6 Pet Food Ingredients to Avoid

Take a look at your pet food label, and if you see any of the following phrases, put the bag or can down and move on to the next product.

Bad pet food ingredients

Take a look at your pet food label, and if you see any of the following phrases, put the bag or can down and move on to the next product:

1. Meat Byproducts

Avoid any generic ingredient like this. What kind of “meat” did this come from? We don’t know the source.

“Meat byproducts frequently include waste parts as well as rejected meats,” according to Dr. Michel Selmer, DVM.

And Dr. Karen Becker, DVM, says, “There could be something beneficial thrown in, like the heart or gizzard, but because there’s such potential for undesirable pieces and parts in ‘byproducts,’ it’s better to avoid them altogether.”

2. Animal Fat

“Again, there’s no animal specified, so it’s anyone’s guess where the fat came from,” says Dr. Becker.

Not to mention, the chemical additives and preservatives used to process animal fats may cause chronic allergies and skin problems. With a premium pet food, you’ll get higher-quality fats. For example, The Farmer’s Dog uses wild Alaskan fish oil.

3. Animal Digest

This is a common ingredient in the big-brand pet foods, and Purina calls it a “high-quality” ingredient. No, really — they actually say that. Which leaves me baffled, because animal digest is something I’d never want to see in my pet’s food.

“Animal digest is a boiled concoction made from unspecified parts of unspecified animals,” says dog nutrition expert Tracie Hotchner.

“The animals used for this broth can be obtained from any source, so there is no control over quality or contamination,” she adds. “Ingredients can come from restaurant and supermarket refuse, the dead, diseased, disabled or dying (‘4D’) animals raised for human food, other farm animals, rodents, pets euthanized at shelters and so on.”

4. Ethoxyquin

Ethoxyquin, a poison, is banned from human food — but incredibly, it’s fair game in some commercial pet foods. It “should never be fed to any pet,” according to Dr. Becker.

Iams responds that “all studies conducted to date prove that ethoxyquin is safe for use in all animal foods when used at approved levels,” but I have to ask the obvious question: Why is it banned from human food in any amount but somehow OK for our pets to eat every single day, meal after meal?

5–6. BHA and BHT

BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) have been linked to cancer.

“You should look for natural preservatives, such as the herb rosemary or vitamins E or C, instead of chemical additives like these,” says Dr. Selmer.

Even though there is more and more evidence now that these chemical-based preservatives may harm your pet’s health, it is still normal within the industry to slip them into various pet foods. “These chemical additives and preservatives may lead to aggressiveness, mood swings, hyperactivity, and regurgitation after meals or skin allergies,” says Dr. Selmer.


There are so many pet foods out there that have better quality ingredients, so don’t bother with products that have any of those 6 ingredients listed above.

And if you’re looking for a just-like-homemade, made-with-love, high-quality dog food, I’m really liking The Farmer’s Dog right now. Check out my review here. (I’m working on finding a comparable cat food.)

The Farmer's Dog

Dave Baker

View posts by Dave Baker
Dave Baker, founder and publisher of Petful, is a journalist and editor who has worked at The New York Times and The Nation magazine. He was also part of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize–winning team at The Times-Picayune newspaper of New Orleans. After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, he moved to Brooklyn, New York, where Petful is now based. A longtime advocate for pet food safety, Dave has been passionately tracking pet food recalls for the past 10-plus years, and more than 30,000 pet parents are subscribed to his recall alerts — which often arrive faster than even the recall alerts put out by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Dave holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Clemson University, where he studied journalism and was editor in chief of The Tiger, a student newspaper twice awarded Best in Show during his years there by the Associated Collegiate Press. A passionate animal lover, Dave has cared for a number of dogs, cats and other small pets over the years. Learn more about Dave and the rest of the amazing Petful team here: Meet the Team.


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