Pet Food – The Top 12 Ingredients to Avoid

Many of us have been convinced that the healthy, natural, premium and recommended by labels on dog food and cat food must mean that the food inside the bag is good for our pets.

Alongside these words are claims of 100% complete and balanced that leave us to assume we are providing the best we can for our pets, feeding the same dry cereal based diets day in and day out.

Yet, most people do not fully appreciate what goes into these pet foods. The pet food companies place images of fresh cut chicken breast, fresh fruits and vegetables and wholesome grains on packages, however that is rarely what is actually inside the bag.

Chances are you are feeding a pet food which contains more than one of the ingredients discussed below.

The pet food industry has a broad range of unsavory options when it comes to what substances may be used in pet food and freedom to print enticing pictures, however misleading, on their packaging.

It is only when our pet’s health begins to degrade (even the Dog Martingale Collar becoming loose) and the eventually fail, that most people begin to question why. After all, a healthy body can only be as good as what is put into it.

To promote the best health you can in your companion, read and understand the uses of the common ingredients below and make sure to always read your labels!

Top 12 Pet Food Ingredients to Avoid

Corn, Corn Meal, or Corn Gluten Meal

Years ago pet food manufacturers discovered that pets adore the sweet taste of corn. Corn is one of the most heavily subsidized crops in agriculture, making its market price lower than the cost of producing the corn.

The gluten in corn is used as an inferior protein source in pet foods. Corn protein in itself 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 abused as the single most abundant ingredient in many pet foods, contributing to the many diseases linked to high carbohydrate diets, including:

  • Obesity
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Diabetes and
  • Cancer.

The cob of the corn becomes filler with very little nutritional value. The quality of the corn is also a problem as many foods use low quality corn containing toxins such as mycotoxins and mold which cause damage to a pet’s liver and kidneys.

Carnivores were never designed to obtain the majority of their energy requirements from carbohydrates.

In fact they have zero nutritional requirements for carbohydrates or grains. Yet the majority of products on the market regularly consist of up to 50% carbohydrates, with some even higher.

Eons of evolution have designed carnivores to obtain energy from amino acids (protein) and fatty acids, fat from prey animals through the process of gluconeogenesis.

Other than simple economics there is no reason to challenge the eons of evolution nature has put into place when it comes to feeding carnivores like dogs, cats & ferrets.

When we force such a dramatic change in metabolism and utilize least cost ingredients, adverse effects over the long term 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. The repetitive and persistent exposure of wheat to pet animals has resulted in allergies and intolerances to wheat and wheat gluten.

This is another starchy crop that should be avoided.

Wheat gluten is also utilized as an inexpensive protein source.

Wheat gluten contamination was the cause of the massive 2007 Menu Foods pet food recall, which caused a countless numbers of companion animals to suffer from kidney failure, debilitation and death.

Menu Foods manufactured food for hundred’s of common brands. This ordeal would have been avoided if the pet food companies involved used quality ingredients such as human grade meat rather than lower cost cereal alternatives.


Along with corn and wheat, soy is one of the most common allergies in companion animals. Carnivores were never meant to eat soy; it is commonly used in pet food as an inexpensive substitute for meat protein.

As an additional problem, is that it is estimated that some 89% of soy and 61% of corn crops are genetically engineered.

Genetically modified foods are shown to adversely affect our pet’s health, just as it does with us.


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


Cat and dog food routinely contains by-products. By-Products are left over wastes from human food production.

By-Products come in two forms:

  • Named and
  • Un-named.

Un-named by-products include meat by-products. Meat by-products can include brain, blood, kidneys, lungs and stomachs.

By-products, in many cases, are derived from 4D meat sources – animals that have been rejected for human consumption because they were presented to the meat packing plant as Dead, Dying, Diseased or Disabled.

Animal Fat

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

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

Meat Meal

Meat Meal consists of rendered, unspecified sources of animal tissues.

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

Meat and Bone Meal

Meat and Bone Meal is a rendered product from mammal tissues, including bone.

Recently many cat and dog food companies and rendering plants have undergone scrutiny over their inclusion of euthanized pets in meat and bone meal.

Chemical Preservativces: 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 (tertiary butylhydroquinone) is another petroleum derived preservative.

Ethoxyquin is used as a food preservative and a pesticide. In pet foods it is typically found in meat and fish based ingredients.

Ethoxyquin is banned for use in human products because it is believed to cause cancer. It is important to note that when a manufacturer obtains an ethoxyquin preserved ingredient from a supplier the manufacturer is not required to list ethoxyquin on the pet food ingredient panel.

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

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

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

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


Table sugar is often used to perk interest in the unsavory concoctions pet food manufacturers make. There is no reason for added sugar to be placed in pet food, other than the reason mentioned.

Propylene Glycol

Like sugar, propylene glycol is used as a flavour enhancer due to its sweet taste. It is another questionable ingredient in pet food. In human uses it is a common ingredient in stick deodorant and make-up as a humectants. It is interesting to note that propylene gycol is the less toxic chemical sister to ethylene glycol, “anti-freeze”.

Artificial Colours

Coloured kibble bits are not for the benefit of the dog or cat, they are in fact to make them more appealing to you! Our pets could care less what colour their food is, this is simply another marketing trick to catch your attention in the meriad of pet food labels. Artificial colours are synthetic chemical dyes that have no place in pet food. There have been cases that link FD & C colours to cancer and other ill effects.


We can see that any pet food can claim healthy and natural when such is not the case. Recommended by statements also have little impact on the quality of these pet foods.

Quite simply quality pet foods do not use these ingredients. Clearly pet foods found in supermarkets and even pet chain stores do not have the best interests of your pets at heart.

So, what are the alternatives?

Fortunately there are plenty! Whether you are looking for alternative dry or canned foods, or would like to switch to a natural raw food diet, there are plenty of healthy options available for you.