What’s really in your dog’s food?
You might think you just need to read the label.
Sadly, most won’t help you make an informed decision.
And if you don’t know the specifics, you can’t tell good from bad.
How widespread is the lack of transparency? How do big brands, supermarket own-labels and independent brands compare?
Let’s crunch the numbers…
aka "meat and animal derivatives"
(spoiler: beaks aren't gut friendly)
A lot of dog food labels list 'meat and animal derivatives' as an ingredient, but that doesn't tell you which animals or bits of animals are used. This can also vary from bag to bag, even if you always buy the same food.
Your dog may not be able to absorb as much protein from this food because (surprise!) beaks and hooves are harder to digest than nutritious muscle and organs (which could also be found in food containing "meat and animal derivatives" - but you have no way of knowing).
Also, some animal proteins can trigger or exacerbate an intolerance, so it's always best to know the exact source so you can avoid it.
% of UK dog food products listing "meat and animal derivatives" as an ingredient
aka "derivatives of vegetable origin"
(spoiler: twigs are as nourishing as they sound)
Vegetables are an important source of nutrients for dogs, but dog food labels don’t always tell you which veg or which part of the plant is used. It can range from high-quality mushy bits to low-quality byproducts from human food production.
Leftover veggie derivatives offer your dog very little nutritional value beyond fibre, and may be mostly “filler” to pad out the food.
% of UK dog food products listing 'derivatives of vegetable origin’ as an ingredient
aka "oils and fats"
(spoiler: this one's a multiple offender)
Some foods simply list “oils and fats” on their label, or other vague terms like animal fat, poultry oil, poultry fat, and vegetable oils. Dogs need fat in their diet, and some fats are tasty and contain lots of healthy omega 3 and 6. But not all fats are created equal, and each dog can have specific needs in this area.
Some dogs have an intolerance to certain animal proteins, and this health issue can be triggered or worsened by unspecified animal fats. On top of that, low-quality fats often need to be bumped up with artificial flavours and artificial preservatives to keep them from becoming rancid or "going off".
% of UK dog food products listing unspecified "oils and fats" as an ingredient
*Unspecified oils and fats = oils and fats, poultry oil, poultry fat, animal fat, and vegetable oils.
Source: UK Dog Food Transparency Report 2019 - Paws.com - Download this graph
(spoiler: it goes beyond their waistline)
“Cereals” are not a specific ingredient, but a category of ingredient that could mean a food contains any number of grains and in any form. Some are more nutritious than others, but it’s not always clear from the label whether a food contains quality whole grains or not.
Highly processed flours have very little nutritional value and can cause your dog’s blood glucose levels to whizz up and down like a rollercoaster. This increases the risk of diabetes, weight woes and inflammatory conditions. Oh, and they can create lots of extra-stinky poo.
% of UK dog food products listing "cereals" as an ingredient
(spoiler: they have a dark downside)
Most dog foods need some kind of preservative. Some are natural, some are artificial. If an ingredient list doesn’t state “natural” before or after the word “preservative”, then it’s likely to be artificial.
Artificial preservatives have been linked with lots of health issues. For example, E321 can cause cancer, E310 can cause tumour formation in rats, and E3202 can irritate skin, eyes, mouth, nose, throat and lungs.
% of UK dog food products listing unspecified "preservatives" as an ingredient
(spoiler: think E-numbers and kids)
Artificial colourings are used to jazz up the look of low-quality food. These unnecessary additives seek to strike a chord with the buyer, not the dog (they don’t see colours the same way we do).
In children, artificial colourings are known to cause Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and hyperactivity. Anecdotal evidence suggests that they can have a similar effect on your dog’s behaviour too.
% of UK dog food products listing unspecified "colours" or "colourants" as an ingredient
The good news is that there are plenty of dog foods that clearly state exactly what's in them. Many of these foods belong to independent brands, set up by passionate pet parents concerned for their animals' welfare and wanting to raise the bar in dog food quality and transparency.
At Paws.com, we're committed to giving pet parents the facts that they need to make the right decision for their dog.
That's why we support a move towards clearer dog food labels as standard, and only sell products that disclose exactly what ingredients they contain.
How does your dog food stack up?
Find out in 30 seconds.
The aim of the UK Dog Food Transparency Report 2019 was to conduct the largest ever analysis of the ingredients in dog food available on the UK market. In doing so, we wanted to reveal the extent to which unspecified ingredients are listed in dog food, a practice which lacks full transparency and makes it impossible for pet parents to know for certain what they’re feeding their dogs.
We pulled all of the ingredient information for the dog food products available on the websites of the UK’s 10 major supermarkets, plus the relevant Amazon UK bestseller lists.
The UK’s 10 major supermarkets are Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Morrison, Aldi, Co-op, Lidl, Waitrose, Iceland, and Ocado, making up 96.8% of the UK grocery market share (Kantar 2018). Co-op does not currently list products on their website and Aldi does not provide ingredient information for their dog food online. Lidl and Amazon do not provide ingredient information for all products, so only those that had ingredient information available were included.
The top 100 bestsellers in each of the following categories were included from Amazon UK: dry dog food, wet dog food, and dehydrated dog food.
As this report aims to identify the individual products shoppers are presented with both online and on the supermarket shelves, one record was included per size variant of each product to represent the available choice for the customer. Occasionally, different flavour varieties of the same dog food (e.g. ‘with chicken’, ‘with lamb’, ‘with beef’, etc) were listed as one product on supermarket websites. Where this was the case, this was treated as one product. So the number of products in the study represents the number of separate products as listed on the supermarket websites.
The study only includes complete dog foods, whether wet, dry or dehydrated. To achieve this, the data was filtered to remove treats, chews, supplements, food toppers and mixers.
This left a total of 1,025 products across 80 different brands.
The brands were categorised according to ownership. 16 of the brands in the study are owned by 3 multinational conglomerates, while 6 are supermarket own-brands and the remaining 58 are independently owned or part of a small group.
The ingredient listings for all of the products were analysed for the presence of a number of non-specific ingredients. The most commonly occurring unspecified ingredients were identified and included in the statistical output of the study. The study, therefore, focussed on the following ingredients, which are unclear labels, permissible by law, but which do not provide full transparency to the consumer about what the food contains: Meat and animal derivatives, derivatives of vegetable origin, oils and fats, animal fat, poultry oil, poultry fat, vegetable oil, preservatives (including ec- and eec- permitted preservatives), colours and colourants (including ec- permitted eec- permitted colourants) and cereals.
We then analysed the percentage of products that listed these unspecified ingredients, in total, and by brand ownership (big brand, ie. multinational-owned; supermarket own-label; and independent).
This provided a clear picture of the extent to which these non-specific labelling practices are used, and the difference between their usage by multinationally-owned brands, supermarket own-labels, and independently owned brands.
© Paws Group Limited 2019
Company no: 10787292 (registered in England)