Artificial Coloring in Dog Food
The pet food industry discovered long ago that consumers are instantly attracted… like flies to honey… to any product labeled “natural”. They know that just adding the word “natural” to a product’s name can significantly boost sales.
And that makes unwary shoppers easy targets for profit-hungry dog food companies.
Dog owners want to make sure that their dogs get the best food possible. Artificial colorings are used in many dog foods, and understanding more about them can help you make decisions on your dog’s nutrition and health.
Of course you want the best for your four-legged friend, but it can be hard to tell the good food from the bad. Generally speaking, dog food with artificial coloring is low quality. Most high-quality dog food manufacturer’s don’t feel the need to try and trick you with colorful gimmicks.
History of Color in Food Products
According to a Forbes magazine article, adding color to food for humans and animals has been done for centuries. At the beginning of the 20th century, concern regarding the presence of toxic mercury, copper and arsenic in natural-based colorings prompted scientists to develop synthetic alternatives. By 1906, when the Pure Foods and Drug Act was passed, there were more than 80 different colorings being used in human and animal foods. The next three decades saw research into the effects of those colorings eliminating the ones deemed unsafe, thus narrowing the field to only 15 allowed colors by 1938. As of 2012 that list has been pared to only seven artificial colorings that many consumer advocates still lobby against. Forbes indicates that Yellow No. 5 – an approved yet controversial artificial coloring commonly used in dog foods – is being further tested for links to hyperactivity and cancer in human children.
Federal Veterinary Regulation of Food Color
According to the Veterinarian Newsletter produced by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a series of federal agencies regulate the addition of artificial food coloring to animal foods, including products marketed for dogs. Any proposed additions of new colors must first be approved by the Labeling and Compounds Review Division housed with the Department of Agriculture. Although only seven colors are currently allowed, manufacturers regularly apply to increase that number in an effort to market different products. The FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition administers the 1960 Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act currently governing the use of artificial colorings in a variety of products, including dog food. Staff from this center for food safety work in conjunction with veterinarians and animal scientists with the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine to ensure the safety of animal food products and accurate labeling of ingredients contained.
Artificial coloring is meant to make dog food look more appealing to the human purchasing the food. Gray, dull food looks unappetizing to humans, and the use of artificial coloring is used to make dog food appear more attractive. While natural substances like caramel coloring are harmless, they are unnecessary and generally only serve to make a food look more appealing and uniform to the human eye by hiding the gray color of poor quality rendered products, concealing visible variations in ingredients, or attempting to make a food look like it contains more meat by adding red dye.
Several dyes are commonly used in dog food. Blue 1 is a synthetic that was originally derived from coal tar, while blue 2 is derived from heating indigo paste. Red 40 is similar to Blue 1 in that it was once derived from coal tar. Yellow 5 and yellow 6 are also commonly found in dog food. TiO2 is a non toxic white powder used as an opaque pigment and dough conditioner.
Basically, there are three kinds of artificial ingredients…
- Artificial flavoring
- Artificial coloring
- Artificial preservatives
The first type, artificial flavoring, is rarely used to make dog food. So, flavoring isn’t really an issue.
The second type, artificial color, is of absolutely no interest to a dog. Do you really think a dog cares that his food is dark red… or forest green?
No… of course not.
Artificial colors are only added to a dog food for one sinister reason… to scam us humans into believing our dogs will be stupid enough to see the colored shapes as real pieces of meat… or fresh garden vegetables.
Hey, don’t fall for that trick. Avoid buying multicolored kibble like the one you see in the photo.
And always remember… colors and shapes are never put there to satisfy your dog. They’re added to deceive you… to mislead you into thinking you’re buying a higher quality product.
By now, I hope you’re beginning to see why you must be especially vigilant when considering the purchase of “natural” dog food.
We’ve talked about why so many companies use the word “natural” to market their products. And we’ve covered two of the three kinds of artificial additives… flavorings and colorings.
What Colors are Allowed
According to the FDA, seven artificial colorings are allowed in a category known as “Foods Generally,” which does include dog food. The colors are: Blue No. 1, Blue No. 2, Green No. 3, Red No. 3, Red No. 40, Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6. The Dog Food Guide lists suspected health problems linked to four of these colors that scientists are still studying. Blue No. 2, for instance, may be connected with a dog experiencing increased sensitivity to various common viruses, while Yellow No. 5 could be the potential culprit for the onset of allergic reactions and Yellow No. 6 might be a contributor to increased risk of cancer in the kidneys and adrenal gland.
In humans, artificial colors have been linked to allergies, behavioral problems and even cancer. Over the years the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has banned the use of many different colors in human foods. Even though the most dangerous artificial colors can no longer be used, some of those still used in both human and pet food, like Red No. 40, have been linked to cancer. Others can make your dog more vulnerable to viral illness. It is not proven that feeding your dog a kibble with artificial dye will cause him problems, and these foods are generally considered safe. However, it’s smart to compare the risk against the benefit, and artificial coloring offers no benefit to your dog.
Read the Labels
In an effort to inform consumers regarding the potential risks of a variety of ingredients – artificial food coloring included – that are used in the production of dog foods, the Dog Food Project maintains a lengthy online list detailing why each item on the list is potentially hazardous to your pup. It is recommended that human companions thoroughly scan the ingredients listed on their pup’s food bag if they have concerns regarding its safety.
The pet food industry is not regulated as much as the people food industry. Many things are added to dog food that would never be acceptable in human products. Labels like “natural” and “organic” are used rather loosely when it comes to dog food. Just because the package says it’s natural doesn’t mean that every ingredient is actually natural. When considering whether or not to give your dog a food that contains artificial coloring, consider the whole picture — what else does the food contain? Consider the value of all the ingredients and choose the healthiest food you can afford.
Colors Perceived by Dogs
Dyes are an unnecessary ingredient in dog food, according to The Dog Food Project, since dogs do not care about the color of their food. While dogs are not truly colorblind, according to Dog Time, the spectrum of colors dogs see is limited, compared with that perceived by humans. Reds, greens, and oranges are not distinguishable to dogs.
While one of the most-tested and widely used food dyes, the key mouse tests on FD&C Red No. 40, were inconclusive.However, according to an FDA review committee, evidence of harm was not consistent or substantial.
The second most widely used coloring, FD&C Yellow No. 5, can cause mild allergic reactions.
FD&C Yellow No. 6, the third most widely used dye, causes tumors of the adrenal gland and kidney. In addition, small amounts of several carcinogens contaminate Yellow 6. Yellow 6 may also cause occasional allergic reactions.
The largest study suggested, but did not prove, that FD&C Blue No. 2 caused brain tumors in male mice. The FDA concluded that there is “reasonable certainty of no harm.”
Making your own dog food with lean cuts of meat and fresh vegetables is one way to avoid artificial coloring. But it’s time-consuming and expensive. Many manufacturers of high-quality dog food don’t add artificial dyes because of the risks they carry. The best dog food will usually be a natural brown or gray color, without anything added to appeal to the human eye. The focus instead is on nutrition. Many of these dog foods contain real meat and no byproducts or fillers. They are very healthy for your dog, but also expensive. There are also a number of manufacturers who have realized that consumers no longer want fake colors added to their dog’s food. You can’t always trust the advertising on the front of the bag, so check the ingredient list to find a food that doesn’t contain artificial coloring.