Educating yourself about healthy nutrition for your dog may seem daunting but it doesn’t have to be. One of the best ways to begin is to learn how to read ingredients lists, so you can avoid the ingredients harmful to your dog’s health.
A healthy dog treat (or food) is made from whole food ingredients, including named meats, fish, fresh fruit and veggies, herbs and healthy oils. Sadly, most cheap dog treats (and food) contain things your dog shouldn’t be eating such as derivatives, cereals, unnamed meat or grain meals, chemical preservatives, flavours and colourings. If you see any of these nasties in the ingredients list of a dog treat or dog food, put the packet back on the shelf.
To help get you started, here’s a closer look as some of the worst ingredients:
1. Meat and animal derivatives
Meat and animal derivatives can be sourced from any animal. When it says meat and animal derivatives, is it chicken? cow? pig? Your guess is as good as mine! It encompasses all meats and can be from any part of the animal, from the very best to the very worst.
The problem with broad, vague terms like this is that you just don’t know. It allows manufacturers to choose different meat sources depending on the cheapest available at the time of manufacture. This means that the meats might not be chosen for their quality and as such low-grade and nutritionally poor meats may be chosen. The concern is that meat products are chosen for profit rather than for the health of your dog.
Some dogs may be intolerant to certain proteins and as such might be fine with one pack of treats but may have problems with the next as it’s impossible to know what’s in each pack.
Healthy alternatives: look for named meats e.g. chicken, beef or salmon
2. Chemical preservatives, colours and flavours
Just say no to all chemicals! Chemicals can be dangerous in any form.
A preservative is a substance or chemical added to foods to slow down decomposition. The most common chemical preservatives in dog foods and treats are BHA (E320), BHT (E321) and Propyl Gallate (E310).
allaboutdogfood.com writes that ‘One study at the University of Hamburg concluded that “all published findings agree with the fact that BHA and BHT are tumour promoters”. The website also says that Propyl Gallate ‘has also been linked with tumour formation in rats’. Scary stuff!
Healthy alternatives: look for natural preservatives e.g. vitamin C (ascorbic acid), vitamin E (mixed tocopherols), and rosemary
Dog treats made with cheap ingredients can contain artificial colours and flavours to make them look, smell and taste better. allaboutdogfood.com say that ‘common artificial colourings found in dog foods and treats include sunset yellow, tartrazine, ponceau 4r, patent blue V and titanium dioxide, although they may also be listed by their E numbers or simply as ‘colourings’.
You can sometimes tell by looking at the treats whether or not they have been artificially coloured. Unrealistic pinks, reds and oranges are a sign that the treats contain artificial colours. Make sure you check the ingredients list for any artificial flavourings.
Healthy alternatives: look for the natural colours of the ingredients. These may not be visually pleasing but they will make a difference to your dog’s health.
The term cereal is a generic term used to cover all kinds of grains. Cereals vary in their nutritional value and their digestibility. The cheaper grains, such as sorghum, corn and maize, tend to be less digestible.
This broad, vague term allows manufacturers to choose different grain sources depending on the cheapest available at the time of manufacture. This means that the cereals might not be chosen for their quality and as such low-grade and nutritionally poor grains may be chosen. The concern is that cereals are chosen for profit rather than for the health of your dog.
Some dogs may be intolerant to certain grains and as such might be fine with one pack of treats but may have problems with the next as it’s impossible to know what’s in each pack.
Cereals can be used as fillers and make up a large percentage of products e.g. 80%. Products containing a large amount of undefined cereals and grains are nutritionally poor and cheap.
Healthy alternatives: look for single whole grains such as brown rice or oats which are highly digestible.
Sugar makes dog treats more palatable and masks tastes dogs might otherwise avoid. When treats contain animal by-products, fillers, chemicals and other additives, the sugar will increase the possibility dogs will eat it. Dogs can get addicted to sugar and it can be difficult to get them to eat healthier treats and food.
Unfortunately, dogs can suffer the same harmful effects of eating sugar as we do: diabetes, obesity, dental problems, and more so it really is best to avoid it.
Avoid treats containing sugar, sucrose, caramel, or corn syrup.
Healthy alternatives: look for honey or molasses which have medicinal properties, but keep in mind they are both still sugars so you don’t want to see them at the top of the ingredients list.
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