The Sickening Truth About Pet Food

What is in “popular” pet foods today?

It’s a question many of us don’t think about. We see nice pictures of whole grains; prime cuts of meat and human grade vegetables on our pets’ food bag and assume there is some chef in a pet food kitchen cooking up the best food for our beloved pets.

Unfortunately this is far from the truth. More than 95% of pets derive their nutritional needs from a single source: processed pet foods. When people think of pet food, many envision whole chicken meat, choice cuts of beef, fresh grains and all the nutrition that their dog or cat would ever need, images that pet food manufacturers promote in their advertisements and print on their food bags. What these companies do not reveal is that instead of wholesome chicken meat, they have substituted chicken heads, feet, feathers and intestines. Those choice cuts of beef are really cow brains, tongues, esophagi, fetal tissue dangerously high in hormones and even diseased and cancerous meat. Those whole grains have had the starch removed for cornstarch powder and the oil extracted for corn oil or they are just hulls and other remnants from the milling process. Grains used that are truly whole have usually been deemed unfit for human consumption because of mold, contaminants, poor quality or poor handling practices. This is made obvious by the fact that most pet food recalls are the result of toxic grain products such as corn or wheat. Pet food is one of world’s most synthetic edible products, containing virtually no whole ingredients.

The pet food industry is an 11 billion dollar a year, unregulated operation that feeds on the garbage that otherwise would and should end up in a landfill. Pet food manufacturers have become masters at getting pets to eat things they would normally turn their nose up at.

Pet food scientists have learned that it’s possible to take a mixture of inedible garbage, fortify it with artificial vitamins and minerals, preserve it so it can sit on the grocery shelf for more than a year, add dyes to make it attractive and then extrude it into whimsical shapes, making it appealing to us humans so we will purchase it. Unfortunately what makes up most of dog and cat food today (those not qualified as “human-grade”) comes from the rendering plant. To render, as defined in Webster’s Dictionary, is “to process as for industrial use; to render livestock carcasses and to extract oil from fat, blubber, etc., by melting.”

Some things that go into rendering are:

* Spoiled rotten meat from the supermarket, Styrofoam wrap and all.

* Road kill that can’t be buried on the roadside.

* The “4-D’s” of cattle; dead, dying, diseased and disabled.

* Rancid restaurant grease.

* Euthanized pets.

When chickens, lambs, cattle, pigs and other animals are slaughtered for food, usually only the lean muscle is cut off for human consumption. This leaves about 50% of a carcass left over. These leftovers are what become what we so commonly find on pet food labels such as “meat and bone meal” or “by-products.” So basically what pets are eating are the lungs, ligaments, bones, blood and intestines.

When dead animals from pastures are picked up, they many not be rendered for up to a week after they have died. Because of this it is estimated that E. coli bacteria contaminates more than 50% of meat materials. The rendering process destroys the E. coli bacteria, but it does not eliminate the endotoxins bacteria that are released when they die. Pet food manufacturers do not test for these endotoxins, which can cause sickness and disease.

Slaughterhouses where cattle, pigs, lambs and other animals meet their fate provide more fuel for rendering. After slaughter, heads, feet, skin, hair, feathers, carpel and tarsal joints and mammary (milking) glands are removed. This material is sent to rendering. Animals that have died on their way to slaughter are also rendered. Cancerous tissue, tumors and worm-infested organs are rendered. Injection sites, blood clots and any other inessential parts are rendered. Stomach and bowels are rendered. Contaminated material including blood is rendered. Carcasses with high levels of drugs or pesticides in excess of limits prescribed under the FDA (not fit for human consumption) are rendered.

At the rendering plant, slaughterhouse material, supermarket refuse, rancid restaurant grease, dead livestock, road kill and euthanized pets are dumped into huge containers. A machine slowly grinds the entire mess. After it is chipped or shredded, it is cooked at 220 – 270 degrees F. for approximately 20 minutes to one hour. The grease or tallow rises to the top where it is removed from the mixture. This is the source of animal fat in most pet foods on the market today. The remaining material, the raw, is then put into a press where the moisture is squeezed out; we now have the meat and bone meal that is added to most pet foods today.

