Study: Do You Know What’s In Your Dog’s Food?

September 12, 2022

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From the first moment you see their furry face and wagging tail, you want to give your new best friend the best of everything. The coziest bed, the squishiest toys, the chewiest treats — nothing but the best will do for your precious pooch. One of the most important decisions you can make as a dog owner is what kind of food to feed your dog. With an abundance of dog food options out there, how does a pet owner choose what’s best for their pup?

To help you make the best choice, we looked at ingredients from dry dog foods across 10 different brands, analyzed 200 TikTok videos, and surveyed 1,000 dog owners about how they feed their furry friends. How do they choose the right products? How often do they share their own food with their dogs, or even cook their dogs’ meals? Do they know which foods and ingredients are toxic to dogs? We asked these questions and more, gathering the best tips for your dog’s diet.

Key Findings:

  • Only 30% of the dog foods we analyzed listed a whole food meat protein, like chicken or beef, as their first ingredient
  • 60% of dog owners were aware that chocolate is toxic for dogs
  • On average, dog owners have spent $79 a month — totaling to almost $950 a year — to feed their pups

Trending Meals For Pups

If there’s one thing to love about social media, it’s all the adorable animal videos. Aside from their undeniable cuteness, TikTok’s dog videos offer insight into people’s dog feeding habits. We scraped TikTok for popular videos with hashtags like #whatifeedmydog and #dogfood to discover trending doggy diet tips.

Analysis of dog food trends on TikTok

Dog owners on TikTok love to pamper their pooches by serving them fresh, raw meat. Raw beef was the most popular meat, with beef liver being the preferred cut for canines. Cheek, ear, heart, kidney, and tongue were also commonly fed to TikTok pups. Organ meats  — also known as offal — in particular, are superfoods for pooches. 

The second most popular food was fruit. One-quarter of TikTokers who feed fruit to their dogs said they give them berries, especially blueberries. Melon was also a popular treat, with watermelon being the favorite. Maybe that will come in handy at your next cookout, where there’s often more than enough to go around.

After raw meat and fruit, vegetables were the next most popular food, followed by dietary supplements. The alpha of all dietary supplements according to TikTokers was fish oil, which the American Kennel Club also recommends. Many TikTok influencers also splurged on other doggy supplements such as multivitamins, magnesium, zinc, Vitamin E, kelp, and spirulina.

What Is “Meat Meal” Exactly?

While some dog owners can afford quality raw meat, fish, and dietary supplements, others rely on packaged dry dog food. While often more affordable, these products don’t always disclose their full ingredients on the label. We analyzed the most popular dog foods from 10 different brands and listed some common ingredients we found in them to help you make a more educated decision about your pup’s food.

Here are the 10 popular dog food brands we analyzed:

  1. Blue Buffalo
  2. Cesar
  3. Hill's Science Diet
  4. Nature's Recipe
  5. Pedigree
  6. Purina Pro Plan
  7. Rachel Ray Nutrish
  8. Royal Canin
  9. Taste of the Wild
  10. Wag Wholesome Grains

Percentage of common ingredients in popular dog foo

Far from the freshness of raw meat and berries, one questionable ingredient we found most often was meat meal, which was present in 90% of the foods we analyzed. “Meat meal” is a dry blend of rendered animal ingredients produced by a multi-step high pressure and high temperature process. While this concentrated protein powder can be healthy and nutritious when sourced from high-quality meats, many popular dog foods make theirs using low-grade meat by-products.

Higher-quality meat meals will be listed in the ingredients as being sourced from a specific species; for example, beef meal, venison meal, lamb meal, chicken meal, etc. Alternatively low-quality meat meals will be listed generically as meat meal, animal meal, chicken by-product meal, meat and bone meal, etc.

The most popular foods also included a lot of salt. This ingredient isn’t necessarily bad in small amounts — as with humans, it’s an important part of a dog’s diet — but large amounts can negatively impact dogs’ kidneys. Delicate doggies with health problems can be especially sensitive to salt and may require a low-sodium diet. 

Another common ingredient that can be problematic is barley, which we found in 50% of popular dog foods. Just like corn and wheat, barley is a grain, meaning it can be hard for dogs to digest, causing them to absorb less of their food’s nutrients. With this in mind, although a grain-free diet might cost a little more, it can be more nourishing for your pet.

A study of types of harmful ingredients in dog food and human food

While there are lots of healthy foods out there for dogs, there are also some foods dog owners should avoid to keep their beloved pets safe. Not all “people food” can be shared with our furry friends. For the most part, dog owners are aware of the dangers, as only 7% were not able to correctly identify any harmful dog food ingredients. Nevertheless, a few ingredients had owners a bit confused.

One in five thought asparagus was toxic, even though it’s perfectly safe and healthy for canine consumption. And although the fruit of a peach is safe for pups, pup parents should always remember to remove the pit before serving them one — not only is it a choking hazard, but it also contains poisonous cyanide. While you might be unlikely to eat a peach pit, your dog is highly likely to if they’re given a chance.

Choosing the Right Chow

With so many products to choose from, navigating the dog food aisle can be overwhelming. How do owners choose their dog food, and how much are they willing to spend? How many owners share table food with their dogs, and which ones?

Data of preferred dog food brand

You want the best for your pups, and when it comes to dog food, that means feeding them quality ingredients. More than half of the owners we surveyed agreed: 57% chose their dog’s food based on the ingredient list. Baby boomers were the most conscientious about it, with 66% of them naming ingredients as the most important factor in their dog food choices. Gen Z, on the other hand, was most concerned about the cost, as reported by 61%.

Despite generation, cost also played a big factor for another 48% of respondents in choosing their dog food. This is likely a concern for many these days due to inflation: 91% of respondents said the price of their dog’s food has increased over the past year. Maybe that’s why 78% of Gen Z have prepared their dog’s food from scratch — far more than any other generation.

Many owners looked to others to help them choose a good dog food: 55% have relied on brand recognition to make their selections, while 30% made theirs based on a vet’s recommendation. According to half the people we surveyed, the dog food most recommended by vets was Hill’s Science Diet.

In addition to actual dog food, most owners loved sharing table food with their furry friends. Only 6% of owners have never fed table food to their dogs. Millennials and Gen Xers were equally as likely to fall into this category (8%), while Gen Zers were the most likely to share food with their canine companions. Chicken, pizza, and steak were among owners’ favorite foods to share with their pups — plus peanut butter, of course. What’s funnier than watching a pup trying to lick peanut butter off its nose? 

Only the Best for Your Best Friend

Between the aisles upon aisles of dog food choices, various vet recommendations, and the popularity of homemade dog meals, choosing the best food for your dog can be quite challenging. There is, however, lots of helpful information available about the best — and worst — foods for good doggy nutrition. Fresh, quality ingredients, carefully chosen supplements, and thoughtful dietary considerations can make sure your best friend stays healthy and happy as long as they’re by your side. With your precious pooch fed and satisfied, you can grab a blanket, curl up together, and enjoy the endless scroll of canine TikTok cuteness.


We analyzed the most popular dog foods from 10 brands to determine what unhealthy ingredients they contained. Then, we performed a scrape of 200 TikTok videos with hashtags such as #whatifeedmydog and #dogfood to determine what TikToker influencers are feeding their pups (all videos used had over 65,000 views). Lastly, we surveyed 1,000 dog owners to explore how they feed their dogs. 

About Barkbus

Barkbus is a luxury mobile dog grooming service aiming to end traumatic trips to the grooming salon. They currently service Southern California — Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Diego — with plans for national expansion.

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