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Pet Food: The Good, the Bad, and the Healthy

The majority of dogs and cats in the United States eat food and treats manufactured specifically for their particular species (i.e., dogs eat dog food and cats eat cat food). As a holistic veterinarian, I focus highly on the quality of nutrients entering my patients’ bodies and strive to get them eating whole-food-based diets with the same grade of nutrients as we humans consume. By providing their pets with commercially available dry and moist foods and treats, owners are lulled into a false sense of security that their pet’s best health is being served.

Cumulatively, consumption of highly processed foods and excess calories has led pets to suffer from a variety of health problems having potentially irreversible consequences, including obesity, arthritis, periodontal disease, diabetes, and cancer.

In 2007, an international pet food crisis caused kidney failure and death in dogs and cats who had consumed pet foods containing melamine-contaminated wheat gluten produced in China. Wheat gluten is a grain by-product which provides a cheaper alternative to muscle meat protein or whole grain carbohydrates. Melamine is a component of plastic which increases nitrogen content and protein levels (as determined by laboratory testing) when added to wheat gluten.

As a result of certain pet food manufacturers’ efforts to create a less expensive product using poorer quality ingredients, our companion animals suffered life-threatening toxicity.  Currently, we are dealing with a comparable crisis stemming from the toxic effects of China-made chicken jerky treats. Despite extensive research by the FDA, the reason why these treats are causing illness and death is unknown.

Let’s consider why pet food may be a good or bad choice for your pet, starting with ‘the good.’

The Good

Automatic pet feeder Automatic feeders can make feeding your pets even more convenient. Even with a busy schedule, you won't have to worry if your pet has had their breakfast or dinner.


When feeding most commercial foods, pet owners benefit from the convenience of opening a bag of dry food or a can of wet food, or defrosting and serving frozen pet food. As our society has become more focused on convenience instead of health, processed foods requiring little to no preparation have become popular among pet owners.  

Nutritionally Complete and Balanced

Commercially available pet food is required to be nutritionally complete and balanced for all life stages, which gives the pet owner a degree of certainty that their companion animal will consume a combination of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals to meet their nutritional needs.

Labeled List of Ingredients and Recommended Feeding Guidelines

Commercial diets and treats are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the product’s label is legally required to include “proper listing of all the ingredients in the product in order from most to least, based on weight” along with Guaranteed Analysis (percentages of crude protein, fat, fiber, and moisture).There is also a guideline for the daily quantity of food recommended to be fed based on pet body weight. Now let’s move onto ‘the bad.’

The Bad

Feed-Grade Ingredients Cooked at Nutrient-Destroying Temperatures

Unfortunately for our pets, nearly all commercially available dog and cat food is made with ingredients considered to be feed-grade instead of human-grade. Feed-grade ingredients are lower quality than human-grade.

Additionally, feed-grade ingredients have allowances for toxins, such as mold-produced mycotoxins, that are acceptable in significantly reduced quantities in human-grade foods. Meat ‘meals’ such as ‘meat and bone meal’ and ‘by-products’ come from the rendering process and can contain “dead animals from farms, ranches, feedlots, marketing barns, animal shelters, and other facilities; and fats, grease, and other food waste from restaurants and stores.” (according to the National Agricultural Law Center).

Another contaminant that can come along with these dead animals is pentobarbital, an anesthetic used to euthanize animals (confirmed through FDA testing of dog foods). Even the less questionable ingredients may not be as nutritious as you think. Dry (kibble) and canned foods are cooked at high temperatures to kill bacteria, but which also deactivates beneficial enzymes and denatures protein’s more bioavailable form. Similar to microwaving or “nuking” your food, this reduces the nutrients in your pet’s food.

Chemicals & Preservatives

Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA), Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT), and Ethoxyquin are 3 nasty chemical preservatives. BHA and BHT are chemicals added to oils (fats) as preservatives that can be 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 another chemical preservative which 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 to be harmful if it is swallowed or directly contacts skin. Ethoxyquin often enters 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 safer choices.

Propylene Glycol (PG) is a humectant (moistening agent) found in some soft dog foods and treats. It is chemically derived from ethylene glycol (EG), also known as antifreeze, which is extremely toxic to animals.PG is touted as non-toxic and non-absorbent for your pet, but consuming ‘pet-safe’ antifreeze’ will not improve your pet’s health.

Food Dyes

Blue 2, Red 40, and Yellow 5 and 6 have been documented to contribute to hypersensitivity (allergic-type) reactions, behavior problems, and cancer in humans. More recently, caramel color has come under fire as it contains 4-methylimidazole (4-MIE), a known animal carcinogen. When it comes down to it, artificially coloring food only appeals to humans and not pets.

