Top Dog Tips - Harmful Additives in Commercial Dog FoodIt's hard to believe that August is almost over. Kids are getting ready to go back to school, Labor Day weekend is just around the corner, and the summer heat is finally starting to let up in most places. Here in Maine, we don't really get a whole lot of summer heat, so we try to enjoy it as much as we can. Hopefully, you enjoyed my column last week on whether or not raw bones are good for dogs.

I guess I must have dog food on my mind lately because this week, I've been reading a lot about the additives that are in commercial dog foods. Don't let the word additives scare you because some of them are actually good for your dog, while others should really be avoided at all costs.

This week, I decided to look around for some articles about the additives that are commonly found in commercial pet foods, and I found some really great reads. Check them out below!

If you're looking for something that gets right to the point of additives in dog food, you can find what you're looking for at The Kitty Liberation Front. They have recently published an article about the additives in pet food. There are no unnecessary words in this article. It's more like a list, but the information is expanded on a little to give you some basic information.

Although this article is written in the simplest form, I think the information it gives you is really great. It's certainly not the most entertaining thing to read, but if you wanted to print it out to use as a cheat sheet when you're shopping for dog food, it would work well.


Additives   Glyceryl Monostearate, Phosphoric Acid, Propylene Glycol  – Glyceryl Monostearate should be avoided due to  potential chemical additives, Propylene Glycol may be toxic in large amounts (banned in Europe), Phosphoric Acid is unnecessary.
Binders   Corn Gluten and Wheat Gluten  – Inexpensive by-products with no real nutritional value
Carbohydrate Sources   Brewers Rice, Cereal Food Fines, Feeding Oat Meal, Grain Fermentation Solubles, Maltodextrins & Fermentation Solubles, Potato Product, Soy Flour  – Inexpensive by-products with no real nutritional value
Coloring Agents   Blue 2, Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6 (artificial colors), Titanium Dioxide – Linked to many serious health issues
Fat Sources   Animal Fat, Beef Tallow, Lard, Poultry Fat, Vegetable Oil No control over quality or contamination
Fiber Sources   Cellulose, Corn Bran, Corn Cellulose, Oat Hulls, Peanut Hulls, Rice Hulls, Soybean Mill Run, Wheat Mill Run   – Cheap fillers with no real nutritional value and can contain ingredients such as wood.
Flavoring Agents   Animal Digest, Digest, Flavor, Glandular Meal No control over quality or contamination
Fruits and Vegetables Apple Pomace, Citrus Pulp, Grape Pomace  – Inexpensive by-products with no real nutritional value and possibly contaminated material.

…it goes on from there, but I just wanted to give you a small sample of the article. It also elaborates on the different types of grains, meats, by-products, fruits, and vegetables commonly used in pet food.

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If you're looking for a little more background information, this article from the Reach Out Rescue site would be a better choice. It gives a nice overview of why it is important to choose quality food and how to select the right dog food for your Fido. Their article also gives a long list of links to other sources on commercial pet foods and the additives that are in them. It's a great place to start if you're looking to do some research on your own.

  • When reading the labels, ingredients are listed in order of the volume of percentages in the food. By-products include intestines, chicken heads, duck bills, chicken and turkey feet, feathers and bones, soy, cottonseed hulls, corn cobs, peanut hulls, citrus pulp, weeds, straw, and cereal by-products.

     When you see beef, chicken, and poultry by-products, these are not required to include actual meat. Rendered meat includes dead, diseased, and dying animals, including dogs and cats euthanized at shelters, road kill, and leftover carcasses from processing plants that often have tumors, cancers, drugs, flea and tick collars. Parts of animals are not considered fit for human consumption, so why feed them to your pets?

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) also weighs in on the subject of pet food additives on their website. They give a really nice breakdown of common ingredients in pet food and what can actually be in them. For example, chicken by-products may be listed on the ingredients list, but chicken by-products can be made up of many different things.

