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5 Ingredients to avoid in pet food

Nutrition is complicated. Just like in human nutrition, there are different ingredients in dog and  cat food that can either help or hurt your pet. These are 5 ingredients that you should avoid in pet food.

Carbohydrates listed as the first ingredient. 

While dogs and cats can eat and digest carbohydrates, they should not be the first listed ingredients. To ensure proper growth and metabolism, dogs and cats need more protein in their diet than carbohydrates or fibre. Other than nutritional benefits, animal protein is also just more tasty to pets!

Meat by-product meals

Meat by-product meals are the ground, dried leftovers from the meat rendering plants. These by-product meals include things like bones, cartilage, feathers and viscera. These ingredients aren’t nearly as digestible to dogs and cats as as whole meat meals like chicken or fish meal. It is often cheaper to use these meat meals and allows pet food companies to cut corners and save money, while sacrificing a quality product.

This is not to say all meat by-products are bad. Certain ingredients like liver, heart or gizzard are healthy organ meats that provide pets with nutritional benefits like iron and B vitamins. Digestible organ by-products such as these are also great for promoting sustainability, as it promotes the usage of rendered products that would otherwise go to waste!

High starch grains

Diabetes is a very prominent problem in both human and animal medicine. This is why it is important to avoid rapidly digestible starches like corn and wheat in pet food. These rapidly digested starches allow for a higher availability of sugars like glucose. Highly available sugars trigger high blood sugar and subsequently diabetic conditions.

Grains like rice, quinoa, barley and millet are more beneficial as they are more slowly digestible and lower glycemic index. An alternative to lower blood sugar is also opting for grain free diets. Ingredients like peas, legumes and sweet potato are great carbohydrate alternatives to grains and have been scientifically proven to lower glycemic index.

Artificial colours, sweeteners and flavours

Artificial additives are added to appeal to humans. Dogs and cats do not care what color their kibbles are or if their food smells like “backyard bbq”. These added colors and palatants can even be toxic to pets. Scientific studies have even shown that some artificial ingredients, like red and yellow dyes, can even be carcinogenic and cause cancer.

Certain preservatives

Preservatives are required in a lot of food that is kept at room temperature and not all preservatives are bad. Ultimately, it is better to use safe preservatives in pet food than having it go rancid and risk having microbial contamination. 

However, there are some preservatives that should be avoided and could be very dangerous to pets. While not used as frequently anymore, ethoxyquin, BHT and BHA are some preservatives that should not be fed to, well, anyone. Ethoxyquin is a compound that may potentially cause liver and kidney damage, while BHA and BHT have been recognized as carcinogens by the US FDA.

Ultimately, it is good to be aware of what is in your pet’s food. Proper nutrition can go a long way in ensuring that your pet lives a long and healthy life!

Corn on the cob piled on top wooden surface
Corn on the cob piled on top wooden surface

View Sources


Ren, Jian, Longping Wen, Xinjiao Gao, Changjiang Jin, Yu Xue, and Xuebiao Yao. "DOG 1.0: illustrator of protein domain structures." Cell research 19, no. 2 (2009): 271-273.

Murray, Sean M., Avinash R. Patil, George C. Fahey Jr, Neal R. Merchen, and Denzil M. Hughes. "Raw and rendered animal by-products as ingredients in dog diets." Journal of animal science 75, no. 9 (1997): 2497-2505.

Mitsuhashi, Yuka, Daisuke Nagaoka, Katsumi Ishioka, Karen E. Bigley, Masayuki Okawa, Kazuya Otsuji, and John E. Bauer. "Postprandial lipid-related metabolites are altered in dogs fed dietary diacylglycerol and low glycemic index starch during weight loss." The Journal of nutrition 140, no. 10 (2010): 1815-1823.

Price, Paul J., William A. Suk, Aaron E. Freeman, William T. Lane, Robert L. Peters, Mina Lee Vernon, and Robert J. Huebner. "In vitro and in vivo indications of the carcinogenicity and toxicity of food dyes." International journal of cancer 21, no. 3 (1978): 361-367.

Ito, Nobuyuki, Shoji Fukushima, and Hiroyuki Tsuda. "Carcinogenicity and modification of the carcinogenic response by BHA, BHT, and other antioxidants." CRC Critical reviews in Toxicology 15, no. 2 (1985): 109-150.
Comfort, A., I. Youhotsky-Gore, and K. Pathmanathan. "Effect of ethoxyquin on the longevity of C3H mice." Nature 229, no. 5282 (1971): 254-255.

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February 20, 2024
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