Things You Should Never See In Your Pet’s Food


Just as with human nutrition, there are some things that just don’t belong in a good dog or cat food. Some of them are marketed as nutritious–but watch out for “fake claims” about ingredients.

The food your furry family member eats should be from whole foods with the same grade of nutrients as humans consume. Unfortunately, many of the most highly marketed pet foods lull owners into a false sense of security that their pet’s best health is being served.

That just ain’t so. Consuming highly processed foods and excess calories contributes to our pets suffering from a variety of health problems with potentially irreversible consequences. These are the same diseases humans suffer from when they consume highly processed food–obesity, arthritis, periodontal disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Additionally, the FDA “does not object to the diversion to animal feed of human food adulterated with rodent, roach, or bird excreta (stool or droppings).” (Source ) Therefore, your dog or cat may be eating these undesirable and disease-causing substances (shit) that are not permitted in human foods.

For your pet’s sake, give them a diet of human-grade, whole-food-based ingredients beginning early in life and minimize the consumption of low-cost and poor quality dry and canned diets and treats.

Here is a short list of the most harmful ingredients found in many commercial pet foods.

Artificial Colors

Sure, it looks good to feed your pet something with what appears to be green for vegetables and red for meats. But that is just wrong thinking based on clever marketing. Artificial colors, especially Red #40, are used in many pet foods. Years ago artificial colorings were found to be harmful to people. For example, Red #2 and Violet #1 were banned by the FDA in the mid-Seventies as possible carcinogens. Red #40 is banned throughout the entire European Union as a possible carcinogen but it is still used in the US to keep meat for human consumption looking fresh!

Blue #2 is thought to increase dogs’ sensitivity to viruses. Another color that is commonly used but that has not been fully tested is Yellow #5. Artificial colors contribute to hypersensitivity (allergic-type) reactions, behavior problems, and cancer in humans. Recently, caramel color has come under fire as it contains 4-methylimidazole (4-MIE), a known animal carcinogen.

Remember that artificial food colors or dyes used in pet foods are not there for the benefit of dogs or cats. They are in our pet food to satisfy the pet owner’s idea of how a pet food “should” look–based on marketing.

Beef Tallow

Black-Beef-Steer Beef tallow is another name for beef fat. It has no nutritional value for our pets. It’s often used in commercial dog and cat food because, as we humans all know, fat contributes a lot of flavors and makes the food more satisfying. Keep in mind that it’s just another unnecessary, low-quality ingredient. Plus, the addition of fat encourages food to become rancid.

In February 2018, Gravy Train®, Kibbles ‘N Bits®, Ol’ Roy®, and Skippy® brands made by the J.M. Smucker company were recalled due to pentobarbital contamination in beef tallow. Pentobarbital is used as a means of humane euthanasia.

Corn & Corn Syrup

Corn or cornmeal is a common ingredient in pet foods. Its used as a cheap filler to artificially increase the protein content of the food. Importantly, many pets are allergic to it. Corn syrup is another name for high-fructose corn syrup–an ingredient that’s bad for both humans and pets. The only purpose is to sweeten the food to make it more palatable.  It has absolutely no nutritional value and contributes to obesity in your pets and in you. There’s something wrong when a pet food has to add artificial sweeteners it so your dog or cat will eat it.

Ethoxyquin, BHA & BHT

Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA), Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT), and Ethoxyquin are harmful chemical preservatives. BHA and BHT are chemicals added to oils (fats) as preservatives. They are often found in pet foods and treats. According to California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, BHA is on the list of Known Carcinogens and Reproductive Toxicants. BHT is also a carcinogen and causes kidney and liver damage in rats.

Ethoxyquin is illegal to use in human foods in the United States, yet can still legally be added to pet foods. Human safety data reports Ethoxyquin is harmful if swallowed or if it directly contacts the skin. Ethoxyquin often enters into pet foods through fish meal and may not even appear on a label. It’s best that your pet’s food and treats have no preservatives, but natural options like Vitamins C and E are much safer choices.

Meat By-Products

Meat by-products really are not what they sound like. If you think they are like the gizzard and hearts found in turkeys and some chickens, don’t be fooled. Meat by-products come from any part of the animal that was not approved for human consumption. This includes even cancerous and rancid tissues. The pet food manufacturer often doesn’t know what type of animals the by-products come from.

Meat & Bone Meal

Meat and bone meal is similar to meat by-products and can come from anywhere. These are essentially ground up meat, including bone, that was not deemed fit for human consumption. Rancid and cancerous tissues and bones are included in meat and bone meals. Meat and bone meal are another by-product of the slaughtering process.

For example, poultry giblets not refrigerated immediately after slaughter but stored for up to 24 hours in an unrefrigerated trailer cannot be sold for human consumption. Yet they can still be legally used for making pet food. Similarly, animals that are dead on arrival at the slaughterhouse and other animal parts that are inedible or unfit for human consumption can still be used in manufacturing pet food.

Propylene Glycol

Propylene Glycol (PG) is a moistening agent found in soft pet foods and treats. It is chemically derived from ethylene glycol, also known as antifreeze, which is extremely toxic to animals. PG is marketed as non-toxic and non-absorbent by your pet, but consuming pet-safe antifreeze certainly will not improve your pet’s health. And what’s a product that is not absorbed doing in Fido or Fluffy’s food anyway?

Wheat Flour/Wheat Gluten

wheat stalks against blue skyDogs, and especially cats, do not voluntarily eat grains and so their bodies are not well-adapted for digesting them. (Growing wheat grass for your cats to nibble is totally different.)

Wheat flour and gluten have zero nutritional value for our pets. Although this is sometimes used as a source of protein to make the nutrition stats on the bag look better, just like corn, it really does more harm than good–especially since many wheat fields are sprayed with RoundUp® before harvesting so the grain dries faster. This means your pet–and you–are getting an herbicide in every mouthful of non-organic wheat.

There’s no debate. Spending more on a high-quality pet food saves money in the long run by fewer trips to the veterinarian and fewer medications.

For more information on what to look for–and avoid–in commercial pet foods, see this post.

What To Look For In A Prepared Pet Food

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  1. So much great information in this post. I started to become aware of these problems in recent years but never realized just how deep these problems went.

    I fed my dog many of the bad brands in ignorance for many years.

    Great post! Have a great day!

    • I appreciate your comments, Kevin.
      The majority of pet owners feed poor quality foods and, as you identified, it’s because of ignorance. Sadly, we cannot depend on the FDA, the USDA or just about any other “watchdog” agency to take care of our best interests. Instead, they serve the interests of companies and often these corporate interests conflict with the best interests of consumers.
      Consumers these days have to be vigilant if we want to preserve our health and that of our furry family members.

  2. I buy limited ingredient grain free dog food for my dogs. Now I am glad I do! I figure that we should eat healthy, therefore so should our furry family members. Great information…now I know never to skimp!

  3. Sabrina Brehm

    This is such a great informative post! Thank you for the great post that I will be saving for the next time I buy dog food. I never knew all this so makes me realize that I really need to pay more attention to what I’m feeding my furbaby 💕😁

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Sabrina.
      I wrote it for exactly the reason you say in the comment–people just don’t realize how many shoddy ingredients can be in their pet’s food.
      Glad I was able to help.

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