Plump whole chickens, choice cuts of beef, fresh grains, and all the wholesome nutrition your dog or cat will ever need.These are the images pet food manufacturers promulgate through the media and adver tising. Here’s a peek at what’s really in most commercial pet food brands.


Animal Protein and By-Products

Dogs and cats are carnivores, and do best on a meat-based diet. The protein used in pet food comes from a variety of sources. When animals are slaughtered, lean muscle tissue is trimmed away from the carcass for human consumption, along with the few organs that people like to eat, such as tongues and tripe.

Whatever remains of the carcass — heads, feet, bones, blood, intestines, lungs, spleens, livers, ligaments, fat trimmings, unborn babies, and other par ts not generally consumed by humans — is used in pet food, animal feed, fer tilizer, industrial lubricants, soap, rubber, and other products. These “other parts” are known as “by-products.”

The better brands of pet food, such as many “natural,” and “organic” varieties, do not use by-products. On the label, you’ll see one or more named meats among the first few ingredients, such as “turkey” or “lamb.”

Rendered Ingredients

Rendering (basically a slow-cooking process) produces two significant ingredients: animal fat or tallow and a processed “meal” product. The latter may be called meat meal, meat-and- bone meal, or by-product meal depending on its composition. Due to historical quirks in naming, the term “by-product meal” refers to poultry, while the equivalent mammalian product is called “meat and bone meal.” Rendered products are found primarily in dry pet foods.

Animals that are dead, dying, diseased, or disabled prior to reaching the slaughterhouse are known as “downers” or “4D” animals. These are usually condemned, in whole or in part, for human consumption, and they are generally sent for rendering along with other by-products, parts and items that are unwanted or unsuitable for human use: such as, out-of-date supermarket meats (including their plastic wrappers), cut-away cancerous tissue, and fetal tissue (which is very high in hormones).

Some manufacturers are now calling this ingredient “beef and bone meal” and similarly euphemistic terms, which are deliberately coined to mislead you.

Additives in Processed Pet Foods

Many chemicals are added to commercial pet foods to improve the taste, stability, characteristics, or appearance of the food. Additives provide no nutritional value. Additives include emulsifiers to prevent water and fat from separating, and ar tificial colors or flavors to make the product more attractive to consumers and more palatable to the pets.

Chemical vs. Natural Preservatives

Because manufacturers need to ensure that dry foods have a long shelf life to remain edible through shipping and storage, fats used in pet foods are preserved with either synthetic or “natural” preservatives. Synthetic preservatives include butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), propyl gallate, propylene glycol (also used as a less-toxic version of automotive antifreeze), and ethoxyquin. Propylene glycol was banned in cat food because it causes anemia in cats, but it is still allowed in dog food.

Many pet food makers have responded to consumer concern, and are now using “natural” preservatives such as Vitamin C (ascorbate), Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols), and oils of rosemary, clove, or other spices, to preserve the fats in their products.

Nutrition-Related Diseases

Health problems associated with diet include urinary tract disease, kidney disease, dental disease, obesity, chronic digestive problems, bloat, heart disease, and hyper thyroidism.

Many nutritional problems appeared with the popularity of cereal- based commercial pet foods. Some have occurred because the diet was incomplete. Other problems may occur from reactions to additives. Others are a result of contamination with bacteria, mold, drugs, or other toxins.

The bottom line is that diets composed primarily of low quality cereals and rendered meals are not as nutritious or safe as you should expect for your cat or dog. Look for brands made by conscientious manufacturers who take great pride in producing top-tier products designed to significantly enhance and extend your pet’s life.