what's in dog food

A smart consumer does their homework whether it is for themselves, their kids, or for their pet’s well-being. When we look at packaged foods, we see a long list of ingredients, and it’s only right for us to question what they all are. What’s in dog food can actually affect the overall health of your pet and maybe even how long she’ll live, so it’s important to do some research on the subject.

So, What’s in Dog Food?

There are some basic things to keep in mind when it comes to food labels and ingredients lists. Whether it’s for human consumption or for animals, the ingredients list is always displayed in decreasing amounts. Therefore, the biggest contributor to the dry dog food will be at the top of the list, with the least being at the end of the list.

what's in dog food

The major ingredients are the first few. These are generally foods that most people should know. As you read down the list, there will be some words that you may have never heard of before. Some of these could be emulsifiers or preservatives, coloring agents, and so on. It is these minor ingredients that can make it very complicated to understand exactly what is in dog food.

Dog Food Manufacturers

The dog food manufacturer must comply with the ingredient definition.

The raw products included in any food will be cooked to a certain temperature and for a certain amount of time in order to destroy harmful bacteria.


When “meat” is listed as a major ingredient in dog food, it will include any of the clean flesh acquired from a mammal, or the muscle tissue of the animal.

Basically, it is almost what you would see in a butcher shop meant for human consumption.

Although, it could include various other cuts of meat that aren’t as appealing, but it never includes bone.

In some cases but not all, the dog food manufacturer will also identify from which species the meat is derived. For instance, while some may list the ingredient as “meat” on the label, others would say it is derived from “pork” or “beef.”

what's in dry dog food

If the general term meat is listed on the label, then it can only be that from cattle, pigs, goats, or sheep.

Should it come from any other animal, that particular species must be declared. The same is true if it comes from fish or poultry.

Meat By-Products

Meat by-products are also typical ingredients found in dog food. They are the clean parts of a mammal, meaning there are no teeth or hooves or hair in them. Instead, this term is used to describe parts of the slaughtered mammals that include kidneys, the liver, stomachs, the intestines, and so on. Simply put, it is internal organs and bones.

Read also: 33 Human Foods Dogs Can Eat Safely


Poultry listed on any dog food ingredient list means that it includes a combination of flesh and skin, with or without the bone. It does not include the feathers, the heads, the feet, or the entrails.

Sometimes, it may be declared as de-boned poultry, if it has been mechanically separated.

Poultry By-Products

Poultry by-products are another typical product found in dog food ingredients lists. Again, as in meat, it would have to be the clean parts of the slaughtered poultry that are free from fecal content. In other words, it could include the giblets, the heads, feet, and internal organs.

Meat Meal

Meat meal is a product that is rendered from mammal tissues. It is an ingredient that’s high in protein that also appeals to dogs. It can come from any mammal without it being declared.

Meat and Bone Meal

Meat and bone meal comes from mammal tissues, which also includes bones, and is similar to meat meal.

Animal By-Product Meal

Animal by-product meal is a product that is rendered from mammal tissues and can include whole carcasses.

Poultry By-Product Meal

Poultry by-product meal is from the clean parts of the slaughtered poultry, which is ground and can include the neck, feet, intestines, and such.

Read also: What Is the Best Puppy Food to Feed My Puppy

Poultry Meal

Poultry meal is another rendered product found in dog food. It comes from the flesh and skin and may include the bone. It is derived from possibly whole carcasses of poultry, without of course, any feathers, heads, feet, and entrails. Simply put, it is much like poultry, except that most of its fat and water have been removed to form a concentrated ingredient.

Other Ingredients

Other ingredients are added to produce a particular flavor that is more appealing to dogs, such as vegetable or animal fats or oils. Additionally, there are plant ingredients that are meant to provide more energy to the pet, while at the same time, keep the dry kibbles together. These could include corn, potatoes, peas, or barley.

what's in dog food

In addition to these, dietary fiber is added, from various sources including dried chicory root and beet pulp.

Minerals found in canned and dry dog food are inorganic compounds. These are often synthesized ingredients to provide pets with vitamins and minerals they need.

Preservatives In Dog Foods

As with any packaged food for human consumption, there are preservatives in dog foods. They are chemical preservatives, and any such ingredient must be listed on the label.

Here are a few examples of preservatives to know what’s in dog food:

  • Ascorbic acid
  • Butylated hydroxyl anisol (BHA)
  • Calcium ascorbate
  • Citric acid
  • Potassium sorbate
  • Sodium bisulfite

In addition to these, there are other ingredients to flavor, emulsify, thicken, or season foods. For example, Carrageenan, propylene glycol, sodium hexametaphosphate for tartar reduction, and guar gum.

Various spices are also used, as are extracts, for flavoring dog food, like ginger, fennel, rosemary, chamomile, and a number of extracts of commonly known plants.