Whole chickens, choice cuts
of beef, fresh grains and all the wholesome nutrition your dog or cat will ever
These are the images pet food manufacturers promulgate through the
media and advertising. This is what the $10 billion per year U.S. pet food
industry wants consumers to believe they are buying when they purchase their
This report explores the differences between what consumers
think they are buying compared to what they are actually getting. This document
focuses in very general terms on the most visible name brands — the pet food
labels that are mass distributed to supermarkets and grocery stores — but there
are many smaller, more highly respected brands that may be guilty of the same
What most consumers are unaware of is that the pet food
industry is an extension of the human food industry, also known as the
agriculture industry. Pet food provides a place for slaughterhouse waste and
grains considered “unfit for human consumption” to be turned into profit. This
waste includes cow tongues, esophagi, and possibly diseased and cancerous meat.
The “whole grains” used have had the starch removed and the oil extracted —
usually by chemical processing — for vegetable oil, or they are the hulls and
other remnants from the milling process. Some of the truly whole grains used may
have been deemed unfit for human consumption because of mold, contaminants, or
poor storage practices.
Four of the five major pet food companies in the
United States are subsidiaries of major multinational food production companies:
Colgate-Palmolive (Hills Science Diet Pet Food), Heinz (9 Lives, Amore, Gravy
Train, Kibbles n Bits, Recipe, Vets), Nestle (Alpo, Fancy Feast, Friskies,
Mighty Dog) and Mars (Kal Kan, Mealtime, Pedigree, Sheba). From a business
standpoint, multinational food companies owning pet food manufacturing companies
is an ideal relationship. The multinationals have a captive market in which to
capitalize on their waste products, and the pet food manufacturers have a
reliable source from which to purchase their bulk materials.
hundreds of different pet foods available in this country. And while many of the
foods on the market are virtually the same, not all of the pet food
manufacturing companies use poor quality and potentially dangerous ingredients.
Ingredients Although the purchase price of pet food does not always
determine whether a pet food is good or bad, the price is often a good indicator
of quality. It would be impossible for a company that sells a generic brand of
dog food at $9.95 for a 40-lb. bag to use quality protein and grain in its food.
The cost of purchasing quality ingredients would be much higher than the selling
The protein used in pet food comes from a variety of sources. When
cattle, swine, chickens, lambs, or any number of other animals are slaughtered,
the choice cuts such as lean muscle tissue are trimmed away from the carcass for
human consumption. Whatever remains of the carcass — bones, blood, pus,
intestines, ligaments, and almost all the other parts not generally consumed by
humans — is used in pet food. These “other parts” are known as “by-products” or
other names on pet food labels. The ambiguous labels list the ingredients, but
do not provide a definition for the products listed. (See the API Pet Food
Shopping Guide for a more detailed list of ingredient definitions.)
Pet Food Institute — the trade association of pet food manufacturers —
acknowledges the use of by-products in pet foods as additional income for
processors and farmers: “The purchase and use of these ingredients by the pet
food industry not only provides nutritional needs for pets at reasonable costs,
but provides an important source of income to American farmers and processors of
meat, poultry and seafood products for human consumption.
Many of these
remnants are indigestible and provide a questionable source of nutrition for our
animals. The amount of nutrition provided by meat by-products, meals, and
digests can vary from vat to vat. James Morris and Quinton Rogers, two
professors with the Department of Molecular Biosciences, University of
California at Davis Veterinary School of Medicine, assert that, “There is
virtually no information on the bioavailability of nutrients for companion
animals in many of the common dietary ingredients used in pet foods. These
ingredients are generally by-products of the meat, poultry and fishing
industries, with the potential for a wide variation in nutrient composition.
Claims of nutritional adequacy of pet foods based on the current Association of
American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) nutrient allowances (‘profiles’) do not
give assurances of nutritional adequacy and will not until ingredients are
analyzed and bioavailability values are incorporated.
Another source of
meat you won’t find mentioned on pet food labels are dogs and cats. In 1990 the
San Francisco Chronicle reported that euthanized companion animals were being
used in pet food. Although pet food manufacturers vehemently denied the report,
the American Veterinary Medical Association confirmed the Chronicle’s story.
Many pets are euthanized with sodium pentobarbital and then rendered. This
poison does not break down and goes into commercial pet food and feed for cows,
pigs and horses. For the detailed report by the FDA’s Center for Veterinary
Medicine on popular commercial pet foods containing pentobarbital, click here.
