Pet Parents Beware: 8 Red Flag Dog Food Ingredients To Avoid


I must admit when I first brought my Chihuahua home two years ago, I fed him the dog food I grew up watching my parents use. I didn’t really think much about the ingredients because I just assumed it was good quality food. After all, the brand I was using has a pretty good reputation and my family dogs have always lived long, healthy lives. One day when I was watching television, though, I saw a dog food commercial. They were pointing out sketchy ingredients like by-product and corn meal. It got me wondering what I was really feeding my dog. One look down the ingredient label and OH MY! My dog’s food had those ingredients listed. In search of new food, I started digging into other harmful dog food ingredients.

Today, I’m happy to say that I’m much more informed and encourage everyone to thoroughly look at your dog’s food ingredients. Since nutrition is extremely important, here are eight red flags you want to avoid:

1) BHA

Butylated-hydroxyanisole (BHA) is a toxic preservative that’s used to extend the shelf life of many dog foods and treats. It works by preventing fats and oils from spoiling. The problem is The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Toxicology Program have both linked BHA to cancer. The preservative consistently produces tumors in laboratory animals. While The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) permits BHA in dog foods, and there is some controversy surrounding the ingredient, ask yourself: Why would someone even want to gamble with their dog’s health? When in doubt, leave it out of your pup’s diet.

2) Meat By-Product

If you think meat by-product is harmless for your precious pooch, then you may want to think again. Meat by-products contain undesirable ingredients ground up into a mixture. This mixture can include everything from animal eyes, hooves, feet, beaks, feathers, and hair. Get this — if the feed is taken from an animal with tumors, your pup may even be eating those tumors. GROSS! 

The exception: If the by-products are derived from human-grade organ meats, like livers and kidneys, then doctors do consider it safe for your pet. 

3) Ethoxyquin

Ethoxyquin is a food preservative and pesticide that has been banned from use in human foods because it’s believed to cause cancer. However, it’s commonly used in dog foods to preserve the fish meal found in many formulas. Here’s another scary fact about ethoxyquin – manufacturers aren’t required to include this ingredient on their label. Why? Well, if the ingredient is added to the pet food prior to it arriving at the manufacturing facility then the manufacturer is not legally required to list it. 

What To Do: When looking into dog foods that contain fish, look for written assurance on the label or manufacturer’s website stating it doesn’t contain ethoxyquin. If you cannot find this assurance, assume it contains ethoxyquin. You can also call the manufacturer and ask!

4) Corn

Corn is considered to be a cheap filler that doesn’t have any nutritional value and over time can even develop mold/ fungus. Additionally, corn is a known allergen.

5) Corn Syrup

Corn syrup is an added sugar used to sweeten many dog foods. It’s completely unnecessary and can actually be addictive for your furry friend. In terms of health, consuming too much corn syrup can lead to weight gain, diabetes, tooth decay, hyperactivity, and even mental behavioral problems. 

6) Soy

Soy is a poor quality filler that’s often used to boost the protein content in low-quality pet foods. The problem is, soy is estrogenic and has been known to harm a dog’s endocrine system.

7) Propylene Glycol

When people first hear the name Propylene Glycol, many connect it to antifreeze. That’s because both ethylene glycol and propylene glycol can be used as an antifreeze. The synthetic liquid substance is added to some dog foods and treats to help reduce moisture and prevent bacterial growth. Let me start by saying the FDA has banned Propylene Glycol in cat treats because it can cause Heinz body anemia in felines, a serious blood disease that harms the red blood cells. Unlike with cats, though, the FDA says that Propylene Glycol is Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAD) for canines. While labeled okay for dogs, propylene glycol is still considered toxic to dogs at certain levels. Here’s the main issue that some veterinarians point out—if you’re feeding your pooch products that contain the ingredient day in and day out, they’re constantly being exposed to the controversial preservative. Again, when in doubt, it’s better to leave it out.

8) Artificial Colors, Flavors (etc)

Anything with the word “artificial” in front of it should be avoided like the plague. Both artificial colors and flavors have been linked to cancer, mental behavioral problems, and more. 


*Note: This list is just the tip of the iceberg. There are a wide variety of harmful ingredients used in commercial dog foods. While many of the “healthier” dog foods are more expensive, remember this: Paying a little more in dog food will save you a lot in vet bills!


Check Your Treats Too

The ingredients I mentioned above aren’t only in your dog’s food. They can also be found in many of the popular treats that line the shelves of your local pet store. Check out this eye-opening video from Planet Paws:

Make Your Own

I personally make my dog’s treats at home and they love them! Not only are they all natural and chemical-free, but they’re also delicious! Plus, did I mention how easy a lot of treats are to make? To help get you started, I’ve put together a free dog treat recipe e-book. This e-book includes five recipes. Just sign up for my newsletter (form below) and I’ll send over your free copy. There’s no catch here! I just want to help you feed your dogs the healthiest (and most delicious) treats that you possibly can. I hope your pooches enjoy these treats as much as mine do!


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3 Responses

  1. Kim
    • Proud Dog Mom
  2. JoAnn