Although it may seem weird to read "ash" on a dog food label, the ash indicated on the bag or can was not added by the makers.
In this article, we'll explore what ash in dog food is, what it's made of, and whether high or low ash levels are healthier.
The rumors about ash
It might shock you to find "ash" listed on the package. Why would somebody put ash in food for a pet or anyone else? At first glance, it seems to be something that evil pet food manufacturers may add to save money during the production process.
There are some blogs (mostly from brands selling "low ash" dog food) that have extended rumors suggesting ash is a filler in dog food—that it's simply burnt material added to pet food to make it cheaper to make.
The reality is that the ash indicated on the dog food bag or container isn't anything added by its producers. It's also not the ash that collects at the bottom of your fireplace. Rather, this ash is a form of measurement that relates to the quantity of minerals in the diet that your dog need to be healthy.
What exactly is "Crude Ash"?
When any food is burned at very high temperatures, all of the protein, fats and carbs disappear—leaving only the food's minerals. These minerals include calcium, phosphorus, zinc, iron and others. They're all essential in the diets of all dogs and living beings.
It's critical that your dog obtains these minerals at the right quantities in his or her food so that they may develop properly as a puppy, and stay fit as an adult.
The Guaranteed Analysis of a dog food label sometimes lists "crude ash" which is simply a measure of the food's mineral content, indicated as a percentage of the total weight of the product, which is normally between 5% and 10% in dry dog food.
To put it another way, there isn't actually burnt ash in your dog's food. Crude ash is a simply a measurement of the minerals inside your dog's food.
How much ash is good?
As previously indicated, most dog diets include between 5% and 10% ash. This amount has been proven to be within a safe range for nutritional health, ensuring that your dog receives the minerals he or she needs.
More ash means more vital minerals in your dog's food. The more calorie dense your dog's food is, the higher the ash content is likely to be. If your dog's diet has nutrient-dense ingredients, you can also expect the ash content to be higher.
Generally speaking, high ash content is associated with more nutritious dog food. Of course, the actually breakdown of the minerals is what matters most.
AAFCO—which regulates the US pet food industry—defines levels at which each vitamin and mineral should be contained in dog food. Brands that go beyond their minimum requirements may have more ash in their food.
The ash percentage provides an overall picture of mineral composition rather than a breakdown of particular minerals. If your dog has specific nutritional needs, you should look at the food label for further information.
Younger dogs may need different calcium levels, while aging dogs may require more zinc to combat metabolic deficiencies that occure as they age. Consult your veterinarian to identify the best course of action for your dog.
Is ash a nutrient or a filler?
On your dog's ingredients label, you may find some odd sounding ingredients like zinc proteinate, potassium chloride or sodium selenite.
These sound like chemicals and are almost as off-putting as the word "ash" itself. However, these are all the same minerals found in the daily multivitamins you consume.
When reading pet food labels, you'll notice a number of substances that don't sound like food. It's important to be a well-informed pet parent who is aware of everything that goes into your dog's body.
When you see an ingredient you don't recognize, your first step should be to do your own research. Some ingredients (like potassium sorbate) may actually be artificial preservatives, while an ingredient like potassium chloride is a vital nutrient that also protects against kidney disease.
What minerals are in ash?
As discussed, the Crude Ash on pet food labels is the inorganic substance left behind after organic stuff has been burned away.
This is the mineral content of your dog's food. These minerals include:
Fire has always produced ash, which burns everything with calories while leaving some vitamin residue and all of the minerals behind.
The FDA authorized a food composition test which is used by the human and pet food industries alike. Manufacturers use this test to measure the amount of fat, carbohydrate and protein in a given item by burning each organic element out at various temperatures. Afterwards, all that is left is ash.
Is it okay to give ash to my pet?
For pet nutritionists, ash isn't an evil word—it's simply a measurement of minerals that must be present in your dog's diet by amounts defined by AAFCO. All dogs need calcium, phosphorus, salt and a variety of trace minerals in well-defined amounts.
There are very few instances when too much ash in the diet might be harmful. However, dogs with kidney stones as well as giant breed pups who absorb the most nutrients during their rapid growth phases may be advised to maintain lower mineral levels in their diets. In each of these circumstances, the ash content may need to be reduced accordingly. You should consult with your veterinarian if your dog has kidney stones or is a ultra-large breed.
For most dogs, a high mineral level is preferable and is an indicator of "filler-free" dog food.
The word "ash" refers to a mixture of minerals essential to survive. For those who understand the mineral requirements in AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles, it would be more beneficial for us as consumers to know how much calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride, iron, zinc, copper, manganese, iodine and selenium are present in the food separately.
For those not studied in pet nutrition, Crude Ash acts as a high level indicator of overall levels of these minerals combined.
Why does ash vary between brands?
There are two main reasons why Crude Ash levels may differ between different dog foods.
First, dog foods with high protein that include bones with the meat will have higher ash due to the higher calcium and phosphorus contained in bones.
Second, dog foods with nutrient-rich ingredients will contain higher mineral content than brands with low quality filler ingredients such as rice and potato.
An additional mineral boost may assist to imitate the extra components found in a canine's ancestral diet. In the wild, dogs receive the vital minerals they need by gnawing on bones, eating nutrient-rich organ meat and collecting everything from vegetables to dirt to complement their meat-based diet. In many aspects, ash serves as a dietary supplement.
Despite the fact that ash is a neutral topic from a scientific standpoint, it leaves a terrible taste in the mouths of many pet parents. Many consumers believe that ash is mostly used as a filler and takes up space where more nutritious components might be added. But this is quite the opposite from the truth. Even AAFCO now requires a certain quantity of ash in order to satisfy nutritional needs.
The bottom line
Ash is a harmless measurement of the minerals contained in dog food. There is not actually burnt ash in your dog's food.
Pet parents may consult with their veterinarian to understand the right ash content for their dog's breed. However, most dogs will benefit from a moderate-to-high ash content in their food as it indicates a high nutrient density in their diet.
The most straightforward strategy for ensuring your pet's nutritional wellness is to feed your dog a diet consisting of whole food ingredients, quality proteins and sufficient vitamins and minerals to stay healthy.