FDA Approval of Dog Food Ingredients – Does it Matter?

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Like with human foods, the FDA requires that ingredients in dog food are “safe” before they can be included in a recipe. Many pet owners think that if the FDA has approved an ingredient for use in pet food, it must be safe for their dogs. Some pet food companies will point to the fact that some of their ingredients are considered by the FDA to be safe for human consumption, so that is proof that the ingredient is perfectly appropriate for your pet. One good example is propylene glycol, an FDA-approved food additive that’s also in human foods like salad dressing and cake mix. It is also a key ingredient in anti-freeze.


Based on the way most people feed their dogs, I would argue that FDA approval of an ingredient, even if it is approved for human consumption, does not mean that it should be fed to pets.


What does FDA Ingredient Approval Mean?

When the FDA evaluates a food ingredient, they look at several factors. The FDA website summarizes the evaluation process as follows.

When evaluating the safety of a substance and whether it should be approved, FDA considers: 1) the composition and properties of the substance, 2) the amount that would typically be consumed, 3) immediate and long-term health effects, and 4) various safety factors. The evaluation determines an appropriate level of use that includes a built-in safety margin – a factor that allows for uncertainty about the levels of consumption that are expected to be harmless. In other words, the levels of use that gain approval are much lower than what would be expected to have any adverse effect.


The FDA will use terms like “generally recognized as safe”, or GRAS, to classify additives that are allowable in pet foods, like artificial colors and preservatives. When making their decisions, they look at the research and the intended use of the additive to make (or reject) GRAS. The idea that a food ingredient is even classified as GRAS should raise some red flags. How come it is not “unequivocally recognized as safe” or just plain “safe”?


The general idea is that even if an ingredient might cause harm with large doses, if it is included in small enough levels (the intended use), it can obtain FDA approval for use in food. On some level, this makes sense. Although it doesn’t make me want to switch back to drinking those colorful sodas full of artificial colors. But for most dog owners, extra caution should be used when evaluating their pets’ food.


The Cumulative Effect on a Dog of Eating Unhealthy Foods

Although I don’t recommend it, feeding a dog a food with dubious, albeit FDA approved ingredients for a few days will probably not have much of an impact on the pet’s health. But what happens when the dog is being fed these ingredients every day, multiple times per day, for months or years?


Propylene glycol is approved for human consumption and is used in things like salad dressing and cake mix, and the FDA has deemed it safe in the amounts that are used in such items. However, would the FDA feel the same way if they thought that salad dressing and/or cake mix were going to be eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, each and every day, for weeks and possibly years on end, much like many pet owners feed their dogs the same dog food over and over? Think about the cumulative amount of these ingredients that are passing through your pet’s bodies. Over time, the result could be bad.


With so many pet foods to choose from, why would a pet owner take the chance? If an ingredient is artificially made or if it has the potential to cause harm, I recommend avoiding that food altogether. There are thousands of pet foods to choose from, many of which are formulated without including artificial preservatives and colorings that have to be classified as GRAS.


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  1. Good points! Have a great day.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Tour De Sand Spring~#AmericanJourney @chewy.comMy Profile

  2. Superb commentary on this topic. I have googled that many pet owners’ dogs have died because of the propylene glycol, contained in many dog treats. That’s why I dehydrate chicken breasts and salmon for dog treats. TY, as always, for educating us!

  3. I find it hard to believe that the FDA knows what is safe and what is dangerous. They change their minds too often about what is killing us and our pets. They need to begin inspections of pet food companies and tighten regulations. There are too many recalls and sick animals.
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…A Chewy.com American JourneyMy Profile

  4. This is interesting, and I have heard a lot about FDA approval. Some good, some bad.
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!
    Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady recently posted…Peanut Butter Banana Ice Cream For DogsMy Profile

  5. This is a great post. Sometimes you don’t really think about the fact that the food you feed your dog is mainly the only food they eat. Thanks for sharing!

  6. My mom thinks the reason she might love winter so much and not have trouble with getting cold is the salad dressing and cake she has eaten over the years with anti-freeze in it. Sounds awful, never really thought about it, but it shouldn’t be in any living being’s food!
    Emma recently posted…Emma’s Summertime Meal SuggestionsMy Profile

  7. Sadly the FDA is not a good friend of consumers for safe & nutritional food for pets or humans. I’m still reading every label fully to ensure GMO exposure is minimal. I don’t want ‘Frankenfood’ for me or Sam. 😉
    Monika recently posted…Tuesday Trivia ~ July 7, 2015My Profile

  8. wow very informative post and replies thanks guys

  9. Great point about these ingredients being eaten several times a day for years or maybe even the lifetime of a dog. I wonder if the FDA factors into the safety ratings how often people would likely eat certain foods like salad dressing or cake.
    Elaine recently posted…Who Does Your Dog Look Like?My Profile

  10. So now I will blame every ache and pain, cellulite and acne attack on those scooter pies I devoured during my childhood LOL
    Groovy Goldendoodles recently posted…A PET BLOGGERS NIGHTMAREMy Profile

  11. You make very good point about the FDA approval of small amounts of Propylene glycol and for example in dog food it is eaten day after day. It should have a different approval process than a randomly eaten ingredient. I’m going to start reading labels for propylene glycol. I mean yuck, I hate to read about it (maybe I would like to be in denial) but now I know about it and I can’t ignore it anymore
    Very informative article, you make me smarter. Thank you.

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