Rendered Fat

Rendered animal fat provides flavor enhancement for kibble and is a source of microorganisms (Salmonella, etc.) and toxins (heavy metals, etc.) If moisture penetrates a dry food bag, then harmful bacteria and mold can flourish.


According to FDA Compliance policy CPG Sec. 675.100, the FDA “does not object to the diversion to animal feed of human food adulterated with rodent, roach, or bird excreta.” Therefore, your dog or cat may be eating such undesirable and disease-causing substances otherwise not permitted in human foods.

Meeting our pet’s nutritional requirements, but doing so with sub-standard quality and potentially toxic ingredients, can cause both short and long-term health consequences. For your pet’s sake, offer a diet of human-grade, whole-food-based ingredients early in life and minimize the consumption of dry and canned diets and treats.

Pet Food Shopping List

What to look for in a dry/wet food:

  • Natural preservatives (Vitamin C/E) or no preservatives
  • Made in the U.S.A.
  • Human-grade ingredients (although there are very few foods that can put this on their label and you won’t find this on any packages of kibble)

Ingredients to avoid:

  • Corn and wheat gluten
  • Meat and grain meals and by-products
  • BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole)
  • BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene)
  • Ethoxyquin
  • Food Dyes (Blue 2, Red 40, Yellow 5 and 6, 4-MIE)
  • PG (Propylene Glycol)
  • Rendered fat

Recommended brands:

  • Lucky Dog Cuisine: Lucky Dog Cuisine is a cooked, all-natural, human-grade, small batch, prepared dog food that you order online and then is shipped frozen to your home.
  • The Honest Kitchen: With minimally processed, whole-food, human-grade ingredients in dehydrated form, just add water for a healthy, wholesome meal for your dog or cat.
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Rendered fat is such a major problem and, despite the numerous recalls that it has prompted, it continues to be used.

I’m glad to see that you highlighted the dangers so plainly.  People need to be aware of just how dangerous their dog’s food can be.

I was wondering what your viewa were on pedigree lamb and rice dog food was? My basset dog is 5 and has always had a hard time with chicken dog foods and beef dog foods, but does well with lamb and rice mixs. She would throw up if she ate the other kind.

I use the Kirkland Signature (Costco) Maintenance Cat Food. My cat loves it, but I can’t really tell if it’s healthy for him. The first ingredient is chicken, if that means anything.

Hi Michelle,

I’m surprised that you would ask about a brand like Pedigree if you did in fact read this article. There is not a single ingredient in that brand of dog food - or basically anything you can buy at a grocery store - that I would feed to anything I loved. This article is talking about the way that commercial foods - like Pedigree are processed and everything in this article relates directly to Pedigree, Purina, Science Diet, Iams, and even other brands like Royal Canin, Blue Buffalo, etc. Use dogfoodadvisor.com to review other options, but if you are going to feed kibble, please look into Orijen or Acana. But more preferably, consider Sojos, Honest Kitchen, Primal Raw, or another company that provides a healthy, balanced, whole-ingredient diet.

Best of luck to you!

Thanks for giving some tips to other readers, Michelle. Dog food can, at times, be very confusing and overwhelming. It’s great to know that this blog prompted people to ask questions! Questions are always a good thing! We suggest to consult with your veterinarian to find the proper food for your pet if there’s any doubt in your mind. Best of luck, and thank you all for reading!

Hi Alex. The best thing to do would be to talk to your vet about the proper food for your pet. Good luck!

I have a 5 year old cocker spaniel. I was told by his Vet to feed him ‘iams’. After reading this article I realize that has been a mistake. I am hoping that you can advice me on two good brands of dog food for him as well as treats to replace the Pup-Peroni’s that I’ve been giving him.

i feel our dog merrick puppy. Is that a good brand?

I know you stated that few if any store bought brands of dog food are acceptable to feed pets, so I’m wondering about Newman’s Own brand as I’ve been feeding my dog this for years now. I also supplement with grass fed buffalo meat, organic turkey, sweet potato, broccoli etc…
Also, what do you think of raw food diets for dogs?
Thanks for your time and insight.

