Nine Beneficial Dog Food Ingredients

By Elizabeth Wasserman

Nine Beneficial Dog Food Ingredients

Thousands of years ago, when dogs were first domesticated, our ancestors fed them table scraps. In other words, they gave them people food, such as bits of meats, vegetables and fruits, which were left over from their own meals.

Fast-forward to the present, and you may have noticed a return to the basics in the ingredients of certain dog foods, especially if you’re the type of person who pores over pet food labels in grocery store aisles. Some of the ingredients showing up in dog foods may surprise you. They sound more like something you'd serve your family for dinner: not only chicken and eggs but also carrots, spinach, apples and more.

"While dogs are predominantly carnivores -- meat eaters -- they're historically scavengers and thrive on eating fresh fruits and vegetables," says Lisa Peterson, communications director for the American Kennel Club. "Adding fresh ingredients to dog food may enhance health, and it may make the food taste good, too."

Dog Food Requirements
All commercially prepared dog food is supposed to adhere to government standards for canine nutritional needs. When you shop, it's important to look for a seal from the Association of American Feed Control Officers (AAFCO), which develops guidelines for the manufacture, labeling and sale of animal foods in the U.S., advises Bonnie Beaver, DVM, past president of the American Veterinary Medicine Association and a veterinary professor at Texas A&M University. "The foods that have the AAFCO seal give you a reasonable assurance that it's appropriate for a healthy dog," Dr. Beaver says.

Under the AAFCO guidelines, healthy adult dog foods are required to have a minimum of 18 percent protein, 5 percent fat and an assortment of required vitamins and minerals. For puppies or expectant mother dogs, the minimum requirement is higher for protein (22 percent) and fat (8 percent).

In the past, some pet food manufacturers met these nutritional requirements by including such ingredients as meat by-products (organs, blood, bone, etc.), fish meal (ground tissue of whole fish or fish cuttings) and corn gluten (by-product of production of corn starch or syrup). However, amid growing interest among Americans in feeding their families and pets more "natural" foods, some dog food manufacturers are now using more natural -- and recognizable -- ingredients in foods they sell.

These ingredients may include:

  • Chicken and Egg High-quality protein in these food items helps build and maintain strong muscles.
  • Carrots These are high in beta-carotene that can be converted to vitamin A, which helps in vision. AAFCO requirements call for a minimum of 5,000 IU/kg in the canine diet.
  • Tomatoes These are rich in beta-carotene and vitamin C, which are antioxidants that can limit damage to cells and promote a strong immune system.
  • Peas These have antioxidants, including Vitamin E, which promote a strong immune system and limit damage to cells. AAFCO requirements call for a minimum of 50 IU/kg in a healthy dog's diet.
  • Spinach This leafy green vegetable has many of the essential vitamins and minerals -- including vitamin A, manganese, riboflavin, calcium and iron -- that the AAFCO says a dog needs. Spinach is linked to a healthy heart, among other positive benefits.
  • Apples and Beets Fruits and vegetables contain natural fiber that helps promote a healthy digestive system in canines.
  • Fish Oil and Flaxseed Fish oil and flaxseed, both rich in omega-3 fatty acids, contribute to skin health and coat shine.
  • Grains Wholesome whole grains such as rice, sorghum and barley provide a natural source of energy and vitality to dogs.
  • Calcium Natural calcium promotes strong teeth and bones, not only in humans but in canines, too.

Ingredients to Avoid
Your definition of "natural" foods for your family probably doesn't include artificial colors, artificial flavors and preservatives. Those may also be ingredients you want to avoid feeding your dog. Artificial colors can often be detected by a reference to a color with a number after it, such as Blue 2, Red 40 and Yellow 5. When it comes to flavoring, it's a good idea to look for a natural flavoring, such as natural chicken flavoring, instead of an animal digest, which is a cooked-down broth of unspecified animal parts. Some of the new natural foods promote the fact that they don't use preservatives. Common preservatives used in dog foods include Ethoxyquin, BHA or BHT.

In addition to bettering the health of your dog, going natural with the foods you feed your pooch may give you more peace of mind. "As the human-animal bond has grown, marketing has lent itself towards what's appealing to the person," says Rebecca Rose, CVT, of Red Valley Rose Consulting, in Gunnison, Colo. "The balanced diet for the animal is the important part. As long as the animal is getting what it needs and maintaining its weight and coat, it’s fine."