When you read the report, please know that AD (animal digest) is animal waste
(to be polite)!
Protein is protein once it is rendered. What is
rendering? Rendering, as defined by Webster’s Dictionary, is “to process as for
industrial use: to render livestock carcasses and to extract oil from fat,
blubber, etc., by melting.”
What can the feeding of such ingredients do
to your companion animal? Some veterinarians claim that feeding slaughterhouse
wastes to animals increases their risk of getting cancer and other degenerative
diseases. One factor is that the cooking methods used by pet food manufacturers
and rendering plants do not destroy many of the hormones used to fatten
livestock, or medications such as those used to euthanize dogs and cats. Click
here to read “Why is Cancer Killing Our Pets?”
Animal and Poultry Fat
You may have noticed a unique, pungent odor when you open a new bag of pet food
— the smell of restaurant grease from a hundred fast food restaurants. What is
the source of that delightful smell? It is refined animal fat, kitchen grease,
and other oils too rancid or deemed inedible for humans.
grease has become a major component of feed grade animal fat over the last
fifteen years. This grease, often held in fifty-gallon drums, is usually kept
outside for weeks, exposed to extreme temperatures with no regard for its future
use. The next few times you dine out, be sure to look out back behind the
restaurant for a container with a rendering company’s name on it. It is almost
guaranteed that you will find one. “Fat blenders” or rendering companies then
pick up this rancid grease and mix the different types of fat together,
stabilize them with powerful antioxidants to retard further spoilage, and then
sell the blended products to pet food companies.
These fats are sprayed
directly onto dried kibble or extruded pellets to make an otherwise bland or
distasteful product palatable. The fat also acts as a binding agent to which
manufacturers add other flavor enhancers as well. Pet food scientists have
discovered that animals love the taste of these sprayed fats. Manufacturers are
masters at getting a dog or a cat to eat something she would normally turn up
her nose at.
Wheat, Soy, Corn, Peanut Hulls, and Other Vegetable Protein
The amount of grain products used in pet food has risen over the last decade.
Once considered filler by the pet food industry, grain products now make up a
considerable portion of pet food. The availability of nutrients in grain
products is dependent upon the digestibility of the grain. The amount and type
of carbohydrate in pet food determines the amount of nutrient value the animal
actually gets. Dogs and cats can almost completely absorb carbohydrates from
some grains, such as white rice. Up to 20% of other grains can escape
digestion. The availability of nutrients for wheat, beans, and oats is poor. The
nutrients in potatoes and corn are far less available than those in rice.
Carbohydrate that escapes digestion is of little nutritional value due to
bacteria in the colon that ferment carbohydrates. Some ingredients, such as
peanut hulls, are used strictly for “filler” and have no nutritional value at
Two of the top three ingredients in pet food are almost always some
form of grain products. Pedigree Performance Food for Dogs lists Ground Corn,
Chicken By-Product Meal, and Corn Gluten Meal as its top three ingredients. 9
Lives Crunchy Meals for cats lists Ground Yellow corn, Corn Gluten Meal, and
Poultry By-Product Meal as its first three ingredients. Since cats are true
carnivores — they must eat meat to fulfill certain physiological needs — one may
wonder why we are feeding a corn-based product to them. The answer is that corn
is much cheaper than meat.
Of the top four ingredients of Purina O.N.E.
Dog Formula — Chicken, Ground Yellow Corn, Ground Wheat, and Corn Gluten Meal —
two are corn-based products … the same product. This industry practice is known
as splitting. When components of the same whole ingredients are listed
separately — such as Ground Yellow Corn and Corn Gluten Meal — it appears there
is less corn than chicken, even though the combined weight of the corn
ingredients outweigh the chicken.
In 1995 Nature’s Recipe pulled
thousands of tons of dog food off the shelf after consumers complained that
their dogs were vomiting and losing their appetite. Nature’s Recipe’s loss
amounted to $20 million. The problem was a fungus that produced vomitoxin, an
aflatoxin, which is a subset of mycotoxin, a poison given off by mold
contaminated the wheat.
Although it caused many dogs to vomit, stop
eating and have diarrhea, vomitoxin is a milder toxin than most. The more
virulent strains of mycotoxins can cause weight loss, liver damage, lameness,
and even death. The Nature’s Recipe incident prompted the Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) to intervene. Dina Butcher, Agriculture Policy Advisor for
North Dakota Governor Ed Schafer, concluded that the discovery of vomitoxin in
Nature’s Recipe wasn’t much of a threat to the human population because “the
grain that would go into pet food is not a high quality grain. Which means that
the grain used in pet food is not fit for human consumption and therefore not a
threat to the human population.
