What is in Dog Food? Reading Beyond the Name

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We often stress the importance of reading the details on a dog food label. It is really the only way to evaluate if the food is a good fit for your dog. Yet, many people simply look at the Brand and recipe name (along with the packaging) when making their pet’s food decisions.


This had me wondering if the recipe name alone would be a good indication of the proteins in the food. In order to conduct this analysis, I chose chicken, which is by far the most popular protein used in dog food. Using the SlimDoggy food database of over 2,000 dog foods, I searched both the dog food names and the full ingredient lists for the word chicken. The results are pretty astounding and prove my point. (This analysis was done on foods only and did not include treats. However, the results are similar if treats are included.)


What is in Dog Food? Chicken?

The first step was to find out how many foods contained the word chicken in their name. The answer was, a lot. A total of 24% of foods (or more than 520 foods) used the word chicken in their name. Next, I searched the ingredient lists to find out how many foods actually contained chicken. Care to take a guess at what percentage of foods actually had chicken in their ingredients? I will give you a hint. It is more than 24%.


As shown in the graph, a whopping 68.8% of the dog foods we searched contained chicken as one of their ingredients, even though only 24% of these foods used chicken in their name. Translating to actual numbers, almost 1,000 of the foods in our database contained chicken even though their name did not!


chicken in name and ingredients of dog food

The Importance of Knowing What is in your Dog Food

There are several key benefits to pet owners who read beyond the dog food name and dig into the ingredients of their pet’s food. Besides being able to check for artificial ingredients like colorings and preservatives, reading the ingredients can help your pet avoid the onset of food allergies.


The old wives tale of serving your pet the same food for their entire life is exactly that, an old wives tale. Feeding the same food, and the same proteins for long periods of time can lead to food allergies or allergic symptoms as the dog’s body effectively overdoses on the protein.  It can also lead to deficiencies in key nutrients depending on the specific foods you use. The healthier strategy is to use a rotational diet which means that you should rotate the proteins and foods that you serve your pet. This can only be accomplished if you know exactly what is in the food, not by using the dog food name as a guide.


Food allergies can often manifest themselves in the form of itchy skin and rashes and often are not diagnosed as the cause of the skin condition. Our rescue dog SlimDoggy Jack, developed sensitivity to chicken, no doubt because he was probably fed it his entire life. It was only because we switched to single protein foods (with no chicken) that we were able to confirm that he had developed this condition. Now, Jack is on a rotational diet that include different proteins and food recipes and his skin is back to normal and no itching. No drugs, just a rotational diet!


Do you know exactly what protein is in your dog’s food?


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  1. A lot of supplements and treats contain chicken too. If a dog is sensitive to it, then you have to read those labels too.
    2 brown dawgs recently posted…Big Dog, Big SplashMy Profile

  2. Good advice.
    Bailey recently posted…Getting the Veggie Gardens PlantedMy Profile

  3. Sometimes it’s scary to read the small print on dog food bags, the worst is that I always have to ask google what it really means.
    easy rider recently posted…easyblog TARGET DATE TUESDAYMy Profile

  4. Great, informative article. Before getting married and getting our own dogs (that I could make decisions for), I was very into human nutrition. Constantly reading articles, checking labels, and making sure everything was clean and healthy. That translated over immediately when we got our first dog. I’ll sit on the computer for hours reading through labels before choosing a brand to try 😉 Can never be too careful!
    Kelsie recently posted…What’s This White Stuff?My Profile

  5. After trying several different dog food brands over the past year or two, I’ve had to go back to Fresh Pet. The others — Merrick and Newman’s Own Organics among them — just did not sit well with any of my 3 girls, despite a carefully executed plan for easing them from one food to another. I found that the food was so overly processed that it lost most (if not all) of whatever nutritional value it started out with — evidenced by both Callie & Shadow going back to eating their own poop in an attempt to get whatever nutrients they were missing out on — or the poops would be so soft that I couldn’t clean them up to my perfectionist’s satisfaction. As long as they eat the Fresh Pet Vital, they get the nutrients they need and their poop is “healthy-looking” and normal. I’m always on the lookout for alternatives, but beyond occasional additions of cooked ground turkey or extra-lean beef, I haven’t found any.
    Callie, Shadow, and Ducky’s mom recently posted…Just Chilling OutMy Profile

