Dog Food Ingredients Glossary

Two dogs eating out of bowls at the back of a car.

Your dog's everyday diet and nutrition is possibly the most important factor in their health. The Association of Animal Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is the regulatory body that also sets the definitions for ingredients in animal feed. This is a sampling of ingredients that appear frequently in dog foods or may be confusing—for example, all the different ways the word “meat” can occur—but understanding these will help you in your search for the best possible food for your dog.

Animal digest (from beef, chicken or lamb)—material resulting from chemical and/or enzymatic hydrolysis of clean and undecomposed animal tissue, excluding hair, horns, hooves, feathers and teeth.

Animal fat—obtained from the tissues of mammals and/or poultry in the commercial processes of rendering or extracting. It is higher quality when identified as being from one source like lamb, beef or poultry.

Barley—consisting of eighty percent sound barley and must not contain more than three percent heat-damaged kernels, six percent foreign material, twenty percent other grains.

Beef (meat)—the clean flesh derived from slaughtered cattle and limited to that part of the striate muscle which is skeletal or from the tongue, diaphragm, heart or esophagus, with or without the accompanying fat and the portions of skin, sinew, nerve and blood vessels which normally accompany the flesh.

Beet pulp (“dried, plain” or “dried molasses”)—the dried residue from sugar beets. It is used as a source of fiber and, despite misinformation, contains no sugar and does not swell in a dog’s stomach and cause bloat.

Brewer’s rice—the dried extracted residue of rice resulting from the manufacture of beer or wort (the liquid portion of malted grain); what is left over after it has been used in a distillery for brewing alcoholic beverages.

Brown rice—the unpolished rice left over after the kernels have been removed.

Chicken—the clean combination of flesh and skin with or without bone, from parts or whole carcasses of chicken (excluding feathers, feet, heads, entrails).

Chicken by-product meal—the clean, ground, rendered parts of the chicken carcass, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines (exclusive of feathers).

Chicken meal—chicken which has been ground or otherwise reduced in particle size.

Corn/ground yellow corn—This is the whole corn kernel, ground or chopped. Adds flavor, bulk and texture but should not be high on the dog food ingredient list (meaning it was used as an inexpensive protein source).

Corn gluten meal—the dried residue from corn after removal of the larger part of the germ and starch—what’s left after the manufacture of corn syrup or cornstarch. Inexpensive dog foods use this to provide a large proportion of the total protein in the food instead of higher quality, more digestible sources of protein like meat.

Digest of meat (beef, chicken or lamb) by-products—material resulting from chemical and/or enzymatic hydrolysis of clean, undecomposed tissue from nonrendered clean parts other than meat—including but not limited to bone, blood, brain, kidneys, intestines freed of their contents, lungs, spleen (does not include hair, hooks, horns and tissue).

Dried kelp—dried seaweed.

Fiber—roughage from plants only (dog food ingredients like hair, hooves, bones, fish scales or feathers do not contain fiber). These complex carbohydrates aid digestion and basically normalize the digestive tract. As with so many things in life, a moderate amount of fiber is necessary and beneficial while too much upsets the natural balance.

Fish Meal—the clean ground tissue of undecomposed whole fish or fish cuttings, with or without the oil extracted.

Glucosamine and chondroitin—components of cartilage used by humans for anti-arthritis; small amounts in dog food were unlikely to have an effect but most dog food companies stopped using these ingredients when several states banned them as not approved ingredients for dogs.

Meat—the clean flesh of slaughtered animals like chicken, cattle, lamb and turkey. “Flesh” can include striated skeletal muscle, tongue, heart, esophagus, overlying fat and skin and the nerves and blood vessels usually found with that flesh.

Meat by-products—the clean, unrendered parts of slaughtered animals, not including the meat—a clue that inferior meat sources are used in the dog food, since byproducts are what is left after the good quality meat has been removed. Byproducts include lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, liver, blood, bone and stomach and intestines cleaned of their contents.

Meat meal (beef, lamb)—a rendered product from mammal tissues excluding blood, hair, hoof, horn trimmings, manure and stomach contents.

Meat and poultry by-products—non-rendered clean parts, other than meat, including bone, blood, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, liver.

Oil (canola, sunflower)—beneficial for dogs because they are lower in saturated fat than other plant oils and higher in monounsaturated fat than any oil except olive; canola oil is high in Omega-3 fatty acids.

Poultry by-products—these are the clean parts of slaughtered poultry like heads, feet and internal organs (heart, liver, spleen, stomach, intestines), excluding feathers.

Soybeans—usefulness of this plant protein to the dog’s digestive system is unknown: dogs are reported to lack an enzyme in their digestive system that is needed to break down the bean. Some dogs (like some people) do not digest soybeans well and become gassy.

Soybean meal—a by-product of the production of soybean oil.

Wheat—contains gluten, which causes allergies. Few dogs ever develop actual food allergies. They may have an intolerance to one ingredient, although wheat is no more likely to cause this than any other dog food ingredient.

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