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Dog Food Ingredients: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Dog Food Ingredients: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

When you’re looking for healthy and complete meal options for your dog, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer volume on offer. Not only do you have different food types to think of (from wet food, to dry food, to raw feeding options) but there are also so many additions and supplementary ingredients to be aware of. 

When Bruce first became unwell a few years ago, at first we didn’t imagine that it could’ve been something in his food that was causing all of his distress. And even once we narrowed it down to some intolerances, trying to decipher the ingredients in different dog food brands? Well, it was a minefield.

So difficult, in fact, that we decided to start McDug Nutrition to help other dog owners just like us.  

Not all dog food is created equal, and if you’ve ever looked closely at the back of the packaging, it’s easy to become confused by all the ingredients. Which is why we’ve created this handy list to help you out. 

Let’s take a look at dog food ingredients: what to look out for, and what you should avoid at all costs.

Ingredients to avoid

Animal Fats

This term is usually kept purposely ambiguous - because these could be animal fats from literally any source. Often, this will be saturated fats that are waste from the restaurant industry - and therefore unlikely to be healthy sources of fat for your dog. 

Artificial Preservatives

These are chemicals or additives used to prolong the shelf-life of your pet food. It’s healthier for your dog if you can find items which use natural preservatives where possible. Here at McDug we use rosemary extract as a natural preservative - this gives our food an average shelf-life of 18 months. 

Meat Derivatives / Animal By-Products

Instead of using high-quality meat products, many manufacturers will keep costs low by using meat that comes from any part of the animal that’s been confirmed not fit for human consumption (such as heads, feet, beaks, feathers, etc.) As such, these contain very few nutritional benefits. 

These ingredients could potentially also be from multiple unnamed species. Because we don’t know what protein is being used, it’s possible that dogs with intolerances and allergies could have an unexpected flare up. 

Wheat / Maize

Wheat & maize are cheap ‘filler’ ingredients used to bulk out pet food at lower costs - however, a lot of animals (just like humans) are developing intolerances and allergies to these ingredients. 


Sugar is often added for the simple reason that it tastes good to dogs - just the same as it does for us. However, a diet high in sugar has been linked to hyperactivity, hypoglycemia, obesity and tooth decay. 

Look out for ingredients such as sugar, caramel, sucrose, etc - these are all different names for sugars. 


Salt is also added for the same reason as sugar - it tastes good and boosts the flavour of the recipe. However, a high salt diet can cause heart or blood pressure issues, and should be avoided. 

Good ingredients to look out for

Meat and animal products

This is top of the list because it’s arguably the most important one. Dogs should have at least 18% protein in their diets and the best source of healthy proteins come from quality sources of meat products. 

As an added bonus, meats will contain their own balance of vitamins and minerals to boost your dog’s overall health - so you can choose a meat type that suits your own dog’s health profile. 

There is a difference between Meat Meal (animal products that aren’t consumed by humans and rendered for pet food) and Freshly Prepared Meat (a process where the water content is lowered to allow manufacturers to use it in dry kibble).

The key is to look out for a company where the meat they use is minimally processed - lots of companies use lower quality meat sources and so must cook this at high temperatures to class it as safe for consumption. Not only does this kill any nasty bugs or bacteria, but is also loses nutritional value and taste. 


These are a great source of dietary fibre which are also gentle on the stomach for dogs with intolerances. Additionally, they contain a whole host of vitamins and minerals including vitamin B1, magnesium and manganese. Our Super Premium & Naturals Range both include oats. 


Another great option for dogs with intolerances or who have sensitive stomachs, brown rice is a great carbohydrate source that’s easily digested by dogs. Our Naturals range all use rice as their carbohydrate. 

Sweet Potato

Another great carb source for dogs, not only are these filling but they’re also gentle on the stomach and easily digestible. Sweet Potato is a low GI food and gives a slow, steady release of energy throughout of the day. This makes it a favourite in the McDug Grain Free range.

FOS (Fructo-oligo-saccharide) & MOS (Mannan-oligo-saccaride)

While these ingredients might look a bit unusual, they’re actually really beneficial additions as pre-biotics. They encourage growth of friendly bacteria in the gut and support good overall digestive health. (They’re also natural ingredients - FOS is an extract from fruits and vegetables!)


You might see this ingredient in some of our Light/Senior recipes because it’s great for dogs with heart disorders or weight problems. This is an amino acid which supports the metabolisation of fats without losing lean muscle mass. 

So there you have it - a breakdown of some of the most common ingredients you’ll see in your dog food. 

Did any of these surprise you? Let me know in the comments below! 

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