Is Food Coloring Safe For Dogs?

is food coloring safe for dogs

When you see some colorful dog foods, with their bright green, red or yellow kibble chunks, you may wonder … is food coloring safe for dogs? 

There are some natural food colorings that are safe … but you should definitely avoid artificial food dyes and even some of the natural options..

So here are the types of colors and dyes approved for use in pet food, and which ones you should avoid. 

FDA-Approved Color Additives 

Nine color additives are FDA-approved for use in food, including pet food. These colors were originally synthesized from coal tar but are now derived from petroleum. 

The FDA currently certifies nine synthetic dyes. The most commonly used ones are FD&C Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6. They are all derived from petroleum. Manufacturers like their bright tones and stability in products. They are also cheaper than natural alternatives. 

Red, yellow, and black iron oxides are also FDA approved for some uses and are found in pet food. Iron oxide’s better-known name is, of course, rust.

While the FDA considers these approved dyes safe, it’s a controversial topic and some are banned in some other countries. One well-known side effect of artificial food colorings is hyperactivity in children.

Some dyes may have cancer-causing effects. Others can trigger allergic reactions. Artificial food dyes have zero nutritional benefit, and they are all toxic in some degree … whether contaminated, carcinogenic, allergenic, or genotoxic (meaning they can damage DNA).

European studies show that Iron oxide black, red and yellow are skin and eye irritants. Inhalation of iron oxides has been shown to cause lung inflammation in rats. There’s also concern about genotoxicity.

It’s best to avoid all artificlal dyes in your dog’s food. 

“Natural” Colors In Dog Foods

The FDA also allows “natural” colors, such as carmine (made from insects), annatto (from seeds), and caramel color (sugar heated with ammonium, acid, or alkali compounds). 

Here are some natural colors to avoid in your dog’s food … 

Caramel color has come under scrutiny because, when processed with ammonium, it creates carcinogenic contaminants, as well as toxic by-products like acrylamide. It is typically made from corn syrup, adding extra sugar to your dog’s diet. Ammonium is not necessary to produce caramel color, but it is unknown to what extent manufacturers have switched to safer methods. 

Beta-carotene sounds like a nice natural color, and it is if it comes from carrots or sweet potatoes. But it is typically either solvent extracted from molds/algae or chemically synthesized, so it’s best to avoid foods with this coloring unless you know it’s sourced from vegetables. 

Potentially Harmful Colors In Dog Food

Carmine, also called cochineal, is made by drying and crushing female cochineal insects. They’re then immersed in an acid solution that produces the bright red dye. 

Carmine has been shown to cause food allergies in some people who are sensitive to the insect proteins. Factory workers exposed to carmine have also suffered from asthma. Even small amounts have been shown to trigger anaphylaxis, a serious and sometimes deadly allergic reaction. 

Safe Colors In Dog Food

Annatto is made from seeds of the achiote tree (Bixa orellana) and is widely used in cooking and cosmetics. It provides flavor as well as color to foods. It even has some medicinal properties, with antioxidant, antimicrobial, possibly anti-cancer effects, and may also promote eye health). Although side effects are rare, annatto has occasionally triggered food intolerances or irritable bowel syndrome. It’s generally safe in dog food but if you notice your dog has food sensitiivities and there’s annatto in his food, it could be the culprit. 

Paprika, beet juice, and turmeric are among natural colorings that are gaining consumer acceptance. These are safe for your dog, but they may be more costly than is practical for mass market pet foods. 

It is important to avoid FD&C dyes, and stay away from caramel color as well as synthetic beta-carotene. 


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Price PJ, Suk WA, Freeman AE, Lane WT, Peters RL, Vernon ML, Huebner RJ. In vitro and in vivo indications of the carcinogenicity and toxicity of food dyes. Int J Cancer. 1978 Mar 15;21(3):361-7. 

World Health Organization. Evaluation of certain food additives and contaminants. World Health Organ Tech Rep Ser. 2011;(966):1-136. 

EFSA FEEDAP Panel (EFSA Panel on Additives and Products or Substances used in Animal Feed), 2016.  Scientific opinion on the safety and efficacy of iron oxide black, red and yellow for all animal species. EFSA Journal  2016; 14( 6):4482, 16 pp. 

Jacobson MF. Carcinogenicity and regulation of caramel colorings. Int J Occup Environ Health. 2012 Jul-Sep;18(3):254-9. 

Gordon HT, Bauernfeind JC. Carotenoids as food colorants. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 1982;18(1):59-97. 

Chung K, Baker JR Jr, Baldwin JL, Chou A. Identification of carmine allergens among three carmine allergy patients. Allergy. 2001 Jan;56(1):73-7. 

Beaudouin E, Kanny G, Lambert H, Fremont S, Moneret-Vautrin DA. Food anaphylaxis following ingestion of carmine. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 1995 May;74(5):427-30. 

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