Is a very good question – but not one that most pet food companies are willing to
Like you or I, our pets ‘are what they eat’.
Food for human consumption is governed by strictly enforced quality guidelines. In
the pet food industry, guidelines and regulations are distinctly foggy. Pet food
manufacturers can and do take advantage of this and it’s easy to understand their
reluctance to come clean when you consider some of the ingredients they use:
Meat and animal derivatives – a generic term for animal proteins which avoids having
to specify where the meat comes from. This enables the pet food company to use whatever
meat is the cheapest when they make their food and there’s no way you can tell what
What is wrong with using meat and animal derivatives?
The main problem is the fact that it doesn’t specify what type of meat it contains,
allowing pet food manufacturers to use any part of any animal to make their food.
Yet some proteins, such as chicken and fish, are better for pets as they are easier
to digest and produce fewer waste products than others, such as beef. Some pets will
have dietary intolerances and allergies to certain proteins, so it is important that
they are specified in the ingredients so owners can avoid them. Also, because they
are not specified, the protein used changes from batch to batch depending on the
price of the different ingredients, and this can cause dietary upsets.
And finally, because they are not specified, it is very hard to find out exactly
what meat goes in to ‘meat and animal derivatives’ – it could be chicken, but it
could be beef, pork or horse and many people would not be comfortable with feeding
Derivatives of vegetable origin – sounds unpleasant, is unpleasant! Another loose
term used to disguise all manner of hidden ingredients such as vegetable residues
and even charcoal!
Why not use ‘derivatives of vegetable origin'?
‘Derivatives of vegetable origin’ is a term that covers all vegetable by products,
from processed vegetables to residues such as charcoal. These ingredients are not
necessarily bad for pets but, because they are not defined, it is impossible to make
an informed decision about a food with this term on the ingredients list.
EC permitted additives – this term hides a list of over 4000 chemicals, many of which
have been banned from human foods due to health concerns.
Are artificial additives really bad for pets?
There is a large amount of evidence for the potential harm that artificial additives
can do to pets. For example, artificial colours such as E102 (tartrazine), E110 (sunset
yellow) and others have been shown to cause hyperactivity in children (and have recently
been banned by the Food Standard Agency) - and it is highly likely that this effect
is also seen in pets. In addition to hyperactivity, colours such as Blue 2 have been
shown to have the potential to cause tumours, as have anti-oxidants including BHA.
One of the main problems is lack of transparency – by using the term ‘EC permitted
additives’ manufacturers can hide the exact additives they use, so it is impossible
for a pet owner to make an informed decision about the food. If manufacturers are
so confident about the additives they use, and their effects, why don’t they name
them rather than use this woolly general term?
Cereals – like other vague terms, ‘cereals’ does not define exactly what is in the
food – it could be wheat, barley, oats, maize or other cereals. There is no way of
knowing which are being used, and as some cereals are healthier than others, and
some can cause intolerances and allergies; knowing which are being used in your pet’s
food is very important.
Low quality proteins – cheap protein sources such as soya are used instead of meat
in many pet foods. They are hard to digest and much less suitable than real meat
Animal by-products in pet food may include parts obtained from any animals that have
died from sickness or disease provided they are rendered in accordance to law. As
well, cow brains and spinal cords, not allowed for human consumption due to the possibility
of transmission of BSE are allowed to be included in pet food intended for non-ruminant
animals. The drugs used to put down sick or injured animals (including dogs and
cats) are still present in the animal’s system when they are processed into pet food.
Just think, with the wrong food you could be slowly putting your pet down and giving
them cannibalistic tendencies!
‘Splitting’ is a widely used practice of dividing an undesirable ingredient into
components in order to place it lower in the ingredient list. A product made of ‘lamb,
corn, corn flour and corn meal’ is likely to contain less lamb than corn.
The ingredients lists use generic terms such as ‘meat and animal derivatives’, ‘cereals’,
‘derivatives of vegetable origin’ and ‘EC permitted additives’ to hide their real
ingredients from the consumer. For that reason, the source of the food is often
untraceable and some of these ingredients may not be beneficial to pets’ health.
If you read the ingredients list of the pet food you are using right now, the chances
are you will see some of these so called ‘ingredients’ listed.
So what’s in your pet’s food? Consumers certainly can’t be sure. A lot of the pet
food manufacturers themselves probably don’t know either! Many pet owners would
not be happy if they knew what was really going into their pets’ food.
So Who Does Know?
Well, it’s not all bad news. Some companies pride themselves on producing good quality
pet food, using real ingredients from traceable sources.
Good quality natural pet foods only use identifiable, named meats, such as chicken,
fish and lamb. There are no ambiguous meat ingredients such as ‘meat and animal derivatives’
and open and honest ingredients labelling allows pet owners to make an informed decision
when choosing one of these foods.
Because many pet foods are made from very low quality ingredients to save cost, additives
are required to make them palatable and preserve them. High quality pet foods use
natural alternatives such as vitamin E as a preservative, and rely on good quality
ingredients for palatability.
Real pet foods are never tested on any unwilling animals, with all product taste
testing being carried out by willing volunteer pets.
But aren’t the vitamins in so-called ‘natural pet foods’ actually artificial? Well
most natural foods do contain artificial synthesised vitamins rather than vitamins
sourced from the natural world. These are exact copies of natural molecules, and
have the same properties and effects as the naturally occurring vitamins. They are
added to pet foods to ensure that pets receive the correct amounts of the essential
nutrients in their food as otherwise they would have to put in high quantities of
natural vitamins during manufacture to allow for the degeneration of the vitamins
during the product’s shelf life.
Real pet food is simple, honest food made with natural ingredients. There are no
artificial additives, and all of the ingredients are honestly declared so you, the
caring pet owner, can make an informed decision.