If you ever read a dog's food label, you may have noticed that among the list of ingredients there is ash. What is ash doing in your dog's food? Is it really ash as the ash you would find after having a barbecue? And most of all, is it healthy for dogs to have ash in their food? With the many unscrupulous things pet food manufacturers have been known for doing in the past decades to make easy money, it's tempting to point the finger and blame ash content as one of those things that shouldn't be there. So today's trivia question is:
Why is there ash in dog food?
A It's added as a filler to make kibble less expensive to make
B It's residue from cooking bones that should be removed but it's not
C It's a pet food label's way of describing mineral content
D It accidentally gets there and cannot be removed
The correct answer is: drum roll please....
The Correct Answer is, C, ash in dog food is on the label to describe the mineral content of a dog's food.
About Ash in Dog Food
When it comes to ash in dog food, it's not really what it sounds. So, no, it's not the type of ash we are used to seeing as when burning charcoal for a barbecue or burning wood in a fireplace. Ash in this case, refers to the amount of minerals that are found in the food. Ash is therefore not an ingredient that's purposely added to a dog's food, it's just there because it's part of the food.
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Basically, ash is the mineral content that would be left behind if the dog food was incinerated at high temperatures (like at 550 degrees) causing proteins, fats and carbs to be burned, leaving behind all the minerals.
Yes, technically speaking it's the "cremains" left behind if you were to "cremate" a canned dog food or a pile of kibble. Of course, the food you feed your dog is not incinerated, unless for laboratory testing purposes, otherwise what a waste that would be! Ash content is therefore just a statistical measurement of the combustible part of the food.
"Ash is the inorganic residue remaining after the water and organic matter have been removed by heating in the presence of oxidizing agents, which provides a measure of the total amount of minerals within a food."~University of Massachusetts Amherst
Is Ash in Dog Food Bad?
Since ash consists of minerals, it's a good thing to have in dog food. Indeed, ash is also often found in many human foods if you have time to read labels. Ash contains calcium, phosphorous, iron, zinc, and other trace minerals that dogs need in their diets. For instance, zinc is much needed for the skin, calcium and phosphorous are needed for healthy bones, while potassium is essential for the heart and kidneys. Generally though dogs do not need a whole lot of minerals though. So yes, ash in dog food is actually a good thing and also quite inevitable, but as with everything, moderation is key. If you are looking for precise numbers of recommendations, consult with a veterinary nutritionist.
Did you know? Many dog food manufacturers do not disclose their ash statistics. Indeed, according to Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) ash guarantee is not required on pet food labeling.
Expressed in Percentages
There are a myriad of dog food types on the market nowadays and each brand of dog food varies when it comes to moisture and ash content. The amount of ash in dog food is expressed in percentages. The percentage basically reflects the amount of ash remaining at the end of the incinerating process compared to how much food there was to start with at the beginning of the process. Usually, these percentages range between 5 and 8 percent in kibble and between 1 and 2 percent in canned food. The total ash content found in a bag of food however isn't really helpful when it comes to indicate the specific minerals in it. More information though may be obtained from contacting the dog food manufacturer.
"I was taught ash of 7% or lower is the goal in constructing a quality food... Ash denotes the amount of bone that’s ground into the meal. A low ash content signifies a higher grade meal due to more protein included and less bone...Cost of using higher quality proteins, thus lower ash, then comes into play and you can tell that by what a food costs."~Dr. Tim Hunt, DVM
An Insight into The Procedure
As one may imagine, the process of measuring moisture and ash content is quite elaborate for pet food manufacturing companies. It entails carefully monitoring the food's mineral contents and moisture routinely so to maintain a high level of consistency. The traditional method requires ovens or furnaces which can be time consuming, but now there are new computers on the market which are meant to measure moisture, solids and ash contents with accuracy at 1/10 of the time for moisture testing and 1/7 of the time for ash testing. These computers can effectively provide an in-depth analysis from a single sample.
- Dogs: The Ultimate Care Guide: Good Health, Loving Care, Maximum Longevity, by Matthew Hoffman, Rodale Books (May 15, 1998)
- Brown S., Taylor B., “See Spot Live Longer”, 2007 Creekobear Press, Eugene, OR USA, p 55