Animals wouldn’t normally eat this stuff in the wild, so why will they eat it out of their bowls? Their noses are tricked by the smell of it. These flavors usually come from rancid restaurant grease from those big dumpsters you see in the back parking lot. This grease is often outside for weeks, exposed to extreme temperatures with no regard for its future use. Fat blenders mix the rancid grease and vegetable fats together, stabilize them with powerful antioxidants to prevent further spoilage, and then sell it to pet food manufacturers. Rancid, heavily preserved fats are extremely difficult for animals to digest and can lead to a host of pet health problems including digestive upsets, diarrhea, gas and bad breath. These fats are sprayed directly onto the kibble or nuggets to make an otherwise distasteful product palatable.

Two thirds of the pet food manufactured today contains synthetic preservatives. Of the remaining one third, 90% includes ingredients already stabilized by synthetic preservatives. Be wary of pet foods that advertise as being preservative free, if they’re using animal by-products or ingredients that have been rendered, they will mostly likely contain preservatives. Quality manufacturers of natural pet foods not containing artificial/chemical preservatives use natural preservatives such as Rosemary and Vitamin E. However, pet food manufacturers are not required to list preservatives they themselves have not added. Here are some of the chemical preservatives that are used in mass-produced pet food today:

* BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) – known to cause kidney and liver dysfunction

* BHT (butylated hydroxytolulene) – known to cause kidney and liver dysfunction

* Ethoxyquin – suspected of causing cancer

* Propylene glycol (also used as automotive antifreeze) causes destruction of red blood cells-and is also commonly found in many treats such as Pedigree Dentabone/DentaStix etc

Other cheap fillers

Once considered filler by the pet food industry, the amount of grain products, especially corn, used in pet food has risen sharply over the last decade to where it is usually one or two of the top three ingredients. For instance one Purina brand lists ground yellow corn, poultry by-products and corn gluten meal as its top three ingredients. Notice that two of the three ingredients are corn based products from the same source. This is an industry practice know as splitting. When components of the same ingredient are listed separately (ground yellow corn and corn gluten meal) it appears that there is less corn then poultry-by products, when it truth the corn ingredients when added together may weigh more then the chicken by-products.

Are there really pets in pet food?

Unfortunately when a vet tells a grieving pet owner they will “take care” of their dead loved one, they usually mean sending it off with a disposal company for rendering. This is all perfectly legal. Many veterinarians and especially shelters don’t bury or cremate animals.

Reporter John Eckhouse was one of the first people to discover the practice of sending euthanized pets to the rendering plants. A rendering plant employee was quoted as saying “thousands and thousands of pounds of dogs and cats are picked up and brought here everyday.” Although many in the pet food industry deny they use euthanized animals, the proof that the practice goes on continues to surface. Research done on rendering plants that sell meat to pet food companies found that the rendering plants accept everything from road kill, dead zoo animals and euthanized pets from both shelters and veterinary clinics. One such plant was found to have rendered 11 tons of dogs and cats in one week! Another plant in California reported processing an average of 200 ton of dogs and cats per month.

In the 1990’s veterinarians began reporting to the FDA/CVM that the drug they used for anesthetizing and euthanizing pets, sodium pentobarbital, seemed to be losing its effectiveness. This prompted the CVM to research the cause. In 1998 they went about testing dry dog food containing the ingredients meat and bone meal, animal digest and animal fat. They found the drug sodium pentobarbital in 31 of the 37 pet foods tested. They concluded that animals were becoming immune to the drug from eating food laced with sodium pentobarbital, and the likely source of the chemical was euthanized animals.

These are some of the ingredients listed in so-called “healthy dog and cat foods. Avoid them at all costs!

Ground yellow corn (or any corn)

Meat and bone meal

Corn gluten meal

Chicken by-product meal

Animal fat (preserved with BHA/BHT)

Wheat mill run

Natural poultry flavor


Wheat flour

Soybean meal

Ground wheat flour

Corn syrup

Wheat middlings

Animal digest

Obviously, there is more to buying pet food than just having it say “high protein.” Or “Natural Ingredients.” We need to keep our pets healthy and stop these manufacturers from using such horrible ingredients in their products.

I hope I’ve made you more aware of what to look for and what to avoid when buying food for your pets.

Health and Wellness Expert


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Michael Torchia
Michael Torchia is an animal health and wellness expert, who writes about animal and human health and wellness.