Harmful Pet Food Ingredients To Avoid
Without a doubt, it is becoming harder and harder to get clarity on what pet foods are “good” or “bad.” This is because there is such a wide range of brands, price points, and food formulas within the pet food industry. One way to start narrowing down the food options for your dog or cat is to avoid ingredients which have been found to be toxic, dangerous, or unnecessary for pets.
There are a number of things around the house that are toxic to your pets. Things like Medications, household cleaners, and non-food items like string, wires, and insects should always be kept away from pets. This list is in no way exhaustive, however, all of these items can be harmful to pets.
- Apple seeds
- Avocado (some foods have avocado oil in them, which is acceptable)
- Cherry Pits
- Cooked Bones
- Energy Drinks
- Fat trimmings
- Macadamia Nuts
- Pits from apricots, peaches, and plums
- Potato leaves, stems, or green parts
- Raw Garlic
- Raw Onions
- Xlytitol (and ingredient in many gums and candies)
- Yeast dough
Like their canine counterparts, cats should not be permitted to have the foods listed above. In addition to the items previously listed, the foods named below are also toxic to cats:
- Citrus oils
- House Plants
- Tea Tree Oil
These ingredients are not found in commercially-available pet foods because they have been proven to make animals sick. Pet food manufacturers are aware of foods that cannot be fed to animals and do not include them in their food formulas. Research has shown that there are some ingredients that many pet companies do use in their foods that are known to cause negative side effects, syndromes, diseases, and even cancers. Some of those ingredients have not yet been banned by AAFCO or the FDA. Even though these ingredients have caused health issues, many manufacturers still use them in their foods. This issue is often perpetuated due to the fact that these questionable ingredients are cheap and readily available.
When it comes to their beloved pets, most people are dedicated to keeping them happy and healthy. Therefore, even though the below ingredients are not illegal or regulated, more and more pet owners are aware of their negative effects, and are switching to food formulas that do not contain them.
- Coloring Agents- There is absolutely no reason for there to be artificial colors in your pet’s food. Your dog or cat does not care what color their food is. Artificial colors are added to pet foods mostly for the aesthetic pleasure of the pet owner. Studies of the dye Blue 2, have revealed that it may cause brain tumors, and the dyes Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 can cause allergic reactions. All three of those dyes are either banned or are in the process of being phased out in the European Union because of the prevalence of illnesses related to their use. However, they are still being used in pet foods that are currently on the shelves in the US. Your pet cares more about the taste than the appearance of their food, so it’s best to avoid foods that use any dyes.
- Propylene Glycol- Used as a preservative, propylene glycol is a chemical that is related to ethylene glycol, better known as antifreeze. Propylene glycol is also a common ingredient in human deodorant. It has a sweet taste, so it is often added to food for flavor. It has also been known to cause a type of anemia and damage red blood cells in your pet. The FDA has banned the use of propylene glycol in foods for cats, but it is still used in foods for dogs. While this chemical helps to keep food moist, it has no nutritional benefits, and is known to cause more harm than good.
- BHA or BHT- These preservatives are used in pet foods because they prevent the fat in the food from spoiling. They are banned from use in human foods because they have been found to cause cancer. They provide no nutritional benefits, and are also used in embalming fluid, petroleum products, jet fuel, and rubber. As an alternative, there are plenty of natural preservatives usually made from vitamins C or E. Tocopherol and ascorbate make excellent substitutes for the more harmful preservatives found in pet foods. These help your pet’s food have a longer shelf life without adding synthetic ingredients or chemicals.
- Ethoxyquin- This is another artificial preservative to look out for. Ethoxyquin’s other uses include acting as a pesticide and as an agent for hardening rubber during the manufacturing process. The FDA did a study on ethoxyquin and decided that it is non-toxic in trace amounts, but they have regulations in place regarding the maximum amount of the substance that is allowed in animal food. Over time, if your pet eats food with small amounts of ethoxyquin, it can build up in their system and eventually cause blood and liver issues.
An easy tip to remember is to avoid ingredients that you can’t spell or pronounce. Ideally, you want to understand what is in your pet’s food. Complicated chemical names could be a clue that the food contains synthetic, if not potentially harmful, ingredients. Most quality pet foods have wholesome ingredients that you can easily recognize. In almost all cases, it is possible to replace a mysterious chemical or artificial ingredient with a more natural, safer component.
There are also some ingredients in many pet foods that, while not illegal or chemical in nature, are not recommended for the reasons illustrated below . They don’t usually have side effects like cancers or diseases, but are known to aggravate allergies, promote obesity, contribute to diabetes, and just don’t add enough nutritional value to be worthwhile.
- Corn or Wheat Gluten (including gluten meals)- These do not provide any nutritional benefits to your dog or cat. They are by-products from the manufacturing of human foods, and are only added to bind kibble together during the baking process. Glutens do not get absorbed into the animal’s body, which means they pass right through, creating more waste.
- Lard and/or Sugar- These are “red flag” ingredients. Any food that has lard or sugar in it should be avoided. Most pets find these ingredients to be delectable, therefore they will love the taste of their food and probably scarf it down. If you have to trick your pet into eating their food with fats and sweets, that is probably a bad sign. Sugar and lard both add calories and fat without providing any health benefits. Foods with lean proteins and savory vegetables taste delicious to animals, so there is no need to add any sugar or lard to your pet’s food for flavor.
- By-Products and By-Product Meals- These are usually made of miscellaneous animal parts. There is no real way to tell what parts they are made from, which means you can’t really tell what your pet is eating. For example, hooves, teeth, beaks, and tendon tissues all have different nutritional compositions. By genericizing them as “by-products,” there is no way to tell exactly what you are getting. In general, these ingredients are just a cheap way of adding protein to a pet food.
- Animal fat- “Animal” fat does not have a specific origin. It can be rendered from anything such as cattle, horses, or even roadkill. There is no way to determine where the fat is coming from, hence it is difficult to determine how it will affect your pet.
The above ingredients, while not inherently harmful, are simply not essential to pets in any way. They are more beneficial to the pet food manufacturers, because they are inexpensive and easy for them to use. It is possible to make food with a good flavor from high-quality ingredients but, for the manufacturer, lard and sugar are cheap and readily available. Pet owners must advocate for their dogs and cats by making sure that their food has the animal’s well being in mind- not the manufacturer’s.