Pet Food: The Good, Bad, and Healthy

Jordan Walker wants to help pet owners keep their pets in the peak of health. He indulges his enduring passion for animals writing regularly for Coops And Cages and other blogs. In this article, he breaks down what’s good, bad, and healthy when it comes to pet food.

Whenever a pet owner goes into the pet food section of the supermarket, he/she will be greeted by an astounding variety of brands and types of pet food. The choices are so dizzyingly varied that it can be difficult to pick one. Pet foods are divided according to breed of pet, age, level of activity, and so on. Pet food can be dry, moist, or wet. With such a systematic diversity of foods, pet owners can be comforted by a false sense of security that all of these pet foods have been created with the pet animals’ best interests at heart. More often than not, this is not always the case. Let’s take a look at the factors that make a bag or can of pet food as it is good, bad, and healthy.

The Good

With so many balls to juggle in the show called life, having ready-to-eat pet food is a time saver for most people with pets. By just pulling open a bag or the tab off a can, Kitty or Fido can get fed in the next few minutes before sailing out the door for work or a night out with friends. A bag or can of ready-to-eat pet food eliminates the need for pet owners to spend time preparing food for the pets themselves. Pair that already processed food with a heavy-duty five-meal automatic feeder and water dispenser in one and nobody even needs to rush home to make sure the pets get to eat dinner on time.

“Complete, Balanced Food”

As mandated by the relevant regulatory boards, commercial pet foods need to provide the complete nutritional requirements of a pet for each life stage, level of activity, and so on, to be approved for the market. An animal will require some combination of proteins, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals to stay healthy. Like any other product on the grocery shelf, the list of ingredients used in preparing pet foods is required by law to be listed on the packaging. However, for most pet foods and treats, these conditions are merely superficial formalities that belie a more disturbing reality.


The Bad

Does anyone know what rendering is? The term refers to the process of converting waste animal tissue into “value-added” materials. Sources of waste animal tissue include dead animals, animal parts, and animal by-products derived from slaughterhouses; food-processing plants; dead, diseased, disabled, and dying animals from ranches, barns, shelters, and other facilities.

Rendering converts all this waste animal tissue into ingredients for various industrial and consumer goods like soap, candles, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and – that’s right – animal feed (or pet food). The biggest bummer about all of this is that this is legal, allowed by the relevant agencies like the Food and Drug Administration. Rendering is an invisible but very useful industry that disposes of all the unwanted and unfit animal remains that would otherwise litter cities.

The Truth behind “Meat Meal”

In making pet food, part of the rendered material is then processed into what then becomes meat and bone meal. This will appear on the ingredients list of many dry pet foods in some variation of “meat meal,” “animal derivatives,” or “poultry by-products.” At this point, the now enlightened pet owner should know to put that bag of kibble down and look somewhere else. Unfortunately, this is true across the world. Commercial pet food is the equivalent of processed human-grade food, only worse.

Other ingredients that “add value” to pet food include nasty chemical preservatives, flavor enhancers, and food dyes. These have been protested against in human-grade foods and products because of their long-term harmful effects. Yet, here they are, legally stamped for inclusion in pet foods.

The Healthy

Fortunately, there is a small but real light at the end of the pet food nightmare tunnel. Pet owners can still save their pets from the awful and even toxic ingredients of commercial pet food. Even better, some smaller pet food companies have come up with more wholesome alternatives. Still few and far in between in the pet food industry, these more wholesome alternatives will also not come cheap and could be priced as much as three times the bad kibble. However, if any loving pet owner truly has their pets’ best interests at heart, they will find a way to get through this food conundrum. They can start by learning to read and be discriminating about the ingredients used in their pets’ kibble.

Ingredients to Look for on the Label

Ingredients on any label are listed by weight, heaviest first. To pass as acceptable pet food, the meat component must be listed first on the ingredients list and the source identified, for example, “beef,” “chicken,” or “lamb” – one-word descriptions, ideally from muscle meat. The high-quality protein source should comprise the bulk of the ingredients by weight. Second best (and best listed as second ingredient) would be an identified meat source plus the word “meal,” like “turkey meal” or “herring meal.”

The third and fourth ingredients should be whole fruits and vegetables, and/or whole grain sources like brown rice, oats, quinoa, barley, and millet. However, a grain-free formula is better. Corn, wheat, and soy, used as cheap fillers in pet food, are known to be allergenic or otherwise detrimental to pet health. Pet foods should not have chemical preservatives and artificial ingredients – at all. However, the use of vitamins C and E (tocopherols) as preservatives is adequate. Still, if a pet owner can find pet food that is guaranteed with human-grade ingredients, all the better. Looking at the current state of things in the pet food industry though, this is exceptionally rare and highly unlikely.


The truth about commercial pet food is truly an ugly one, and loving pet owners deserve to know this. Meeting the nutritional requirements of pets with sub-standard and even toxic ingredients is just wrong and inhumane. The best pet foods that any pet owner can offer their beloved animals remain to be foods consisting of natural, unprocessed, whole food-based, and human-grade ingredients.

Author: Jordan Walker

jordanJordan is the lead content curator for Coops And Cages as well as a couple of other pet-related blogs. His passion for animals is only matched by his love for ‘attempting’ to play the guitar. If you would like to catch him, you can via Google+ or Twitter: @CoopsAndCages.

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