Soy is another common ingredient that is
sometimes used as filler in pet food. Manufacturers use it to add bulk so that
when an animal eats a product containing soy he will feel more sated. While soy
has been linked to gas in some dogs, other dogs do quite well with it.
Vegetarian dog foods use soy as a protein source.
Industry critics note
that many of the ingredients used as humectants — ingredients such as corn syrup
and corn gluten meal which bind water to prevent oxidation — also bind the water
in such a way that the food actually sticks to the colon and may cause blockage.
The blockage of the colon may cause an increased risk of cancer of the colon or
Additives and Preservatives Many additives are added to
commercial pet foods to improve the stability or appearance of the food.
Additives provide no nutritional value. Additives include emulsifiers to prevent
water and fat from separating. Antioxidants prevent fat from turning rancid and
antimicrobials reduce spoilage. Added color and flavor make the product more
attractive to consumers and their companion animals.
How prevalent are
synthetic additives in pet food? Two-thirds of the pet food manufactured in the
United States contains preservatives added by the manufacturer. Of the remaining
third, 90% includes ingredients already stabilized by synthetic preservatives.
Premixed vitamin additives used to supplement pet food can also contain
preservatives. This means that your companion animal may eat food with several
types of preservatives that have been added at the rendering plant, the
manufacturing plant and in the supplemental vitamins.
Adding chemicals to food originated
thousands of years ago with spices, natural preservatives and ripening agents.
In the last 40 years, however, the number of food additives has greatly
increased. Of the more than 8,600 recognized food additives today, no toxicity
information is available for 46% of them. Cancer-causing agents are sometimes
permitted if they are used at low enough levels. The risk of continued use at
these cancer-causing agents has not been studied and the build up of these
agents may be harmful. Ethoxyquin (EQ), for example, was found in dogs’ livers
and tissues months after it had been removed from their diet, and as of July 31,
1997, the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine requested that manufacturers
reduce the maximum level for EQ be cut in half, to 75 parts per million.
While the law requires studies of direct toxicity of these additives and
preservatives, most of these additives have not been tested for their effect on
each other once ingested. Three commonly used preservatives, BHA, BHT, and EQ,
have a proven synergistic effect that may lead to the development of certain
types of cancer.
Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated
hydroxtoluene (BHT) are the most commonly used antioxidants in processed food
for human consumption. For these antioxidants, there is little information
documenting their toxicity or the safety of long-term use in pet food.
animal feeds, the most commonly used antioxidant preservative is ethoxyquin.
While some pet food critics and veterinarians claim ethoxyquin is a major cause
of disease, skin problems, and infertility in dogs, others claim it is the
safest, most stable preservative available for pet food. Ethoxyquin is not
approved for use as a preservative in human food, however.
Nitrate is the
exception to the rule when it comes to safety. Nitrate is used in meat for human
consumption. When nitrate combines with bacteria, the chemical can change to
another form with carcinogenic properties called nitrosamines. Very small
amounts of this chemical can cause acute and chronic liver damage.
“Natural preservatives” and antioxidants are known as Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and
mixed tocopherols. While the avoidance of using pet food laced with chemical
preservatives is something to consider, some critics think that natural
preservatives are somewhat less effective than chemical preservatives.
The Manufacturing Process – How Pet Food Is Made Although feed trials are no
longer required for a food to meet nutritional standards and profiles, most
manufacturers do require a palatability study when developing a new pet food.
Animals are fed side by side, one animal fed a new food while the other is fed a
similar formula. The total volume eaten is used as a gauge for the palatability
of the food. Most pet food companies keep their own animals for taste testing.
Dry food is made with a machine called an expander. First, raw materials are
blended, sometimes by hand, other times by computer, in accordance with a recipe
developed by nutritionists. The mixture is fed into an expander and steam or hot
water is added into the mixture. The mixture is subjected to steam, pressure,
and heat until the temperature reaches 305 degrees F. The mixture is then
extruded through dies that determine the shape of the final product. Then it is
cooked at a high temperatures and high pressure. Then the food is allowed to dry
for another 30-45 minutes. Once the food is dried it is usually sprayed with fat
to make it more palatable. Although the cooking process may kill bacteria in pet
food, the final product can lose its sterility, during the subsequent drying,
fat coating, and packaging process.
