Defining the words you can’t pronounce on a dog food label

One thing we can all agree on: it’s important to know your dog food. To understand what’s going into the dog bowl, and to understand the implications of these ingredients on your furry best friend. But have you ever tried reading a dog food label and actually understanding what it means? It’s not that easy.

To help you feel confident about what you’re buying and feeding your dog, we’ve done the research for you, and defined the super-long words commonly found on dog food labels. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Next time you look at a dog food label, you’ll be able to see right through those 14-syllable chemical compounds.

BHA BHT ethoxyquin PG l-ascorbic acid, dicalcium phosphate, calcium carbonate for dogs l NomNomNow Blog
Photo: @ifitwags

The words can’t pronounce on a dog food label

The good

Calcium carbonate: This calcium supplement has a long name, but rest assured…this is something you actually want in your dog food! Puppies and senior dogs especially should be eating diets with sufficient calcium sources.

Dicalcium phosphate: A second type of calcium to make sure your growing or adult dog is getting what they need, dicalcium phosphate is a great vitamin addition you might see on a dog food label.

L-ascorbic acid: A scary-looking word with a not-so-scary nickname, L-ascorbic acid is more commonly known as Vitamin C. While dogs can produce Vitamin C within their own bodies (unlike humans), Vitamin C can become depleted with stress or other unique circumstances, so a supply of this in the diet helps make a dog food suitable for many different types of dogs (for example, nursing mothers). Vitamin C can also act as a natural preservative, so you’re likely to see this in a food with no artificial ingredients added.

BHA BHT ethoxyquin PG l-ascorbic acid, dicalcium phosphate, calcium carbonate for dogs l NomNomNow Blog

The bad, and the ugly

BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole): If you’re finding this long word on your dog food label, you’re in for a not-so-pleasant surprise. This artificial preservative has been listed by the World Health Organization as a suspicious cancer-causing compound, and has been known to cause cancer and produce tumors in dogs and humans alike. It can be found on many commercially-produced dog food labels (and treat labels!) and should be completely avoided. Look for it written in short- and long-form on labels before you buy anything you plan to feed your dog.

BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene): Similar to BHA above, this artificial preservative has been shown to cause cancer in dogs, yet is still found in many processed pet foods. It’s as ugly hard-to-pronounce ingredients come, so avoid this completely. As a rule of thumb, avoid foods with any artificial preservatives (and ideally any artificial ingredients), and you’re on the right track.

Ethoxyquin: Another preservative, a whole new set of risks. Commonly found on the labels of many commercial dog foods, this ingredient also has two other uses: as a pesticide, and as a hardening agent for making synthetic rubber. You read that correctly. And it’s found in dog food. Veterinarians have reported links between consumption of ethoxyquin and the development of kidney and liver damage, cancer (liver, spleen, stomach, and skin), immune deficiency syndrome, blindness, and leukemia.

The FDA has investigated ethoxyquin for causing certain liver and blood problems, and has decided that it is suitable for feed-grade food, since small amounts will not have an immediate impact on a dog’s health. The two obvious problems here: ignoring cumulative exposure and accepting ‘feed-grade’ standards. As small as a dose may be, feeding it day after day, year after year makes it quite a noticeable dose, which is why vets are noticing health issues linked to ethoxyquin fed over time. Additionally, if deemed unsafe for humans, we certainly don’t want to be putting it in our dog’s smaller bodies.

PG (Propylene glycol): This moistening agent is found in some soft dog foods and treats, and is another of the ugly ingredients we don’t want to read on a dog food label. For starters, it’s an anti-freeze. While some try to tout it as a ‘pet-safe antifreeze’ (a questionable term in and of itself), we can all agree that an anti-freeze chemical isn’t doing our dogs’ health any favors.


Keep your dog safe from toxic ingredients hidden in dog food, and only feed ingredients you trust (and understand!). Have questions about other long words on a dog food label? Comment below and we’ll break them down for you!

Ready to decipher what’s in a dog food? Give your new dog-food label-reading skills a try



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