15 Kibble Ingredients to Avoid at all Costs

kibble dog food ingredients to avoid

You want the best for your dog. Especially in regards to her diet. What about kibble ingredients to avoid? One of the number one things you can do to ensure your Best Friend’s health, make sure they are well nourished and healthy, is familiarize yourself with your pet food labels.

Big pet food is a powerful industry, heavily influenced by marketing. There are questionable ingredients in that “healthy”, well advertised, and expensive kibble your Best Friend eats every day. Following are 15 kibble ingredients you should avoid at all costs.

My Experience with “Boutique” Brand Dog Food

During my pet food nutrition course, I analyzed the ingredient panel on my dogs’ empty kibble bag. This is high-quality stuff, from a small Midwestern manufacturer. It’s not cheap! It’s also from the same manufacturer (Midwestern Pet Foods) who have made international headlines because of a devastating aflatoxin recall. I have since discontinued feeding my dogs this food, but was surprised that quite a few of the ingredients were of questionable nature. 

Additionally, Wallace became violently ill in the late fall of 2020-just when the news of Midwestern’s aflatoxin scare began. Although I cannot prove it, I am certain that poor Wally suffered from aflatoxin poisioning. Just the look in his sweet eyes when I poured the kibble in his bowl said it all. “Please don’t make me eat this!”

He was hungry, and he eats ANYTHING. We were extremely lucky that it didn’t cause organ damage and that he bounced back relatively quickly. Midwestern’s problems have since since exploded, including an FDA warning about poor hygeine practices in their manufacturing facilities.

My pet food label. Questionable ingredients are circled. The mixed tocopherols are OK, and better than the alternative synthetic preservatives listed in the article below. 

15 Kibble Ingredients to Avoid 

When reading the ingredient panel on your pet’s food, ingredients are listed from the greatest to least prevalent (before cooking) ingredients. In addition to being ingredients to avoid, many of the following are also some of the Dirty Dozen substances that damage DNA and bodily processes.

If any of these appear on the label, I recommend switching to a different brand or formulation. 

  1. Corn Gluten/Corn Gluten Meal: High in sugar. This product is used to increase the protein content in unhealthy foods. Plus, corn is often a main contributor to aflatoxin poisoning. While corn on its own is high in lineoleic acid, an essential fatty acid for dogs, corn in pet food is generally used as a cheap filler.

2. Pea protein concentrate: This is a filler product. Its presence indicates low levels of high-quality animal protein in the food. Often used in grain free pet foods. 

3. Brewer’s Rice: These are unappealing looking fragments broken from whole rice grains. It is a low quality, low cost filler with little to no nutritional value with the exception of carbohydrates, which should not be the bulk of a pet’s diet. Excessive amounts of carbs in our pets’ diets cause obesity and even diabetes. 

4. BHA: Also known as butylated hydroxyanisole is an antioxidant added into pet food as a fat preservative. It is also used in cosmetics, rubber and petroleum products. The National Toxicology Program has recognized BHA as a human carcinogen. It has been known to cause tumors in lab animals. BHA is not present in higher-quality pet foods. 

5. BHT: This is butylated hydroxytoluene and is used to extend the shelf life of dog foods by preventing fats and oils from prematurely spoiling. BHT is also used in jet fuels, pharmaceuticals, rubber, petroleum products, embalming fluid, and the oil in electrical transformers.  This is Purina’s response to a consumer question about BHT and BHA in their pet foods. 

6. Ethoxyquin: This is another preservative which is also used as a pesticide and in the rubber manufacturing process. This additive is often used in poultry and fish meals, so may be indirectly added to pet feed without it being listed on the label. Trace amounts are likely not harmful to healthy pets, however since our dogs eat the same thing for every meal, the cumulative effect of this preservative can be very harmful. 

While the FDA does deem a small amount of the above preservatives safe for consumption, the way our dogs eat the same food day in and day out, often over their entire lives makes the cumulative effect of these preservatives in their diets harmful. 

Higher quality pet foods will use natural preservatives, usually made from vitamins E or C. They will appear on the ingredient panel as “tocopheryl” or “ascorbate”. These are generally considered safer than synthetic preservatives. Preservatives must be used in pet foods to ensure that the fats do not become rancid in the bag. 

7. Cellulose: Cellulose is plant and wood fibers. It is used to “bulk” up low-cal or diet pet foods. Additionally, it’s used as a filler because it’s so cheap. Cellulose has absolutely no nutritional value and is virtually indigestable. In an industry article from Pet Food Processing, it is stated that cellulose passes through the digestive tract essentially undigested.

8. Titanium Dioxide: No doubt, you’ve heard this no-no ingredient in the news lately. Titanium dioxide is a synthetic whitening agent added to the raw ingredient slurry to make a uniform color. Most raw rendered meats are an unsightly gray color, so titanium dioxide is added to create a blank canvas. Recently, the European Food Safety Authority deemed titanium dioxide an unsafe additive due to concerns about its ability to damage DNA.