Our feeding of dogs is one of the reasons that they became domesticated in the first place. "That's one of the reasons dogs selected humans to bond with -- it was easier for them to please us and get food in return than it was to go out and hunt for it on their own," Peterson says.

And one axiom has remained true throughout the generations: "People," Peterson says, "love to share food with their dogs."

Elizabeth Wasserman, a Washington, D.C., area-based freelancer, has been writing about pets, among other topics, for more than 15 years. Her love of dogs, in particular, was handed down through the generations from her great-grandfather, Eric Knight, who wrote the book Lassie Come Home in the 1930s.

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Posted on March 1, 2011

Ted Johnson says: hat looks like our "Tinky Bell" The little "Darling" is 14 months old and they are very smart breed. Maltese, she has us wekk trained already !

Posted on February 10, 2009

maria says: Can I give My miniature schnauzer and also the border terrier, white rice or should I only cook their meals with brown rice?

Posted on April 11, 2009

Dee Dee says: My Cocker Spaniels are getting a small patch of missing hair I know this is allergy season and I wonder what it comes from? they eat brown rice carrots spinach and a mix of Pollo chicken the coat is dry and they get dandruff any suggestions?

Posted on December 13, 2008

marjann says: my male 2 year old yellow lab " max" is a picky eater. tried many dry food until a friend gave me a holistic dry dog food to try and finally he eats them (and discharge a compact poop). but I have to add a few chunks of our canned tuna because he likes the smell of it and also a teaspoon of liver cod oil (suggested by a friend also). then moist the food with a little of hot water. even though he loves his food now, i am thinking of coooking some food for him. as some suggested here, stewing chicken and lamb, vegetables and then add eggs and fruits to the bowl sounds like a good idea. Do you guys put salt on your cooked dog food? an answer is well appreciated.

Posted on December 13, 2008

Darla Alexander says: Our dogs thrive on homemade meals of protein, veggies and grains too, especially apples, carrots and beets. But I would caution that some foods that humans eat are bad even fatal for dogs and should be avoided or never fed - grapes and raisins can cause kidney failure. Also onions, and of course chocolate.

Posted on December 13, 2008

L . A . says: I was watching a local news cast the other evening and to my horror they had a guest vet stating not to feed your dog certain human foods because doing so would cause your dog to die from kidney failure and/or liver failure,geez so some of the things they said was a major mistake is feeding your dog oinions,peanut butter,raisins,grapes,alot of human foods are processed on machines that process peanuts so you have to becareful with all foods.

Posted on December 13, 2008

wiloughby says: gets sick easy when food dont agree wiht him what is best to use in stores we give him carrots apples for treats too?

Posted on December 13, 2008

John says: I grew up on a farm where we had large healthy dogs mostly Labs and Springer Spaniels. These dogs lived very long lives normally 15 to 16 years. MOst of what they ate was raw foods to ensure that they got full nutritional benefit from their food. The problem with most commercial foods is that it is devoid of the enzymes that are found in raw foods. We had a lot of laying chickens that found their way into the food chain. We fed our dogs chicken livers, hearts, gizzards and necks almost daily. These were not cooked, just dropped in boiling water for a few seconds to kill any bacteria present. We topped these meals with whole eggs and any kitchen leftovers including vegetables. They all thrived on this food and were strong and lively up to their deaths. Dogs stomachs weren't really designed to digest all that grain in commercial foods. They will do much better with raw natural foods. Chicken livers, hearts and lesser parts are really cheap at most supermarkets and could probably be purchased more cheaply than some commercial foods today.

Posted on December 13, 2008

Skye says: We had an Australian Cattle Dog, Jackson, who ate commercial products coordinating with aging plus large dog bones. He did not work on a ranch but hiked high altitude trails and in a colder climate. He was just shy of 17 yrs. Oh, and gorgeous teeth to boot! He too, loved fresh apples and carrots. Our Scottish Border Collie, Kelsey, is on the same diet and acts and looks 6 at 11 yrs. old with a beautiful coat and perfect teeth. An omega 3 supplement for her skin and coat daily. She enjoys running like the wind with ease. We still need to think one step ahead of her as she's mentally sharp as when a one year old in her independent decision making ! We love these two breeds!

Posted on December 13, 2008

Paul Llanes says: Not too long ago I thought I saw on the news that tomatoes can be poisonous for dogs.please someone investigate.

