Dog Food Ingredients

Dog food ingredient comparison

Dog Food Ingredients

The ingredients that make up the dog food you feed are of utmost importance. When examining ingredients it is important to distinguish where the bulk of the calories are coming from. Much like human ingredient labels, dog food labels are required to list ingredients from most to least. Meaning if Chicken is listed as the first ingredient, than the food will contain more chicken than anything else. There are three main sources of energy in dog food, protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Lets take a look at each and determine which is best.


Protein is the mainstay for all canines. You may remember from the previous "Trinity" tab that the ancestor of the dog is of course the wolf and that wolves are not omnivores. They are primarily carnivores and only eat vegetable matter that is stuck to the linings of their preys internal digestion system after shaking out most of the contents. You could make the case that they are "accidental" omnivores but otherwise, protein is their mainstay. Unfortunately, today's dog foods are becoming increasingly made with carbohydrates supplied by plant matter. We suspect this is the case simply to cut costs and remain competitive in the market place. This is also why when you see a good high quality kibble, such as the Orijen brand costs can sore into the $80-$90 range per 30 lbs bags. But as in other facets of life, you truly get what you pay for. Viewing the image on the left, you can see the difference. The first 15 ingredients in the Orijen food are from quality protein sources. Dog food B in the image, which is a science diet formula, has several questionable filler ingredients. We feel the garbage in > garbage out rule applies here. This is also why dogs on higher protein diets have considerably less waste that those on foods with fillers. In summary, look for a dog food that has quality non-plant protein listed as at least the first 5 ingredients.


Fat, like protein, is considered a high value energy source. Fat content in kibble comes from the meat as it is rendered, much like the fat on a steak when you cook it. Fat provides twice the calorie density than protein or carbs per gram. Fat is good in moderation, but should not be a key ingredient in dog food.


Carbs are derived from plant matter such as potatoes, corn, beet pulp, etc and are much cheaper per calorie than protein and fat. They have the same amount of energy that protein has per gram but the quality of protein is considerably less. It is a common misnomer that dogs need carbohydrates to live, they in fact can do fine without them just as their distant cousins the wolf do. That being said, carbohydrates are not bad for dogs either. We don't discount dog foods with carbohydrates, but it should NOT consist of the main ingredients in your dog food. Carbohydrates are considered cheap filler, and dogs on high carb diets will product considerably more waste.

Putting it together

So what does it all mean? Ultimately you want to have a diet in which the following applies

  1. Protein consists of the majority of the calorie energy in your food
  2. Carbohydrates are the minority of caloric energy in your dog food.
  3. Fat is added in moderation.

To calculate the percentage of carbohydrate calorie energy your dog food has, use the following calculation:

%protein + %Fat + %moisture + %fiber + %ash - 100

The number you end up with is the amount percentage wise of your kibble that is carbohydrate based. Here is a quick example:

Protein: 24%

In this particular dog food, 52% of the caloric energy comes from carbohydrates.

Other Factors

What is the difference between meat and meat meal

Many people confuse meal with by-product, however meat meal is simply dehydrated meat that is much more protein dense than fresh. Lets take a piece of chicken for example. It contains protein yes, but also quite a bit of water. By removing the water you get a smaller piece of concentrated meat protein that weighs considerably less than the whole fresh piece of chicken. Therefore, 100 grams of fresh chicken has considerably less protein and calories than 100 grams of chicken meal.

What is by-product

Meat by-product is exactly what you would think it is. This is the left over bits of meat not fit for consumption. It is low quality meat and should be avoided. DYHAS does not recommend any food that contains by-product.

I feed a fish based kibble, should I be concerned?

Yes and No. We do not feed fish based kibbles alone, for the simple fact that mercury levels in fish have skyrocketed in the past few decades. I do include it occasionally and will feed it for a few months before going back to a beef or chicken based kibble. However, the bigger concern is a chemical called Ethoxyquin which is used as a preservative in fish based dog foods. This chemical is also used in pesticides and is downright dangerous. How the dog food industry gets away with using it is a mystery but they do. If you feed a fish based kibble, do your research and make sure it is Ethoxyquin free. Most reputable dog food companies will detail this fact somewhere on the bag.

What are all these other ingredients?

As you read the label ingredients you will see quite a few other ingredients usually towards the end of the list. These usually comprise of additional carbs, preservatives, vitamins, nuts, fruits, etc. These are usually added to balance out the nutritional value of the dog food and comprise very little of the actual content of the kibble.


Preservatives are used to keep the protein and fat contents of the kibble from becoming rancid and maximizing shelf life. There are two types of preservatives predominantly used in the dog food industry, natural and chemical. In general, tocopherol as a preservative is safe as it is made from antioxidants.

Stay away from these chemical preservatives
  • Propylene glycol
  • Ethoxyquin
  • BHA
  • BHT
  • BHQ
  • Propyl gallate