Pet Food Ingredients: The Good, The Bad, The (Really) Ugly

Being pet parents, we want to keep our pets happy and healthy. That’s why we spend so much money on vet bills, accessories, flea toxic-food-magnetkillers, heartworm meds, and of course, pet food.

But when it comes to recognizing the ingredients in your pet’s food, some of them may have you stumped. To help you sort it out we have put together
a list of a few ingredients that you might have seen, but did not know what they actually were. You might also find, as we did, that some things are worse than originally thought, but some things are also better than what we had assumed.

The Good

Some ingredients that are listed on your pet food label may sound terrible, but are actually healthy. Here are a few common ingredients that we know by another name:

  • Pyridoxine Hydrochloride: Hello, Vitamin B6.
  • DL-Methionine: All animals require this essential amino acid which helps build protein.
  • Bifidobacterium Bifidum: This is a species of probiotic bacteria found in the gastrointestinal tract of animals, including humans. Keeps us healthy.

The Bad

By now you probably know not to give your dogs certain human foods, like chocolate (toxic), wheat (allergies), soy (allergies), corn (toxic GMO). But did you know that some of these ingredients will be listed on a can or bag of pet food, but under names that sound harmless or even meaningless?   

  • Propylene Glycol: Some pet foods use propylene glycol as a mild sweetener. However, please avoid it at all costs. It is the primary ingredient in aircraft deicing fluid, and is also used as a solvent in pharmaceuticals. Even though it is a low-grade toxin – not as deadly as ethylene glycol (antifreeze) – it is still toxic.
  • Corn Gluten Meal: Doesn’t sound too scary, right? Wrong. Corn gluten meal is what remains after the manufacturer removes everything good. More importantly, since 1991 it has been classified as an organic herbicide.
  • Ethoxyquin: It’s part of rubber production, but it is also a food preservative and a pesticide. It is banned for human consumption in Australia and the European Union but the U.S. permits its use as a food additive. Norway also permits use, but only in the fishing industry as a fat stabilizer and in food pellets fed to farm-raised salmon.
  • Cellulose: Sawdust. Enough said.
  • Artificial Colors: As with human consumption, Red #40, Blue #2, and Yellow #5 & 6 are suspects in causing allergic reactions and brain tumors.
  • BHT and BHA:  Common preservatives that FDA allows in pet food in small amounts but is suspected to cause cancer long-term.


The (Really) Ugly

  • By-Product Meal: You might have seen this ingredient listed and wondered what it meant. Well, “by-products” refers to blood, bones, intestines, ligaments, lungs, heads, feet, feathers. The meal is produced from processing and added to pet food to increase protein content. But, the “meat” in meat by-products can also include anything that was alive, whether it’s the diseased “downer” cow at the stockyard or the possum on the side of the road or the giraffe that died at the zoo. Technically, it’s all “meat”.
  • Animal Digest: This is an ingredient that is produced by hydrolysis (breakdown by water) of clean animal tissue that has not decomposed in order to make a concentrate. Pet food companies use the concentrate as a flavoring (so chicken flavored dog food tastes like chicken).

We love our pets and want them to stay healthy. Knowing and understanding what they eat is a big part of how we show them that love.


If you want to learn more about pet food labels, read the article from entitled “How to Read a Dog Food Label.”
Another good resource for pet food information is


One Response

  1. dog treats December 14, 2017

Add Comment