ingredients (for example, sunflower seeds, many whole grains and most meats contain some selenium) but much more commonly, it is added as a supplement. High concentrations of it on the other hand is classified by the EU as toxic and can cause severe lung, kidney and liver damage and can even be deadly. Please note that sodium selenateand sodium selenite are both mineral supplements and can therefore be listed under the general term ‘minerals’ or may not be listed at all. If in doubt, contact your manufacturer for clarification.


Artificial colourings

The side effects of artificial colouring in food products include behavioural issues and several recent scientific trials have shown a clear link between food additives and ADD (attention deficit disorder) and
hyperactivity in children, it affects both humans and dogs alike. Common artificial colourings found in dog foods include sunset yellow, tartrazine, ponceau 4r, patent blue V and titanium dioxide, although they may also be listed by their E numbers or simply as ‘colourings’. It is also worth mentioning that most studies indicate that dogs are largely colour blind so the only role of the colourings is to appeal to the owner and not to the dog.

Artificial preservatives and antioxidants preservative are ingredient added to slow down food spoilage but there are wide ranging concerns over their effects on health. Ethoxyquin(E324), for example, has been linked to the development of allergic reactions, skin disease, behaviour problems and far worse conditions. Likewise, the antioxidants BHA (E320), BHT (E321) and Propyl Gallate(E310) have long been suspected of contributing to cancer. Needless to say, while there is an uncertainty over their side effects, these ingredients are certainly best avoided. If a food contains artificial preservatives or antioxidants it must be stated somewhere on the label. They may also not appear on the ingredients list at all but be found at the end of the typical analysis. If you want to be completely sure, look for foods that clearly state ‘no artificial preservatives or colouring.


Carrageenan is an extract of seaweed that has been used as a food additive for hundreds of years. It is widely used in the pet food industry, especially in wet foods, as a gelling, thickening, and stabilising agent. Despite its widespread use and long heritage, carrageenan is cited by many as one of the most potentially problematic additives out there. A whole host of studies have linked food grade carrageenan (also known as un-degraded carrageenan or just CGN) to gastrointestinal inflammation as well as higher rates of intestinal lesions, ulcerations, and even malignant tumours. While food grade carrageenan is still permitted as a food additive for both animal and human consumption, the pros of carrageenan could never outweigh the potential cons so we recommend giving it a wide berth.

EC permitted additives

The EU has listed over 4000 artificial additives which may be added to foods and ‘EU permitted additives’ covers them all. Although many are harmless or even beneficial, it also includes chemical flavourings and colourings (many of which have been linked to behavioural problems and other health concerns) and artificial preservatives like BHA and BHT which have been identified as possible causes of cancer. For many nutritionists, ‘EU permitted additives’ is the number one ingredient to avoid.

Phosphoric Acid

Phosphoric acid (E338) is a clear, colourless liquid that is added to foods primarily as acidifier but is also used effectively as a flavouring, emulsifier and to prevent discolouration. Studies have linked
phosphoric acid to reduced bone density in humans making it a fairly controversial ingredient for both people and dogs. Although more work is necessary to confirm the link, we would recommend playing it safe in the meantime and steering clear of foods with high levels of phosphoric acid.

Propylene glycol

Propylene glycol is a synthetic compound that absorbs water and can therefore be used to keep semi-moist dog foods and treats semi-moist. It also has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties making it
suitable as a preservative. Although propylene glycol has been approved as safe for both humans and dogs (but not cats due to its links to the feline condition Heinz body anaemia), it remains a source of controversy. This is partly due to regular links to asthma and allergic reactions.

Sodium hexametaphosphate

Sodium hexametaphosphate (also known as sodium HMP or E452i) is added to some dog foods because of its effect of softening and reducing tooth tartar. Although it is relatively effective at this, sodium HMP is classified as an irritant if eaten and has been criticised by natural feeding advocates.

Sodium Tripolyphosphate (STPP)

Sodium Tripolyphosphate (also called STPP or E451) is added to dog foods as a preservative and to help moist foods to retain moisture so that they appear fresher for longer. Although STPP is generally recognised as safe, it has been listed by the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health as a possible neurotoxin and is widely recognised as a mild skin irritant. We therefore recommend steering clear of foods containing STPP, especially if your dog is prone to skin problems.



Cellulose is the scientific term for dietary fibre. It can come from the cell walls of all plants and is almost entirely indigestible to dogs which is good as its undigested form provides a wide range of benefits. Despite the benefits cellulose can have, it can be a controversial ingredient. As mentioned above, cellulose is present in all plant cells and is abundant in many vegetables, fruits and grains. Pure cellulose, on the other hand, is a white, odourless powder most often made from paper or wood pulp! (It really is). As fibre supplements go, cellulose powder is not the best and some nutritionists recommend avoiding it altogether.

Oils and Fats

In nutritional terms, oils and fats are two words for the same thing. The broad term ‘oils and fats’ encompass all oils and fats from any plant or animal source. Like all animals, dogs need a certain amount of fat from their diet to survive. Fat is found naturally in many types of foods but because dogs find fats so irresistible, extra is often added to dog foods but be careful as too much fat can lead to the same kind of problems as in humans. Umbrella terms like ‘oils and fats’ can make choosing the right food for your dog difficult as it gives very little indication of what is actually in the food (could be low grade, potentially harmful or highly processed oils). Because it is impossible to know what oils or fats are included, we generally recommend assuming the worst and avoiding foods with this ingredient.


Salt, or sodium chloride as it is often listed, is commonly added to pet foods as a flavour enhancer. While salt is a necessary mineral, it is generally present in sufficient quantities in the raw ingredients of pet foods. However, since dogs, like humans, enjoy the taste of salt, extra is regularly added to dog foods to make them more appealing. Unfortunately, excessive salt has the same health implications for dogs as for us and should be avoided. This is particularly important if your dog has a history of heart problems or high blood pressure.

Special ingredients

Legally, UK dog food producers are obliged to state roughly what is in their products. However, if divulging some of the ingredients is likely to result in a competitive disadvantage – for example, if it gives away a company’s ‘secret formula’, this obligation can be waived. The problem for dog owners is that terms like ‘special ingredients’ could refer to literally anything, which makes choosing the right food very difficult, allways assume the worst and look elsewhere.


Sugars are added to dog foods because dogs, like humans, like them. They can be listed in a number of ways (sugar, caramel, syrup, sucrose etc.) and can come from a wide range of sources (corn/maize, wheat, sugar cane, sugar beet etc.). Unfortunately, too much sugar can have the same effects in dogs as it does in people. High sugar diets have been linked to hyperactivity, hypoglycaemia, obesity and tooth decay amongst other conditions and should therefore be avoided.