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What’s Really in Your Pet Food – The Top 12 Ingredients to Avoid

Many of us have been led to believe that healthy, natural, premium, and recommended on dog and cat food labels must mean that the food in the bag is good for our pets. Along with these words are 100% complete and balanced claims that let us assume that we are providing the best we can for our pets by eating the same grain-based diets every day. However, most people don’t fully appreciate what goes into these pet foods. Pet food companies put images of fresh cut chicken breasts, fresh fruits and vegetables, and healthy grains on packages, however, that’s rarely what’s actually inside the bag.

Chances are you are feeding a pet food that contains more than one of the ingredients listed below. The pet food industry has a wide range of unpleasant choices when it comes to the substances that can be used in pet food and the freedom to print enticing images, however misleading, on their packaging. It is only when our pet’s health begins to decline and eventually fails that most people begin to wonder why. After all, a healthy body can only be as good as what it is given.

To promote the best health you can for your partner, read and understand the uses of the common ingredients below and be sure to always read your labels!

The Top 12 Pet Food Ingredients to Avoid

Corn, corn or corn gluten meal

Years ago, pet food manufacturers discovered that pets love the sweet taste of corn. Corn is one of the most heavily subsidized crops in agriculture, making its purchase price lower than corn’s production cost.

The gluten in corn is used as an inferior source of protein in pet food. Corn protein alone is not a complete protein source and must be balanced with animal proteins to create a usable amino acid profile for pets.

Unfortunately, corn is often used as the single most abundant ingredient in many pet foods, contributing to many diseases associated with high-carbohydrate diets, including obesity, chronic inflammation, diabetes and cancer. The corn on the cob becomes filler with very little nutritional value. The quality of the corn is also an issue, as many foods use low-quality corn that contains toxins such as mycotoxins and mold that cause damage to a pet’s liver and kidneys.

Carnivores were never designed to get the majority of their energy needs from carbohydrates. They actually have zero nutritional requirements for carbohydrates or grains. However, the majority of products on the market are regularly up to 50% carbohydrate, with some even higher.

Centuries of evolution have designed carnivores to obtain energy from amino acids (protein) and fatty acids, fat from prey through the process of gluconeogenesis. Apart from simple economics, there is no reason to question the centuries of evolution that nature has put in place when it comes to feeding carnivores such as dogs, cats and ferrets. When we force such a dramatic change in metabolism and use the lowest cost ingredients, long term adverse effects become much more likely. The same effects of junk food on humans can be seen in today’s companion animals.


Wheat is another ingredient found in abundance in many foods. Repeated and persistent exposure to wheat in pets has led to allergies and intolerances to wheat and wheat gluten. This is another starchy crop to avoid.

Wheat gluten is also used as an inexpensive source of protein. Wheat gluten contamination was the cause of the massive Menu Foods pet food recall in 2007, which caused countless pets to suffer kidney failure, weakness and death. Menu Foods manufactured foods for hundreds of joint brands. This ordeal would have been avoided if the pet food companies involved had used quality ingredients such as human-grade meat instead of lower-cost grain alternatives.


Along with corn and wheat, soy is one of the most common allergies in pets. Carnivores were never meant to eat soy, it is commonly used in pet food as a cheap substitute for meat protein. As an added problem, it is estimated that about 89% of soybean crops and 61% of corn crops are genetically modified. Genetically modified foods are proven to have a negative effect on our pet’s health, just as it does on us.


Cellulose is essentially nothing more than 100% filler. It can be purified and obtained from anything from plant material to sawdust.


Cat and dog food usually contain by-products. Byproducts are excess waste from human food production. Byproducts come in two forms: branded and unbranded. Examples of named by-products include chicken offal and pork offal. Offal may include necks, legs, intestines and undeveloped eggs.

Non-named by-products include meat by-products. Meat offal can include brain, blood, kidney, lung and stomach.

Byproducts, in many cases, come from 4D meat sources – animals that have been rejected for human consumption because they presented at the meatpacking plant as dead, dying, diseased or disabled.

Animal fat

Unlike chicken fat (named animal source), unnamed animal fat is a rendered product from animals of unspecified origin.

Again in many cases animal fat includes meat sources from category 4D.

Meat Meal

Meat meal consists of rendered, unspecified sources of animal tissue.

What this definition does not mention is that the 4D class of meat sources can still be legally used in meat.

Meat and Bone Meal

Meat and Bone Meal is a rendered product of mammalian tissue, including bone.

Recently, many cat and dog food companies and pet food factories have come under scrutiny for including euthanized pets in meat and bone meal. Ann Martin, in her book, “Food Pets Die For,” exposed this outrageous practice and the detection of sodium pentobarbital in pet food, a veterinary drug used to euthanize companion animals.

Chemical preservatives: BHA, BHT, propyl gallate, ethoxyquin or sodium nitrite/nitrate

BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene) are petroleum-derived preservatives used in food and hygiene products. TBHQ (tert-butylhydroquinone) is another preservative derived from petroleum.

Ethoxyquin is used as a food preservative and pesticide. In pet food it is usually found in meat and fish based ingredients. Ethoxyquin is banned from use in human products because it is believed to cause cancer. It is important to note that when a manufacturer receives an ethoxyquin-preserved ingredient from a supplier, the manufacturer is not required to list the ethoxyquin on the pet food ingredients list.

Propyl Gallate is another preservative used in food, cosmetics, hair products, adhesives and lubricants

The use of these harsh chemicals are known to cause cancer and are neither considered inert nor safe, yet they are widely used in pet food.

Strong preservatives provide an inexpensive means of providing a long product life. Naturally preserved products may use tocopherols (Vitamin E), citric acid and rosemary extract to prevent rancidity.

These natural preservatives are common in truly healthy pet foods as manufacturers realize that the small additional cost is worth it when it comes to the safety of our pets.


Table sugar is often used to drum up interest in the nasty concoctions pet food manufacturers make. There is no reason to add sugar to pet food other than the reason stated.

Propylene glycol

Like sugar, propylene glycol is used as a flavor enhancer because of its sweet taste. It is another questionable ingredient in pet food. In human uses it is a common ingredient in deodorant sticks and make-up as a moisturizer. It is interesting to note that propylene glycol is the less toxic sister chemical of ethylene glycol, “antifreeze”.

Artificial Colors

Colored kibbles are not for the benefit of the dog or cat, they are actually to make them more attractive to you! Our pets couldn’t care less about the color of their food, this is just another marketing ploy to get your attention on pet food labels. Artificial colors are synthetic chemical dyes that have no place in pet food. There have been cases linking FD&C colors to cancer and other negative effects.


We can see that any pet food can claim to be healthy and natural when it is not. Suggested by statements also have little effect on the quality of these pet foods.

Quite simply, quality pet foods do not use these ingredients. It’s clear that pet foods found in supermarkets and even chain pet stores do not have your pets’ best interests at heart.

So, what are the alternatives?

Fortunately there are many! Whether you’re looking for dry or canned food alternatives, or want to switch to a natural raw food diet, there are plenty of healthy options available for you.

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