Ingredients are the same for wet and
dry foods. The main difference between the two types of food is the water
content. Wet or canned food begins with ground ingredients mixed with additives.
If chunks are required, a special extruder forms them. Then the mixture is
cooked and canned. The sealed cans are then put into containers resembling
pressure cookers and commercial sterilization takes place. Some manufacturers
cook the food right in the can.
There are three primary types of wet
food. The “all meat” product is defined by AAFCO as “When an ingredient or a
combination of ingredients derived from animals, poultry, or fish constitute 95%
or more of the total weight of all ingredients of a pet food, the name or names
of such ingredient(s) may form part of the product name of the pet food;
provided that where more than one ingredient is part of such product name, then
all such ingredient names shall be in the same size, style, and color print. For
the purpose of this provision, water sufficient for processing shall be excluded
when calculating the percentage of the named ingredient(s). However, such named
ingredient(s) shall constitute at least 70% of the total product.
“dinner” product is defined as “When an ingredient or a combination of
ingredients constitutes at least 25% but less than 95% of the total weight of
all ingredients of a dog or cat food mixture, the name or names of such
ingredient or ingredients may form a part of the product name of the pet food if
each of the ingredients constitute at least 3% of the product weight excluding
water used for processing and only if the product name also includes a primary
descriptive term such as ‘dinner’, ‘platter’, or similar designation so that
the product name describes the contents of the product in accordance with an
established law, custom or usage or so that the product name is not misleading.
If the names of more than one ingredient are shown, they shall appear in the
order of their respective predominance by weight in the product. All such
ingredient names and the primary descriptive term shall be in the same size,
style and color print. For the purpose of this provision, water sufficient
for processing shall be excluded when calculating the percentage of the named
ingredient(s). However, such named ingredient(s) shall constitute at least 10%
of the total product.
The “flavor” product is formulated to have a
specific flavor, and it is defined as “No flavor designation shall be used on a
pet food label unless the flavor is detected by a recognized test method, or is
one the presence of which provides a characterisitic distinguishable by the pet.
Any flavor designation on a pet food label must either conform to the name of
its source as shown in the ingredient statement or the ingredient statement
shall show the source of the flavor. The word flavor shall be printed in the
same size type and with an equal degree of conspicuousness as the ingredient
term(s) from which the flavor designation is derived. Distributors of pet food
employing such flavor designation or claims on the labels of the product
distributed by them shall, upon request, supply verification of the designated
or claimed flavor to the appropriate control official.
What Happened to
the Nutrients? R. L. Wysong, veterinarian and long time critic of the pet
food industry, has said, “Processing is the wild card in nutritional value that
is, by and large, simply ignored. Heating, freezing, dehydrating, canning,
extruding, pelleting, baking, and so forth, are so commonplace that they are
simply thought of as synonymous with food itself. The processing practices for
grain and meat used in pet food severely diminishes its nutritional value.
To make pet food nutritious, pet food manufacturers must “fortify” it with
vitamins and minerals. Why? Because the ingredients they are using are not
wholesome, and the harsh manufacturing practices destroy what little nutritional
value the food had to begin with.
manufactured or rendered meat meals are highly contaminated with bacteria
because their source is not always slaughtered animals. Animals that have died
because of disease, injury, or natural causes are a source of meat for meat
meal. The dead animal may not be rendered or cooked until days after its death.
Therefore the carcass is often contaminated with bacteria — Salmonella bacteria
contaminate 25-50% of meat meals. While the cooking process may kill bacteria,
it does not eliminate the endotoxins that result from the bacteria. These toxins
can cause disease. Pet food manufacturers do not test their products for
Escherichia coli (E Coli) is another bacteria that can be
found in contaminated pet foods. E Coli bacteria, like Salmonella, can be
destroyed by cooking at high temperatures, however, the endotoxin produced by
the bacteria will remain. This endotoxin can cause disease as well.
