What to Know About Dog Food Ingredients

Pet food companies represent the largest single outlet for human food by-products. Many of these ingredients can consist of less expensive, inconsistent, and less nutritious fractions or waste. While AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) provides guidance to the individual states that regulate dog food manufacturing, this does not mean that these foods contain the optimal ingredients for all dogs.

The foods we carry meet our rigorous standards for quality.

"Until I found this site, I was feeding my dogs a popular brand name weight control food. When I finally read about all the gross things found in grocery store dog food, I was disgusted and couldn't believe my dogs were actually eating that. I decided to purchase the large bag of LiveSmart after sampling it for free. My dogs LOVE it and I like the fact that I know what they're eating and that it's healthy."

- Aiden & Bailey's Owner

What's in Your Dog's Food?

The following is a list of some of the most common ingredients found on dog food labels. When possible, the definitions listed are according to AAFCO1. The specific brands listed as examples contain that particular ingredient within their top ten ingredients2.


Protein Sources:

Rule of Thumb - Good dog food will have a high quality protein source. Keep in mind that senior dog foods will have less protein than maintenance dog foods, in order to make it easier for senior dogs to digest. For this reason, the main protein source may not be the #1 ingredient in senior dog food.



Rule of Thumb - While your dog’s food should not contain a high percentage of carbohydrates, they do provide your dog with energy and fiber not necessarily obtained from protein. Because they tend to be cheaper than proteins, it is important to find food with high quality carbohydrates.

  • Whole Wheat Flour

Fats & Oils:

Rule of Thumb - Fats supply energy, contribute to palatability, influence the texture of foods, and carry fat-soluble vitamins. The type and quantity of fats in the diet are extremely important since they can influence virtually all parts of your dog's life, from his health to his ability to exercise.



Rule of Thumb - Since most dog food contains high level of fat and fat-soluble ingredients, preservatives are critical to prevent oxidation in order to maintain quality, nutritional value and palatability. The key is to find all natural preservatives rather than chemical preservatives that may cause health problems.


Things to Keep in Mind When Reading the Dog Food Label

    Things to keep in mind when reading your dog food label3:
  • Avoid foods that rely on by-products as the sole source of animal protein.
  • Look for a named meat or meal (“lamb" or “chicken meal" versus the generic “meat" as the first ingredient.
  • Dog food shouldn’t smell bad (and yes, there is a difference between smelling like dog food and smelling bad!).
  • If storing pet food in a plastic container, make sure it is made out of FDA-grade plastic.
  • While purchase price shouldn’t be a 100% determinant of which food you buy, remember that if the price seems low, the quality of the ingredients probably is too.
  • Watch out for an abundance of grains in the ingredient list. This usually indicates a higher percentage of fillers.
  • Ingredients must be listed in decreasing order of weight. No single ingredient can be emphasized. However, companies can separate the different forms of a single ingredient so they can be split up and appear further down the list (known as splitting). For example, a dog food may have kibbled wheat, wheat flour, and wheat bran listed in different areas, but if you were to look at wheat content as a whole, it would probably be very high.4
  • Many allergies like itchy skin or yeast infections in ears can be controlled with food management.
  • Figuring out what your dog can eat may take some research, but it may make your dog more comfortable in the end.
  • Don't assume that just because a dog food is made by a large company, that the food contains high quality ingredients.

1. Association of American Feed Control Officials, Inc. Official Publication, 2005.
2. Based on ingredient lists as of January 2005. All brands and trademarks are the property of their respective owners. Not all foods containing each ingredient are listed.
3. “Selecting a Commercial Pet Food .Animal Protection Institute, 8/4/04
4. Muns, M. “Practical Canine Nutrition. *indicates ingredient is not currently defined by AAFCO.

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