  • In other words, “meat” is primarily the muscle tissue of the animal but may include the fat, gristle, and other tissues normally accompanying the muscle, similar to what you might see in a portion of raw meat sold for human consumption. This may include the less appealing cuts of meat, including the heart muscle and the muscle that separates the heart and lungs from the rest of the internal organs, but it is still muscle tissue. However, it does not include bone. Meat for pet food is often “mechanically separated,” a process where the muscle is stripped from the bone by machines, resulting in a finely ground product with a paste-like consistency (similar to what might be used in hot dogs).In addition to using the term “meat,” the pet food manufacturer may also identify the species from which the meat is derived, such as “beef” or “pork.” However, the generic term “meat” on the label can only be used for cattle, pigs, sheep, or goats. If it comes from any other mammal, the species must be identified (for example, “buffalo” or “venison”), so you can rest easy that if any other species was used, it would have to be declared. Also, if the muscle is from non-mammalian species, such as poultry or fish, it cannot be declared as “meat” but must use the appropriate identifying terms.

While I'm on the topic of the AAFCO, I also found an interesting blog this week on Truth About Pet Food. It's more or less a rant about the unacceptable rule that pet food manufacturers do not have to reveal the quality of the ingredients they use in their pet foods to consumers. I can certainly agree with this, and I'm sure most of you will as well.

In order to be responsible pet parents, we need all the information that we can get about the foods that we are choosing to feed our pets. Some pet foods may say that their beef is sourced in the U.S.A., which certainly makes us feel better than having it sourced in China, but what they don't have to tell you is that the beef may have come from a diseased animal or an animal that was euthanized. Would you still be as happy about it if you knew the quality of the meat and just where it came from?

At the end of this article the author, Susan Thixton, asks readers to sign two different petitions urging the FDA and AAFCO to require that this type of information be divulged on pet food packaging. The petitions will be used at the AAFCO Meeting at the end of this month. It's completely up to you if you'd like to sign the petition, I just wanted to share the article because it is full of some really great information.

  • What is your pet food made from – edible food or inedible waste meats and vegetables? Do you know? Most consumers don’t know because pet food regulations DO NOT require manufacturers to tell consumers the quality of ingredients used in the pet food. Tell the FDA and AAFCO you want to know! The FDA and AAFCO allow pet food to be made from…
    •    meat sourced from diseased animals;
    •    meat sourced from dead animals (such as road kill, animals that died in the field, and even euthanized animals);
    •    fats sourced from used restaurant grease;
    •    almost any adulterated human food;
    •    chemical or pesticide contaminated vegetables, grains, fruits. The above quality ingredients are known in the pet food industry as feed grade, pet grade, or inedible ingredients.

I mentioned Dr. Karen Becker‘s website Healthy Pets last week, and I found another amazing article there this week as well. In this blog she describes (and shows) the different parts of a pet food label and how to read them. She also talks about what you should be looking for in quality food, the things you want to look for on a dog food label, and the things that you don't want.

  • What you want to find out is whether the ingredients in the brand you buy are fit for human consumption. Despite the fact manufacturers can't list ‘human grade' on the ingredient panel, if they are using ingredients fit for human consumption, you'll know by the information provided on the bag, as well as their marketing materials. The company will want you to know why their food is more expensive.The better the brand (and higher the cost), the more likely it is the ingredients are human-grade. If all else fails, you can visit the manufacturer's website or call their toll free number to get your questions answered.Even better is if the protein source is either free-range or pasture-raised and hasn't been shot full of hormones and antibiotics.

As I was browsing different sites throughout the week I also stumbled upon The Dog Food Project website. I realized pretty quickly that it really isn't any kind of a project at all, unless you count educating pet parents as a project and then it most certainly would be. Although the name is a little misleading, the entire site is full of great information about dog food. This page about the ingredients in dog food that you should try to avoid was very beneficial, but you can find some great information on other pages of the site as well.

In fact, this is really a go to for all things dog food. They have pages on different dog food diets, myths about dog food, and articles on everything from feeding puppies and senior dogs to how much protein is too much for the canine diet. The article that I'm referring to includes a very comprehensive list of all the different ingredients in pet food, which ones are beneficial, and which ones you should avoid.

