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Dog Food 101

Updated on June 9, 2016

Choosing a Dog Food

When I adopted my first dog, Trinity Grace, in 2009 I knew I didn’t want to feed her the same dog food that my parents had fed their dogs. I chose a food based off of TV commercials stating that it was a quality food that would allow my dog to live a long and happy life. Unfortunately, after much research and study, I discovered that my choice was not a good one. But how do you know which dog food is the right one?

There are many different aspects to look at, like your personal budget, accessibility, and the company’s ethics. The most important, across the board, is the ingredients. The ingredients can make or break the type of food you chose. This article will touch on some of the most common ingredients to avoid.

My dog Trinity Grace

Let’s first start off with the difference in Meat (such as Deboned Chicken) vs Meat Meal.


  • Is muscle meat, like chicken breasts, that is added into the recipe raw.
  • Considered less concentrated because it is made up of 60-75% water.
  • Many companies will boost protein content by adding plant based proteins such as peas or potatoes. (This depends greatly on the company producing the food)
  • Benefit is that the meat going into the recipe is less processed and retains more of its nutritional value.

Meat Meal

  • There are no FDA human-grade facilities. What that means is that the quality of any meat meal, whether chicken, lamb, duck or any other variety can be from fresh healthy animals, or producers of other products like eggs that have grown old, weak or unable to produce.
  • Meat meal is freeze dried meat after it has been cooked, which means that its nutritional value has been greatly reduced.
  • A higher concentration of protein with only 10% water.

Generally speaking you want the first two ingredients in your food to be meat, such as De-boned Chicken and Chicken Meal. This insures that you are getting high quality meat, with the added benefit of most of the protein being from meat.



Though these three foods are still up for debate in the pet food industry, it’s best just to stay away from them all together.


  • 90% of Soybeans grown in the United States are GMO (genetically modified organisms).
    • Has been shown to interfere with thyroid function.
    • It contains what is called anti-nutrients, which reduces the body’s ability to digest proteins, cause issues with amino acid usage, red blood cells to clump irregularly, and iodine metabolism.
    • It has been linked to chronic gas in pets along with seizures in dogs.
    • Soy is high in protein, relatively inexpensive and adds bulk to pet foods.


  • Gluten (which is the protein in wheat) has been shown to cause inflammation in the body.
    • Like symptoms of arthritis and can cause actual arthritis.
    • Another producer of anti-nutrients this time causing problems with phosphorus, calcium and zinc absorption.
      • This particular anti-nutrient is said to be balanced out by additional minerals in the diet.

What do you think?

What are the first two ingredients in your dog food? (Pick the one that is closest)

See results


In this section I will touch bases on several products of corn and how they are used in the pet food industry.

General properties of Corn

  • Cheap
  • Not sweet corn but Dent Corn which is used to make cornstarch, high fructose corn syrup, corn cereal, corn oil, livestock feed, ethanol and pet food. This particular corn has less nutrients in it than other corn.
  • It has also been shown to cause leaky gut syndrome.
  • Some say that Organic Corn does not cause the same problems.

Corn Gluten Meal

  • False name as corn does not have gluten in it.
  • A by-product of corn (such as the processing of cornstarch etc.)
  • It is used as an organic herbicide (keeping unwanted plants from growing).

Corn Germ Meal

  • By-product of oil extraction (most of the nutritional value).
  • Highly variable in value

Other Ingredients

Brewers Rice

  • The left over shells and/or fragments of the hulls after milling white or brown rice.
  • Labeled as filler with little to no nutrients left.

Rice Hulls

  • Hard protecting coverings of rice before being milled.
  • Used in building materials, fertilizer, insulation and fuel.
  • Used as a filler in pet food.

By-product Meal

  • Labeled as: “clean non-rendered ‘parts’, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals” such as lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, blood, bone, fatty tissue, stomachs, intestines, feet, beaks and feathers. Though organs are a great supplement in any animals diet, these items are not regulated and can come from less than healthy sources.
  • Cheap way to increase protein


  • This helps to create the “meat” flavor in some foods.
  • Leftover meat from industries like poultry and fishing.
  • Usually unpalatable.

Quick Relief

Did You Know?


  • Is a grain similar to wheat but without the gluten or the side-effects.
  • Used in the making of couscous and is becoming popular in the pet food industry.

Lactic Acid

  • Is used to help prevent salmonella.

Chicken Fat

  • Generally is a by-product of cooking and processing chicken.
  • High in omega-6 fatty acids.
  • Main component of chicken soup, it is also commonly used for flavoring and an additive.
  • Does not contain protein and generally does not cause an allergic reaction.

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Most Important

One of the most important ingredients to stay away from is artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. Research has found that all of these can lead to hyperactive disorders, chronic illness, and cancer.

There is a great amount of information in a short little section here, and though I am not a veterinarian, I have seen both of my dogs; multiple ferrets and pet rats make outstanding improvements from diet changes. May this article help you to choose the best food for your furry critter.


  • The Encyclopedia of Natural Pet Care Revised Edition by CJ Puotinen
  • Four Paws Five Directions: A Guide to Chinese Medicine for Cats and Dogs by Cheryl Schwartz, DVM


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