Aflatoxin — This is a toxin that comes from mold or fungi, as in the case of
Nature’s Recipe. The improper drying and storage of crops is the cause of mold
growth, which can result in Aflatoxin contamination. Ingredients that are most
likely to be contaminated with this toxin are cottonseed meal, peanut meal, and
Labeling The National Research Council (NRC) of the Academy
of Sciences set the nutritional standards for pet food until 1974, when the pet
food industry created a group called the American Association of Feed Control
Officials (AAFCO). At that time AAFCO chose to adopt the NRC standards rather
than develop its own. The NRC standards required feeding trials for pet foods
that claimed to be “complete” and “balanced.” The pet food industry found the
feeding trials to be too restrictive, so AAFCO designed an alternate procedure
for claiming the nutritional adequacy of pet food. Instead of feeding trials,
chemical analysis would be done to determine if a food met or exceeded the NRC
The problem with chemical analysis is that it does not address
the palatability, digestibility and biological availability of nutrients in pet
food. Thus it is unreliable for determining whether a food will provide an
animal with sufficient nutrients.
To compensate for the limitations of
chemical analysis, AAFCO added a “safety factor,” which was to exceed the
minimum amount of nutrients required to meet the complete and balanced
requirements. By establishing its own standards and disregarding the NRC
standards, AAFCO established itself as the governing body for pet food. In
essence the pet food industry developed their own standards for nutritional
The 100% Myth — Problems Caused by Inadequate Nutrition The
idea of one pet food providing all the nutrition a companion animal will ever
need for its entire life is a myth… Cereals are the primary ingredients in most
commercial pet foods. Most people select one pet food and feed it to their dogs
and cats for a prolonged period of time. Therefore companion dogs and cats eat a
primarily carbohydrate diet with little variety. Today, the diets of cats and
dogs are a far cry from the primarily protein diets with a lot of variety that
their ancestors ate. The problems associated with a commercial diet are seen
every day at veterinary establishments. Chronic digestive problems, such as
chronic diarrhea, are among the most frequent illnesses treated.
or hypersensitivity to foods is a common problem usually seen as diarrhea or
vomiting. Food allergies have become an everyday ailment. The market for
“limited antigen” also known as “hypoallergenic” diets is now a multi-million
dollar business. These diets were formulated to address the increasing
intolerance to foods that animals have developed.
Many commercial pet
foods are made with ingredients that have poor protein digestibility. Diets
containing protein with less than 70% digestibility cause diarrhea in dogs. Some
fillers used in these foods can also cause colitis, which is the inflammation of
the colon. Most pet food companies do not publish digestibility statistics and
they are never seen on pet food labels.
Acute vomiting and diarrhea is
often a symptom of bacteria contamination and the toxins bacteria produce. Dry
commercial pet food is often contaminated with bacteris, which may or may not
cause problems. Improper food storage and some feeding practices may result in
the multiplication of this bacteria. For example, adding water to moisten pet
food and then leaving it at room temperature causes bacteria to multiply. Yet
this practice is suggested on the back of some kitten and puppy foods.
Pet food formulas and the practice of feeding that manufacturers recommend have
increased other digestive problems. Feeding only one meal per day can cause the
irritation of the esophagus by stomach acid. Feeding two smaller meals is
Urinary tract disease is directly related to diet in both cats
and dogs. Plugs, crystals, and stones in cat bladders are caused by commercial
pet food formulas. One type of stone found in cats is less common now, but
another more dangerous type has become more common. Manipulation of manufactured
cat food formulas to affect acidity in urine and the amount of some minerals has
directly affected these diseases. Dogs also form stones as a result of their
History has shown that commercial pet food products can cause
disease. An often-fatal heart disease in cats and some dogs was shown to be
caused by a deficiency of an amino acid called taurine. Blindness is another
symptom of taurine deficiency. This deficiency occurred because of inadequate
amounts of taurine in cat food formulas. Cat foods are now supplemented with
Rapid growth in large breed puppies has been shown to contribute
to bone and joint disease. Excess calories in manufactured puppy food formulas
promote rapid growth. There are now special puppy foods for large breed dogs.
But this recent change will not help the countless dogs who lived and died with
hip and elbow disease.
There is also evidence that hyperthyroidism in
cats results from commercial pet food diets. This is a new disease that first
surfaced in the 1970s, when canned food products appeared on the market. The
exact cause and effect are not yet known. This is a serious and sometimes
terminal disease and treatment is expensive.
Many nutritional problems
appeared with the popularity of cereal-based commercial pet foods. Some occur
because the diet is incomplete. Some are a result of additives. Others are a
result of contamination with bacteria, toxins and other organisms. In some
diseases the role of commercial pet food is understood, in others, it is not.
The bottom line is that diets composed primarily of low quality cereals and
rendered meat meals are not as nutritious or safe as you should expect for your
cat or dog.