What ingredients should pet owners avoid?

Whether we’re talking about dogs and cats, or puppies and kittens, your best bet to help your pet thrive is a high-protein, meat-based died (through kibble, soft food or raw food). But with SO many options on the market today for pet food, treats, chews, and more, what should you be on the lookout for on the label? Is it even possible to avoid some ingredients?


You want the best pet food for your furry friend, but that's not easy when the marketing and money-factors get in the way of what's actually healthy for your pet. You can't trust the brands themselves, as pet food companies use tricks to make their food appear better than it actually is. The package and the commercials can be misleading, but the ingredient list offers a more truthful look at what's actually in your dog's food.

So what's bad?

Since there are no true regulators in the pet food space, it’s up to you to stay informed about what your pet should and shouldn’t eat.  Here’s a list of the top 10 ingredients you should avoid on the label when choosing treats and food:


These chemical preservatives are used to preserve fats in human and pet foods. Banned in some countries, BHA and BHT are approved for food use in small quantities in Canada, the US, and Europe. Studies have been inconclusive so far, but BHA and BHT have been linked to hyperactivity, and even cancer. Avoid these potentially harmful additives whenever you can.

White Flour

White flour is a simple carbohydrate with most, if not all, of its nutrition stripped away. The problem with white flour is that it causes a spike and drop in blood sugar, causing your pet to be hungry again soon after consuming it. Overconsumption of white flour can lead to weight gain, obesity, and diabetes.


Meat is healthy for your pet. Meal - not so much.

Meat should comprise most of your dog's diet. However, if you see “meal”, “meat meal” or “meat and bone meal”, you know that your pet is getting the worst source of meat they could have in a processed food. Meal is another one of those non-descript food items that will keep cropping up in this list of bad dog food ingredients.

When manufacturers include “anything goes”, non-descript terms, such as “meal", it is always a guess at what's in them. These ingredients are always the leftovers, and the only guarantee is that there is no guarantee on any standard of quality. The ingredients can be diseased, from dead animals, from expired meat sections in grocery stores (complete with plastic packaging), or even include tumours – you name it.

Once this concoction is compiled, it is heated extensively to remove any pathogens and harmful levels of bad bacteria that might be there. This process also removes most nutrients that might be left in these questionable ingredients. The result is a difficult to digest, nutritionally-void filler that boosts the protein percentage on your dog food bag, but adds little usable protein for your pet.


Another non-descript “protein” source. By-product actually includes very little protein at all, but instead acts simply as a cheap filler. Animal by-products are all the remnants of the animal carcass after all the meat and bones have been removed (probably to be used in the meat and bone meal above). What does that mean exactly? Feathers, hooves, hair, hide, beaks, and you name it: whole lot of what ends up on your grass for you to clean up later.

Corn Syrup

We all know that corn syrup is bad for our health. But did you know this cheap, sweeter-than-sugar sweetener can be food in pet food and treats, too? Corn syrup, much like refined sugar, causes spikes in blood sugar and contributes to weight gain, obesity, and diabetes. It's also addictive, and the more your dog eats, the more he'll develop a taste for all things sugary sweet.


Few ingredients are as controversial as soy in both human and pet foods. But, while soy may have some benefits for you, there are few things it does for pets. The truth is, grain and vegetable-based protein sources are just not as usable to pets as their meat protein counterparts. The reduced bioavailability of plant-based proteins, or the ability of your dog's body to process and use the proteins and nutrients, makes these proteins less usable for energy and body processes from immune response to muscle maintenance to metabolism.

While soy is one of those few plant protein sources that actually contain all necessary amino acids, it is often difficult for pets to digest, causing bloat and gas. A cheap ingredient, it is plentiful in many low-quality pet foods as a protein percentage booster. A common allergen, soy is best to avoid altogether if you have pets.


Nitrites and nitrates, commonly found in prepared meats such as sausages, bacon, ham, hot dogs, and deli meats, are a preservative used to extend the shelf life of meat products. Prepared meats are high-fat, high-salt items can be occasional treats for you (think: once a week or less), but are better to avoid feeding your pet. However, it's not just human foods you have to be concerned about.

Sodium nitrite is an approved preservative in pet foods, and can be toxic in high doses by causing a blood disorder called methaemoglobin. Its accumulation over time in the system has also been linked to cancer, especially when combined with added ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) and alpha-tocopherol (Vitamin E), which are common natural vitamin sources.

Brewers Rice

Brewers rice is a common carbohydrate source in low quality dog foods, but it's also an ingredient you should avoid. While it may sound like a whole grain, brewers rice most definitely is not. Brewers rice is not even whole white rice, it is fragments of rice that are left over after white rice has been processed. Brewers rice contains few nutrients, only really serving as a source of quick energy for your pet.


Yep. Corn.

Corn does get a bad reputation as a dog food ingredient. While corn itself is a whole grain, there are a number of things wrong with it as an ingredient in pet foods. Corn is notoriously hard to digest. Many pets have digestive sensitivities related to corn. Also, since it has a high protein concentration for a grain, it is often added to dog food to raise the protein percentages. However, this protein does not contain all necessary amino acids and is not nearly as bioavailable as any animal source, such as chicken or eggs. Lastly, corn is a subsidized, very cheap grain, so its inclusion is a marker that your pet food is looking to cut corners on nutrition for profit.

Natural Flavours

Food needs flavour to be appealing. However, flavour is one of those things that should just come naturally to foods. Be skeptical about the quality of ingredients when flavour needs to be added.

According to the FDA, artificial flavours are rare and usually take the form of bacon or smoke flavour. Flavour can be listed by itself or with something else (e.g. Bacon flavour). But just because a flavour is listed as “bacon flavour”, does not mean it is natural. Unless the ingredient is listed as natural, assume it is artificial. “Flavour” can also cover up those undesirable ingredients that manufacturers know you are looking out for, like MSG. You don’t know what you’re getting. Potential allergens such as dairy, soy, sesame, eggs, and nuts are also possible inclusions.