Example of Newman’s Own below

Turkey & Brown Rice:

Organic Turkey, Water Sufficient for Processing, Turkey Liver, Organic Brown Rice, Tricalcium Phosphate, Sweet Potatoes, Oat Bran, Cranberries, Flaxseed, Dried Kelp, Guar Gum, Carrageenan, Potassium Chloride, Sea Salt, Minerals (Iron Amino Acid Chelate, Zinc Amino Acid Chelate, Cobalt Amino Acid Chelate, Copper Amino Acid Chelate, Manganese Amino Acid Chelate, Sodium Selenite, Potassium Iodide), Vitamins (Vitamin E, A, B12, D3 Supplements, Thiamin Mononitrate, Biotin, Riboflavin Supplement).


Crude Protein…................8.0% (min)
Crude Fat…......................7.0% (min)
Crude Fiber…...................1.0% (max)
Moisture…......................78.0% (max)

Hello Dr. I had stumbled up on your blog. It was informative and .... I have been buying from a different type of store on line that seems to have the lack of the bad products you have spoke of. I also have found, I’ve had to feed my Persian cats less because it fills them up more. I guess Id like you to review this product. It also is sent to your door no going out to buy these things. Persian cats have a different diet requirements they really need all the vitamins because we as pet owners have become snobs and want beautiful coats and healthy bodies for our babies. Could you please review this for me? It seems to be a better alternative than dealing with Royal Cannin which is wildly popular among Persian breeders due to its shape and nutrients. I have looked at Royal Canin and found it less than desirable for my cats. I’m not a distributor I’m am a buyer thowho just wants the best at a cost that wont kill me thx.http://www.lifesabundance.com/home.aspx?realname=20095234

what do you think about Vital Pets and Hills Science Diet Dy

I need cat food ideas. My cats won’t eat much of anything I purchase. They are picky and so am I. I throw away so much food that it is shameful. I pour over the ingredients and food maker reputation. My oldest has IBD and is so skinny. He cries constantly for food but will not eat much of any canned foods. He does enjoy fresh roasted chickens, broiled and canned fish and broiled steak. Honestly, at the rate I toss foods, this would be cheaper but I worry about getting him the complete nutrition. Then there are all the ingredients that are added…Montmorillonite Clay…and so many brands have carrageenan which I am worried will irritate his intestines. Would you be able to suggest any other brands? They snubbed the Honest Kitchen.
Brands I have tried…. Weruva, Tiki Cat, Daves, Hounds and Gato, Halo, Nature’s Variety Evo…(the last 2 I discontinued because Evo changed ownership and I received cans with large black blotches in it. The Nature’s Variety can blew up in my face one day.) I lowered my standard and tried Against the Grain and Wild Calling but they hate it.

thanks for any advice,

I am also pleased to see you included rendered fat as an undesirable ingredient. If there were endotoxins in the products being rendered, from animal parts that had been infected with gram negative bacteria, wouldn’t you expect that they would be carried in the fat portion of the end products, as both are hydrophobic. I would appreciate your thoughts and any other negative aspects of fat from rendering operations.

Several mistakes present.  propylene glycol is not derived from ethylene glycol.  Both are petroleum based but PG does not come from EG.

FDA regards PG as generally considered safe.  PG is used as an alternative to EG because EG is extremely toxic.

PG is used in human food as well.  It is also found in shampoo, deodorant,  cosmetics.

Rats fed 5% of their food volume in PG ( a huge amount) showed no adverse effects after 2 years.

It is not allowed in cat food because minimal amounts caused severe adverse reactions in cats.

I don’t want my cat getting health problems because of bad food.  I’m trying to find him food he likes but he doesn’t like chicken so he won’t eat organix. I’m giving him nature’s recipe Salmon and potato dry food.  Here are the ingredients are they bad?? I’m also giving him science diet tuna wet food he loves it. So I don’t know.  He has a sensitive tummy so when I try giving him different foods he’s either throwing up or constipated.  With these he’s balanced and there’s no problems,  I just don’t want him getting diseased or a terminal cancer or something.

Salmon, Potatoes, Turkey Meal, Chicken Meal, Pea Protein, Poultry Fat (Preserved with Mixed Tocopherols), Fishmeal, Cellulose, Peas, Flaxseed, Natural Flavor, Tetra Sodium Pyrophosphate, Choline Chloride, Potassium Chloride, Salt, Vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, L-ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (Source of Vitamin C), Niacin Supplement, Inositol, Vitamin A Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin Supplement, Menadione Sodium Bisulfite Complex, Beta Carotene, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Folic Acid, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement), Minerals (Zinc Proteinate, Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Iron Proteinate, Copper Sulfate, Manganese Proteinate, Copper Proteinate, Manganous Oxide, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite), Lactic Acid, Citric Acid (Used As a Preservative), Yucca Schidigera Extract, Rosemary Extract.

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