  6. Great post! I try my best with ingredients, but I have also learned a ton from your blog, so I thank you for that! I have also used sites like dog food adviser, as they give a pretty good read about the proteins in dog food etc…
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!
    Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady recently posted…#BowzerBox – Subscription pet box reviewMy Profile

  7. I have to admit, sometimes if I see a food labeled as “lamb” or “salmon” I might assume there is no chicken in the food. I do this with treats, too. I don’t think my dog has an allergy to chicken, but sometimes I prefer to feed him other protein sources for variety. This is a good reminder to actually read the labels.
    Lindsay recently posted…Would you brush your dog or cat’s teeth if it were easier? | Emmi-petMy Profile

  8. So it’s like human allergies? My Hunny is deathly allergic to salmon, and it’s only because of research that I found he’d never not be allergic, that the reaction would only be worse with subsequent attempts to eat it, and that eating it frequently over a long period of time (building up in his system) is what triggered the allergy. Makes sense that dogs work the same way. Thank you!
    Flea recently posted…American Pig Ears, NaturallyMy Profile

    • You’re welcome. That’s exactly what happened with Jack – I can tell if he gets a treat with chicken – he starts right in with the itching.
      mkob recently posted…What is in Dog Food? Reading Beyond the NameMy Profile

  9. Mom thinks it is good to switch it up now and then, as long as the quality is the same or better.
    Emma recently posted…Low Calorie Tasty Treats For Your Dog | #Chewy.comMy Profile

  10. Pet parents are getting more educated but its still a problem with reading labels, how else can we explain dog deaths from eating jerky from China. Thank you for the information. Love Dolly
    Dolly the Doxie recently posted…Jerky Dog Treats Made in USA and Minties: A ReviewMy Profile

  11. We’ve had our share of hiccups learning about nutrition and ingredients. Thanks to research, a terrific vet and patient knowledgeable people like yourself I’ve come a long way. I’ve learned a great deal, and I’m still learning. I am amazed Harley survived the first few months with me as his pet parent – BOL
    Cathy recently posted…MEMORIAL DAY | ROLLING THUNDER | GOLDENDOODLESMy Profile

  12. I am on a rotational diet because I get bored of eating the same flavor for too long! Or maybe I was looking out for my own health all along!
    Chewy the Golden recently posted…Chewy’s First BBQMy Profile

  13. I feel sorry for dogs that eat the same food all the time. We are trying different brands and evaluating how Bentley performs on each.
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  14. wow very interesting, opens ones eyes to really check things out. Again manufacturers trying to be sneeky I think.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Tasty Tuesday~HALO Liv-a-Littles From Chewy.comMy Profile

  15. Yes, having a senior dog (still active n healthy) we know the importance of protein. Every pet parent must be educated on dog food and ingredients. Happy Tasty Tuesday. Golden Woofs
    Golden Woofs: Sugar recently posted…Quench Your Dog’s Thirst: Watermelon Pawsicles w/ Super GravyMy Profile

  16. Reading labels can be so confusing. I’ve learned alot by reading your blog and with the help of your data base, I am making better decisions. I used to change up food but since I’m adding veggies now, I just change up the veggie and extra’s in the food.
    Stacey recently posted…Chicken Hearts – An Affordable and Easy Snack For Your DogMy Profile

    • Good thinking. We do the same a small handful of chopped veggies helps fill them up too.
      mkob recently posted…Jack-aranda TreeMy Profile

  17. Our last Golden Retriever had skin allergies. Not fun for humans or dogs! So when Harper Lee came along I did lots and lots of research on what to feed her. So far, we’ve been lucky. Really appreciate the information you’ve shared. I’ve gotten a little lazy lately on the rotational diet. Thanks for the reminder. 🙂
    Miss Harper Lee recently posted…Wordless Wednesday: SnoozeMy Profile

    • Happy to help out – both you and Harper 🙂
      mkob recently posted…Jack-aranda TreeMy Profile

  18. This concerns me because we feed a lot of poultry. I’ve been looking into other protein sources and rotate out with beef whenever I can, but I don’t think I do it nearly enough.

    I feel like I need to do some research on this.
    Jodi recently posted…Solvit’s Telescoping Pet RampMy Profile

    • Get some salmon next time you buy food and see how they do.
      mkob recently posted…Jack-aranda TreeMy Profile

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