When a Pet Food Recipe Changes, How Do We Know?

The pet food industry doesn’t have to tell us, so we have to find out on our own.

Pet Food Recipe Changes
The response to pet food recipe changes isn’t always positive. Photo: petethevet

People often find a pet food their pets like and then stick with it for years.

But then, suddenly, their pet becomes ill, and it becomes a frantic race to figure out why, with the food they’re eating coming in at the bottom of the causality list. After all, Roxy has been eating the same food for years, so why would it make her sick now?

Well, I’ve got some news for you: The pet food recipe ingredients could have changed without notice.

Pet Food Recipe Changes

First, let’s talk about what you do have to be notified of by the pet food maker — and then we’ll talk about what you don’t have to made aware of.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, “Current FDA regulations require proper identification of the product, net quantity statement, name and place of business of the manufacturer or distributor, and proper listing of all the ingredients in the product in order from most to least, based on weight.”

In essence, the pet food label has to tell you:

  • What the food is
  • How much is in the package
  • Who manufactured and/or distributed the food
  • And the ingredients, which must be listed by weight, with the heaviest ingredients at the top of the list

The FDA will also investigate specific claims, such as “good for weight control” or “urinary tract health.”

What the label or package does not have to tell you is whether or not the manufacturer has decided to change an item in the recipe.

Now, to be fair, this same practice happens in your food, too. When it comes to humans, the FDA does have stricter requirements about the quality of the ingredients in the food but no requirement to inform you about a recipe change.

Pet Food Recipe Changes
Pet food recipe changes don’t have to be revealed to the public. Photo: NatashaG

Stealth Health: When Recipes Are Secretly Changed

In a 2014 article in the Wall Street Journal, “stealth health” — the practice of altering a food’s recipe to make it healthier without informing the public — is addressed head-on.

“It might seem like food companies would want to trumpet their health initiatives as much as possible,” writes journalist Julie Jargon. “Many times they do, but companies are often cautious because altering the recipe of a successful product to cut salt, sugar, fat or other ingredients risks changing flavor and texture.”

The reason companies don’t want to tell you that they’re changing their recipe is that sometimes the response isn’t positive, which affects the company’s bottom line. Part of the hesitation is due to a type of consumer assumption.

“Healthier products don’t always sell well. McDonald’s salads, introduced a decade ago, have never amounted to more than 3% of U.S. sales,” writes Jargon.

“And when the chain first announced in 2002 that it would start cooking french fries in oil free of trans fats — in line with health warnings about the artery-clogging dangers of the ingredient — its customer-service lines were flooded with complaints about the fries tasting different, even in cities where nothing had yet changed.”

This is all well and good for people — after all, it can’t be bad that we’re eating healthier foods — but when it comes to the pet food industry, the same types of stealthy alterations are happening, and they’re not always intended to better the health of the 4-footed consumer.

The motivation, however, is seemingly the same: profit.

If a pet food manufacturer can replace an ingredient with something comparable but cheaper, it makes more profit on each package sold.

How About Some Transparency?

Pet food brand Iams changed its recipe in the summer of 2016, according to the response to a consumer on its Facebook page.

Consumer Motunrayo O. asked Iams in 2018: “Did you recently change the ingredients or add dyes? My dog’s food used to be one solid color but the new bag has 3 shades of brown. What was the reason for the change?”

Iams replied:

“Hi, Motunrayo! We did make a change summer of last year. We added some color and lots of good fruits and veggies! If you have any questions about these changes, please give our consumer care team a call at 1-800-675-3849. Thank you!”

So what is “some color,” and what is it made from? What kinds of fruits and veggies exactly? This consumer didn’t get much in the way of an answer — save the confirmation that the pet food recipe changes were real.

Iams isn’t the only pet food manufacturer who changes its recipes. Almost all brands have made major or minor changes to their recipes over the years. But most people never find out about it.

Learn how to read pet food labels in this video:

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Final Thoughts on Pet Food Recipe Changes

OK, so pet food manufacturers aren’t evil, malefic beings, but they are out to make a profit, and justifiably so. That’s what business is all about.

If a manufacturer finds a cheaper, comparable ingredient and wants to make pet food recipe changes, it’s that manufacturer’s right to do so.

But we need to be proactive about reading and understanding what’s in our pet’s foods, and we need to be consistent about it. Making a habit of periodically reviewing your pet’s food label will ensure that you are not surprised by a potential sudden change in your pet’s health due to their food.

Pets suffer from all types of ailments, including skin conditions and allergies depending on what they eat, so pet food recipe changes may cause a problem if Roxy has a reaction to a new ingredient.

If you do notice some recipe changes, ask the manufacturer to share with you what ingredients were changed and why.

This information can only make you more knowledgeable while reminding the pet food industry that our relationship is symbiotic — it needs the trust of us, its consumers, to make a profit.