Posted on December 13, 2008

Jacqueline says: I have a short legged Jack Russell that has gained a little too much weight. he went from 14 lbs. to 18 lbs. I want to know if feeding him once a day or twice a day is better? Also how much is appropriate?

Posted on November 7, 2008

Christian says: I had a happy, healthy dog who lived on regular dog food and occational snacks, table scraps. She was born in 91' and lived till 07' and was still running along side me until her last few wks of life. So, I'd have to say, that it is pretty safe to feed your dog commercial dog food. She also was a border collie, and I'd say 16 is a long life for a border collie.

Posted on August 30, 2008

Bonnie Fernandez says: Yes, I too cook a chicken stew for my dogs as well and they really enjoy it and not only that, I know what goes into my dogs food. As alot of us remember all the recalls on so many different brand dog foods that were pretty much toxic to our dogs was and probably still concerns many of us. I only use one of the nations top dog food brands that you can't find in any store chain, there are I believe about only ten in the nation that are the best to feed your dog. The one I use is California Natural. Blue Buffalo is another and so is Halo. Canidae and Fromm are others as well-I would never touch other brands but only these. I also bake my own dog biscuits using whole wheat flour, earth balance butter (vege based), hot water or chicken broth, powdered milk and one egg. This biscuit recipe gives me the option to add flaxseed oats and or other grains as well as dried fruits and garlic to the mix. My dogs love it. If I have another dog biscuit in my hand along with the one I baked my dog will go for my baked biscuit instead. I also purchase dog biscuits from the Wellness brand which is one of the ten best brands as well. People need to read labels and become aware of every aspect concerning their dogs health and wellbeing. Our dogs trust and love us and thus so in return we must take great care, caution and concern in their overall wellbeing for as long as they live and making sure that their lives are of the utmost high quality. Its not about quantity its all about the quality of living a healthy, happy, and safe long life.

Posted on August 29, 2008

rob n ali says: loved it, Thanks

Posted on August 29, 2008

Mark H. says: I have a female yellow lab and she is ruining my lawn with urine stains. I gave her pills that were suppose to lower the acid content of her urine, but it hasn't worked. What can I add to her diet to lower the acid content of her urine to save my lawn.

Posted on August 29, 2008

Kelly Thompson says: I found that a product found at our local stores is a complete meal for my dog (IT INCLUDES ALL OF THE VEGETABLES, MEATS and FRUITS). She refused all of the fabulous meals that I purchased at pet stores. I TRIED all kinds of things since she was a puppy. She more or less ate reluctantly at the end of the day. She NOW comes to her meals with enthusiasm and IMPATIENCE. Yes, it is important NOT to OVERFEED your dog but MY DOG NOW EATS NUTRITIOUS meals each day. I THANK them for SAVING MY DOG'S life. As she would eat nothing but foods that I cooked before. She now eats both the WET CANNED FOOD and the DRY FOOD. Thank God

Posted on August 29, 2008

Jim Ozmore says: We give ours Purina One Large Breed Adult for the Glucosamine for their joints, and they love it and it keeps them healthy. We only put a small amount of leftover meats, etc on top of it at mealtime to increase flavor and makes them eat more of the high Protein dog food they need. I don't think "just" table food will give them all of the nutrients "they" need. We've used it exclusively now for over five years.

Posted on August 6, 2008

Wendy Gimour says: We cook our own food for our dogs. We use a 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 rule. 1/3 meat which includes chicken, lamb, turkey, small amounts of liver or giblets and as one of our dogs has problems with beef, we do not use this very much. Salmon or Tuna is also used. 1/3 vegetables and fruits, carrots, peas, beans, lentils, tomatoes, pumpkin, broccoli, beets, apples, peaches, pears, parsley. 1/3 grains and pasta, barley, rice and oats. We cook it all in chicken stock, mix it together and freeze. All of the dogs love it and so do all the neighborhood dogs. It smells good and you feel good giving your babies wonderful, good, healthy food.

Posted on August 5, 2008

Abby says: Apples are fine for dogs, as they aren't fattening. Try taking apples or lettuce along on your walks, and see if that gets her more excited about them.

Posted on July 31, 2008

Margaret Moscato says: Hello I was wondering is it ok then for our little dog to have a peace of Apple then? She loves lettuce so i give her some while we are eating dinner. Our only problem is she's not much on walking how can we get her to love going our for a walk? thank you

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