9. Artificial Colorings: It’s pretty evident when a pet food contains artificial colors. That’s because they look visually appealling-to us. Remember, our dogs don’t care. Artificial colors have been linked to hyperactivity in children along with disruption of biochemical reactions in the body.

10. MSG: (monosodium glutamate) is a flavor enhancer used to make up for the lack of flavor in subpar foods (Ramen Noodles, anyone?) MSG is a known allergen for many humans and pets. By law, MSG does not have to be on the label. However, it is often in the following ingredients: hydrolyzed protein, protein isolate, natural flavors, autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed yeast, yeast extracts, or soy extracts or concentrates.

11. Sodium Hexametaphosphate: This is an additive in many dental cleaning dog foods. It’s used to reduce tartar buildup, but is harmful when ingested. Alternatively, consider brushing your dog’s teeth a few times a week or these other options to keep her pearly whites in top shape.

12: Gluten: Of course, gluten is a hotly contested ingredient in the human food world. It is a general term used to refer to wheat, barley, and rye fillers that are used to bulk up protein content in pet foods. The problem with glutens in pet foods is that they are less nutritionally complete than actual meat proteins. Better quality proteins in your pet food will come from actual meat.

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Above is the ingredient panel from a pricey, veterinarian recommended brand of dog food. Notice that the first 2 ingredients are not proteins, but fillers. They are followed by a “by product meal”, wheat and corn gluten meal. Expensive dog food is not necessarily better, but better dog food is always more expensive. 

Mystery Meats to Avoid 

The meat industry creates a lot of waste! The rendering industry cleans much of that waste up. Our Best Friends can eat and benefit from many of the icky things we cannot. The raw ingredients in dry pet foods are created from a process called rendering, which is a heating and pasteurization process used to cut down on waste.  

It is similar to making soup-all of the meats, bones, organs, and other parts are combined into a soup-like slurry, ground, boiled down,  and the moisture is pressed out. The resulting product is a dry, powdery, shelf-stable protein that is then used in pet foods and  other products.

Some of the more problematic raw materials rendered into meat meals include spoiled grocery store meats, expired bakery items, (these meats and bakery items often include the styrofoam and plastic packaging too), “fallen” animals-animals that have died on meat lots or in transport before slaughtering-often from disease and illness, recalled meat products, restaurant grease, feathers, and sometimes animals that have been euthanized. 

In 2018, JM Smucker experienced a huge recall because of Phenobarbital in their pet foods. Phenobarbital is a euthansia drug and does not belong in ANY food products. It is unknown exactly where the phenobarbital in the meat products came from, but it is clear that the raw material animals used in the rendering process were of a questionable quality at best. 

Following are rendered ingredients to avoid in your pets’ foods:

13. Unidentified Meat Meals: These are a result of the rendering process and are used because the end result contains more protein than the original meat product, and the protein content on the label is increased.

If a meat meal is not labeled with exactly what kind of meat the meal is made of, avoid it. For instance, “turkey meal” or “chicken meal” is OK because the label tells exactly what kind of meat was used to create the meal. Lower grade (unidentified) meat meals may come from spoiled grocery store meats, slaughterhouse waste-including diseased animals, and even dead zoo animals! If you see the following ingredients on the label, avoid them. 

Meat meal

Animal meal 

Meat and bone meal

14. Chicken by-product meal: even though chicken is clearly labeled, by-product meals can contain any parts that are not meat-lungs, brain, kidneys, brain, blood, bone, fatty tissues, stomachs, and intestines (freed of contents). Although using all of the parts of an animal cut down on waste in the meat industry, the above are not the highest quality proteins. 

15. Farmed Salmon: While salmon is healthy and nutritious for our Best Friends, farmed salmon is often a mainstay in fish-based pet foods. Farmed salmon is full of mercury, PCBs, and other fat-soluable toxins. Unfortunately, most salmon in pet foods will be labeled simply as salmon, salmon meal, or salmon oil on the ingredient panel. Therefore, it’s difficult to determine if it was farmed or not. Instead: Look for “wild caught” on the label. If the salmon is listed as Atlantic salmon, it is farmed as there are no commercial fisheries in the Atlantic.

Compare the above kibbles to this raw recipe that Oliver has been eating lately. There are virtually NO fillers, but the salmon and some of the vitamins may be worth looking into. I am not necessarily advocating for a raw diet, merely showing the difference between this and the kibble.

YOU Choose Your Pet’s Food

It is really up to us as consumers and pet lovers to educate ourselves about the ingredients in our Best Friends’ food. Remember, our dogs don’t get to choose what to eat. It is fully up to us to provide them with a nutritious diet and avoid harmful ingredients in their food.

Some tips to keep that food healthy and your dog in top shape:

  1. Above all, familiarize yourself with the labels!
  2. Don’t be afraid to rotate your pet’s food to expose them to more beneficial ingredients and variety. If you’re not sure, stick with the same brand but a different protein formulation. You can always buy the small bag. Some reputable companies even make sample packages good for 1-2 meals.
  3. I ALWAYS recommend supplementing your pet’s kibble  with fresh, whole, unadulterated foods every day, for every meal.  

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