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Dangerous Dog Food Ingredients

Dog foods and treats can contain fillers or even harmful ingredients.

Oct 23, 2020

Photo by Jaromir Chalabala from Shutterstock

Discerning what is good for your dog and what isn’t is becoming increasingly important as new brands continually flood the pet market. You might think that if it’s on the shelf, it must be safe. Unfortunately, some companies prioritize making a quick buck over the health and safety of our beloved pets. Dog foods and treats can contain fillers or even harmful ingredients that can lead to chronic health issues down the line. 

Keep an eye out for these unhealthy and unsafe ingredients commonly found in pet foods:


Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) are chemical preservatives that are used to preserve the fat in processed foods such as dry foods for pets. These additives are known carcinogens and are even banned in some countries! 

Alternative: Rosemary and vitamins C and E can function as natural preservatives as well. You should look for dog food and dog treats that use these ingredients as alternatives. A raw diet is also a natural option. 

2. Artificial food coloring

Artificial food coloring has zero nutritional value and is only added to make food more visibly appetizing. Omitting this ingredient should make no difference to your dog, who has no preference for the color of their treat--they only care for the tasty snack you’re about to give them! Artificial food dyes have generally been linked to hyperactivity and the disruption of other biochemical processes that affect behavior.

Alternative: Look for foods that use natural food colorings such as beet or turmeric, which have added nutritional benefits.

3. Gluten or grains

Gluten functions primarily as a filler in pet food. They have little purpose except to reduce production costs for companies. They can irritate the gut, which can lead to issues such as chronic inflammation. 

Alternative: Look for foods that are labeled gluten or grain free.

4. Carrageenan

Carrageenan is a filler that is used to thicken food. Like gluten, it can cause gastrointestinal inflammation.

5. Meat by-products and meals

Meat by-products and meals typically contain things like organs and tissues, which in and of themselves are a natural part of a dog’s diet. The problem with these ingredients is their sourcing. Meat by-products can be so processed they offer little to no nutritional value. Plus, they can come from sources that are not ideal, such as dying or sick livestock.

Alternative: If you want to keep organs in your dog’s diet, be sure labels name the parts (e.g. liver, kidney, etc.). Minimal ingredient options are also a great way to avoid by-products. 

6. Corn syrup

Corn syrup is often used to add taste to dog treats. We’ve long known that corn syrup not only contributes to obesity, it can also lead to diabetes because it introduces an unnaturally high amount of fructose to the body. In addition, it can help your dog develop a “sweet tooth,” which will cause them to seek out all things sweet. 

Alternative: If your dog simply must have her sweets--and we totally understand that feeling--try adding natural substitutes such as whole or mashed blueberries or use raw honey as a topper. 

7. Xylitol and Sorbitol

 These are two artificial sweeteners also found in dog food. Similar to corn syrup, they have been linked to behavioral issues and rises in blood sugar.

Instead of feeding your dog these ingredients, opt for healthier substitutes such as superfoods. According to Certified Pet Nutritionist, Johnna Devereaux, “Adding a rotation of minimally processed superfoods to your dog's diet will provide them with a variety of vitamins and minerals that will help support the immune system and overall health. In addition, the antioxidants in superfoods help neutralize free radicals that are closely related to many health issues--so adding a small amount of superfoods can really make a difference to your dog's body--but it's important to understand that superfoods can only do super things when they are supported by a complete and balanced, minimally processed species-appropriate diet.” 

Greenwell Pet believes in the importance of a holistic diet that is both nutritious and delicious. We help you get your pup’s diet right by sourcing treats and supplements from smaller independent companies that are actively involved in the manufacturing process. Many of these companies were formed with the desire to provide their own dogs a healthier alternative to what is sold in big box pet stores. Because of the personal significance of their products, they are more likely to practice corporate responsibility by making sure that the ingredients are minimally processed and sustainably sourced. 

Get your dog started on the path to wellness with Greenwell Pet Box! It’s a convenient way of making sure your fur baby gets the wholesome nutrition they need and deserve with products from reputable companies. 

Learn More About Greenwell Pet Box!

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