What Is Ash in Dog Food? What the "Ash Content" of Dog Food Means

What Is Ash in Dog Food?
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vet verified Dr. Joseph J. Wakshlag, DVM Associate Professor of Clinical Nutrition

Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine Ithaca, NY

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It may seem strange to see "ash" as an ingredient in dog food, but the ash you see listed on the dog food bag or can isnโ€™t something the manufacturers added. Learn about ash content in dog food.

It may seem strange to see ash as an ingredient in dog food, but the ash you see listed on the dog food brands or cans isn’t something the manufacturers added. However, why would anyone put ash in something a pet, or anyone else, would eat?

It may seem, at first, like something pet food makers might add to save a few bucks in the manufacturing process.

The truth is that the ash you see listed on the dog food bag or can isn’t something the manufacturers added, and it's not the kind of ash you find at the bottom of your fireplace either. Rather, this ash is a kind of measurement. It corresponds to the number of minerals — minerals your dog needs to stay healthy — found in the food.

The Ash Measurement

When any food is incinerated at very high temperatures, all the proteinfats, and carbohydrates are burned away, leaving behind only the minerals. These minerals include calcium, phosphorus, zinc, iron, and others in small amounts of other minerals needed in dog and cat food. 

Your dog must get these minerals in their diet at the proper levels, so they grow and remain active and fit. The amount of ash stated on the dog food label indicates the mineral content, expressed as a percentage found in the food, usually between 5 and 8 percent in dry dog food, like the Royal Canin Dog Food, and 1 to 2 percent in wet dog food, like the Purina dog food (Purina Pro Plan Dog Food). Ash is how much mineral would be found if the food were incinerated, which of course, it’s not.

All dog foods, and all foods humans eat as well, have an ash content.

Proper Ash Levels

As stated above, most dog foods have an ash content of between 5 and 8 percent, with some dry foods rising to 10 percent. This level has been determined as being within a proper range for nutritional health—to ensure your dog gets the minerals they need.

However, you should be aware that the ash percentage gives an overall picture of mineral content and not a breakdown of specific minerals. If your dog has particular nutritional requirements, you should check the food label for greater content details. Younger dogs may need a restricted calcium content, while other dogs may require additional zinc for aging issues. Consult with your veterinarian to determine what is best for your dog. Still curious? Learn more about ash in pet food.

Ash in Pet Food: Filler or Nutrient?

There are plenty of ingredients that don’t sound a lot like food when you are reading your pet food labels. It is important to be an educated pet parent and stay on top of everything that goes into your dog or cat’s body. So, what do you do when you see that there is ash in your pet’s food?

So what is ash?

Maybe it's an acronym for Always Super Healthy?

Not quite--ash that is referred to on pet food packaging is pretty much what it sounds like: the inorganic material that remains after organic material is burnt up. But don't be alarmed--it's a measurement of non-organic mineral content, including calcium, phosphorous, zinc, iron, and other essential minerals.

Ash has always been a useful by-product of fire, which burns everything with calories and leaves some portions of vitamin residue and all of the minerals behind. The FDA mandated a food composition test in which producers determine how much fat, carbohydrate, and protein is in a certain food by burning each organic element out of it at different temperatures. All that is left after a test like that is ash.

Is ash safe to feed my pet?

Ash is not a dirty word in the pet food industry; it's a measurement of minerals that have to be in foods, to some extent, since your pet needs calcium, phosphorus, sodium, and a plethora of trace minerals. In general, dry pet food contains ash content (aim for something under 8%), while wet food will occasionally have it, too, in smaller amounts (typically 2% or less).

Though it may be essential, there are a few situations where extra ash in the food can be detrimental. The important exceptions here are cats or dogs with crystals in their urine and large breed puppies who soak in the most nutrients in their impressive growing stages. In these two cases, the ash content needs to be appropriately reduced.

Ash is a generic term for a compilation of vital minerals. As consumers, it would be better for us to know how much calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride, iron, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, and iodine there is in the food. Ash contains some or all of those minerals. However, as of now, it isn't necessary to give the breakdown. Some pet foods will supply these amounts separately, and some list them under the bundled heading of ash.

Why do pet foods have different amounts of ash?

Ash can be produced through the incineration of any organic substance. Sometimes, an extra meat meal is used to make higher protein foods. That results in higher ash content in many cases. Since meat and poultry meals often contain bone in them (which contains a lot of calcium and phosphorus), adding more of these meat and poultry meals can result in the ash content of food creeping up. So, if your dog or cat were to have problems with urinary stones or is a growing large breed puppy, then knowing the ash content of the food is important if you still want to feed a high protein food.

It has been suggested that an increased mineral boost helps simulate the extra elements of a wild animal’s diet. In a natural environment, dogs and cats supplement their meat-based diet by crunching on bones and foraging anything from vegetables to dirt to get the essential minerals needed. In many ways, ash fills this nutritional role.

Although ash seems perfectly harmless from a scientific point of view, it still leaves a bad taste in many pet owners’ mouths. Many consumers have expressed opinions that, more than anything, ash is mostly filler and takes up space where more healthful ingredients should be included. As of right now, though, there is an essential amount of ash required by the AAFCO to meet nutritional requirements.

The final word

Ash is safe and even beneficial to most pets in appropriate amounts. However, pet parents should be mindful of the percentage of food and be especially careful if they have a large breed puppy or a dog or cat with urinary stone issues. The easiest way to ensure your pet’s nutritional wellness is to serve a well-rounded diet of different quality protein foods and treats.

Back to Your Dog Food Questions Answered

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This information is for informational purposes only and is not meant as a substitute for the professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment by, your veterinarian. It has, however, been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Joe, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and Cornell University Veterinary Medicine graduate.

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