  • Blue 2 (artificial color) – The color additive FD&C Blue No. 2 is principally the disodium salt of 2-(1,3-dihydro-3-oxo-5-sulfo-2H-indol-2-ylidene)- 2,3-dihydro-3-oxo-1H-indole-5-sulfonic acid with smaller amounts of the disodium salt of 2-(1,3-dihydro-3-oxo-7-sulfo-2H-indol-2-ylidene)-2,3-dihydro-3-oxo-1H-indole-5-sulfonic acid and the sodium salt of 2-(1,3-dihydro-3-oxo-2H-indol-2-ylidene)-2,3-dihydro-3-oxo-1H-indole-5-sulfonic acid. Additionally, FD&C Blue No. 2 is obtained by heating indigo (or indigo paste) in the presence of sulfuric acid. The color additive is isolated and subjected to purification procedures. The indigo (or indigo paste) used above is manufactured by the fusion of N-phenylglycine (prepared from aniline and formaldehyde) in a molten mixture of sodamide and sodium and potassium hydroxides under ammonia pressure. The indigo is isolated and subjected to purification procedures prior to sulfonation.The largest study suggested, but did not prove, that this dye caused brain tumors in male mice. The FDA concluded that there is “reasonable certainty of no harm”, but personally I'd rather avoid this ingredient and err on the side of caution.Red 40 (artificial color) – The color additive FD&C Red No. 40 is principally the disodium salt of 6-hydroxy-5-[(2-methoxy-5-methyl-4-sulfophenyl)azo]-2-naphthalenesulfonic acid.The most widely used food dye. While this is one of the most-tested food dyes, the key mouse tests were flawed and inconclusive. An FDA review committee acknowledged problems but said evidence of harm was not “consistent” or “substantial.” Like other dyes, Red 40 is used mainly in junk foods. Personally, I'd rather avoid this ingredient and err on the side of caution. Titanium Dioxide – A white powder, TiO2, used as an exceptionally opaque white pigment and dough conditioner. It is non-toxic but an unnecessary ingredient that could just as well be left out.

If you're looking for a read that will tell you all the horrors of the pet food industry, this article from Natural News is for you. It gives a bit of a darker spin to the mysterious by-products and harmful chemicals used by some pet food manufacturers. But in all honesty, it is a pretty scary topic for pet owners, so addressing it this way gives the article the serious tone that it requires.

Author Jessica Smith has done a lot of research for this article and gives some really wonderful examples of written documentation from experts in the field at the bottom of her article. It may be worth checking out a few of those sources as well.

  • Let's start with what usually appears as the protein source and the primary ingredient in pet food: Meat byproducts or meat meal. Both are euphemisms for the parts of animals that wouldn't be considered meat by any smart consumer. The well-known phrase “meat byproducts” is a misnomer since these byproducts contain little if any, meat. These are the parts of the animal left over after the meat has been stripped away from the bone. “Chicken by-products include head, feet, entrails, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, liver, stomach, bones, blood, intestines, and any other part of the carcass not fit for human consumption,” writes Henry Pasternak in Healing Animals with Nature's Cures. Meat meal can contain the boiled-down flesh of animals we would find unacceptable for consumption. This can include zoo animals, road kill, and 4-D (dead, diseased, disabled, dying) livestock. Most shockingly, this also can include dogs and cats. That's right, your pets could be cannibals. Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser writes, “Although leading American manufacturers promise never to put rendered pets into their pet food, it is still legal to do so. A Canadian company, Sanimal Inc., was putting 40,000 pounds of dead dogs and dead cats into its dog and cat food every week, until discontinuing the practice in June 2001. “This food is healthy and good,” said the company's vice president of procurement, responding to critics, ”but some people don't like to see meat meals that contain any pets.”

This week, I'm going to leave you with a great resource that I think may be very helpful to a lot of us. I know I'm certainly going to be using it. This printable worksheet from Homeward Pet gives you some basic information about the things you should look for on a dog food ingredient list. The second page is a handy score sheet that allows you to grade your dog's food. I think it is a great resource for pet parents, and frankly, I wish they had these in every pet food aisle to help educate more pet owners about the importance of quality food.

  • Most high-quality pet foods are sold in pet supply stores, feed stores, or co-ops. Grocery stores and large outlet stores are generally not good sources of quality pet food. We provide you with a small amount of the diet we feed here and recommend you transition your dog to the food of your choice slowly. Start with a mixture of 25% new food and 75% old food, and over the course of five days, transition to 100% new food.

Well, that's it for this week. As always, I welcome your feedback, questions, and comments. Please feel free to share your dog food experience with us. Have you ever had any issues with dog food? Have you switched to a higher quality food and seen some amazing results? I'd love to hear about it!

Samantha’s biggest passion in life is spending time with her Boxer dogs. After she rescued her first Boxer in 2004, Samantha fell in love with the breed and has continued to rescue three other Boxers since then. She enjoys hiking and swimming with her Boxers, Maddie and Chloe.