What is Really in Your Dog's Food?


13 May 2022
The UK is known as a nation of animal lovers, certainly by the occupants themselves. The Brits pride themselves on being keen pet owners, with over 40 million domesticated animals living in homes across the nation


However, something quite strange happened in the last two years as regards dog ownership. From 2010 to 2020, the number of people owning dogs in the United Kingdom remained reasonably steady. There were 7.6 million dogs owned as pets in 2010, and this number grew, but steadily, to 9 million by the end of 2019. 

Then, according to Statista, the number of pet dogs in the UK shot up to 12.5 million in 2020, and then again to 13 million in 2021.

This is certainly due to the impact of the pandemic. Many people chose during the lockdowns to rescue dogs, or find a new puppy for companionship. Surprisingly perhaps, this trend has continued after all the major restrictions have been lifted. And it can only be hoped that all these dogs have found happy homes, and they have full tummies every day. 

When it comes to dog food though, it is something that owners, old and new alike, take for granted. Obviously, you want your dog to eat well and be healthy, but do you have any idea what is in the food you give them? 

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Surely all dog food is healthy and approved?

You would think that there would be some kind of regulation built around what could or couldn’t be included in dog and other pet food, wouldn’t you? 

Well, you’d be right, but only if you live in specific regions of the world. In the States, the FDA has no interest in giving pre-market approval to pet food. It states that as poultry, meat, fish, and grains are already approved, then the pet food must be OK too.

In Australia, there is a similarly lax attitude from the government and there is no legislation surrounding the ingredients of pet food. However, the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia has its own Code of Practice.

Fortunately, in the UK things are somewhat different. According to the Pet Food Manufacturers Association, there are more than 50 pieces of legislation just for the production of pet food. The government also has in place other regulations for the use of animal by-products used in pet food. 

So, all the ingredients in commercial dog food must be good then?

Sadly, this isn’t necessarily the case. One of the areas you should be investigating is unspecified meat being listed. If the meat included in the ingredients isn’t actually named, then you should rightly be suspicious.

Some dog foods can contain ingredients used to add bulk. These are often shown in the form of refined grains which contain little value either nutritionally, or fibre-wise. In this instance, grain free dog food is a far better choice than one that contains refined grains.

So, is grain-free dog food better for your pet?

When looking at what your dog is eating, you will often see the ingredient; grains listed. Sometimes you will see dog food advertised as grain-free. This can be confusing because surely grains are a healthy thing? 

Humans are told that grains are a healthy part of a diet. Barley and oats can provide amino acids, and fibre, to a balanced diet. However, in dog food, the picture isn’t so clear.

Some manufacturers such as Scratch Pet Food are advocating that grain-free pet food is better than most that contain grains, but only in some circumstances.

The reason that grains in dog food are often bad, is that they are usually refined. Whole grains on the other hand can be good for your pet, and dogs require fibre just as humans do. They can also help to regulate weight by making the dog feel full quicker.

Grain-free dog food can be better than one containing refined grains, but only if the replacement ingredients are of good quality. Replacing them with filler won’t improve anything.

There are plenty of other ingredients that your dog may be consuming unwittingly when you dish up their dinner.

What else could be lurking in your dog’s dinner?

Nitrates and nitrites could be harming your dog’s health in the long run if consumed too much. You probably know that sausages, bacon, and processed meats aren’t good for you. One of the reasons is because they contain sodium nitrate which helps to preserve them. This can cause cancer, and your dog’s food may contain this unwanted ingredient.

Other surprising ingredients in dog food can be these: 

  • Soya

  • Corn syrup

  • Melamine

  • Artificial colouring

  • Rendered fat

  • Flour

  • Wheat

  • Maize

  • Milk

  • Poor quality proteins

  • MSG

  • Carrageenan

  • Propylene glycol

  • Butylated hydroxyanisole

 You can be forgiven for not knowing what some of the latter ingredients even are. What you may want to know is the last one is classed as a carcinogen for humans, so why anyone would want their dog to consume it is anyone’s guess.

Can you just feed your dog whatever you want from home?

There is a current trend among some dog owners to make their food at home. You can then control what goes in, but how do you know if it is balanced? Are you feeding your dog the right balance?

It isn’t easy to tell, and you could be missing out on vital nutrients, or you might not be providing the right amount of fatty acids or protein needed for a healthy dog. 

If you are keen on providing your own dog food then consult with a vet who has nutrition experience so they can help you to draw up a plan. Whole foods are a good way to make sure your dog avoids anything processed and gets good quality carbs and protein. 

What about a vegetarian dog food diet?

Not forgetting that there are many vegetarian and vegan dog owners who would rather not use meat-based pet food. This is a subject that often stirs up debate among dog owners.

Can you feed your dog vegetables, and can they live on a purely plant-based diet, are common questions today. Firstly, as long as you know which human foods have to be avoided, then vegetables are a great addition to a dog’s diet. 

Many vegetables will provide a dog with extra antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, and fiber. elements that won’t be found in your typical supermarket-bought dog food. 

Nevertheless, there is a word of warning here. Dogs need different diets at their various stages of life, and a purely plant-based diet may not meet the requirements. Once again, the best course of action would be to consult a vet before embarking on a radical dietary change. 


Beware of non-transparency on dog food ingredient lists. Manufacturers like to skim over much of the filler and mystery meat ingredients on their packaging.

Some suppliers are much more open, especially the ones who are providing whole ingredients, lean proteins, and either whole grains, or better grain-free options. These are the ones to opt for.

Another consideration is freshness. Look for smaller companies that deal with higher turnovers. Dried food can last for up to 18 months if unopened. That means your lovely dog could be eating food that is not only packed with filler but has been sitting around for over a year.