The pet food industry has evolved rapidly over the last decade, and with that, pet owners are now more educated than ever on what they feed their furry best buddies. In fact, the quality of today’s super-premium pet foods are not much different from meals served in fine-dining restaurants. And due to the multitude of brands available in North America (can you believe there are more than 500?!), healthy pet foods are now more plentiful and affordable than ever. 

At some point in time, all industries have used clever yet deceptive marketing to promote their products to ensure buyers come back for more. How many of us, for example, grew up believing that milk is the only source of calcium, and that without it we’d have frail, brittle bones? That’s the dairy industry hard at work promoting their products. And while there’s no doubt that milk is rich in calcium, milk itself is not an essential part of a balanced diet. 

Unfortunately, the pet food industry is not immune to this form of marketing manipulation, either. 

Let’s take a look at some of the lesser-known, sneaky things the pet food industry doesn’t want consumers to know.

The Best Quality Pet Foods Rarely Have TV Commercials

Many of today’s highest-quality pet foods are not widely known household names. Much of this is due to their size and scope in relation to grocery, and “big box” brands; they do not have the dollars to continually invest in big market media compared to multi-national, billion-dollar mega brands. 

When it comes to the top 1% of pet food brands, much of their revenues are allocated to sourcing the best-quality, most wholesome ingredients available, investing in research and development of state-of-the-art manufacturing technologies, and giving back to shelters and rescues. 

Read: The Top 10 Dog Foods in Canada

Many super-premium brands are not found in big-box pet stores, either. Instead, these niche companies grow their brands by developing relationships with pet specialty retail stores, where staff are generally far more educated in pet nutrition and are capable of providing a better understanding of healthy pet lifestyles.

Lesser-quality, discount brands, like the ones commonly found in grocery stores, tend to do the opposite in terms of growing their brands; spending millions on television commercials depicting happy pets devouring their favourite multi-coloured kibble. These commercials show big chunks of meat, fruits, and veggies, however, what is actually in the food is often far from what is advertised, and may include a multitude of undesirable ingredients. These highly-processed, mass-produced products can be very deceptive in their advertising, and generally target pet owners with insufficient understanding of pet food labelling.

Feeding A Less-Expensive Pet Food Isn’t Always The Most Affordable Option

Many pet owners believe feeding a less-expensive pet food is more affordable, however that is often not the case. It all comes down to quality versus quantity. 

High-quality pet foods using wholesome, healthy ingredients are more calorically dense than low-quality alternatives. This means that you not only feed less to your dog, a bag of food will also last longer. Less expensive brands may cost less per bag, however, you will almost always feed more (sometimes twice as much) compared to higher quality alternatives.

It is not the cost of the bag that matters, but rather the cost per meal. Once you figure that out, you may be surprised to realize certain discount brands don’t offer as much value as advertised. 

Not All Meats Are Equal, But There Aren’t Any Labelling Laws To Let Consumers Know That

The pet industry is very loosely regulated; something countless pet food manufacturers have taken advantage of for decades, and continue to do so today. When it comes to pet food labelling, there are no requirements to list the quality of any given ingredient. This means that chicken in one food may be vastly different in quality than another, however it may read the same on the label. 

When it comes to ingredient terminology, pet food labelling must follow certain guidelines set by the American Association of Pet Food Officials (AAFCO). However, there are no labelling criteria when it comes to the actual quality of pet food ingredients. For example, one brand may use chicken in their food, consisting only of federally-inspected, human-grade quality. On the other side, another brand may use chicken that falls under the infamous “4-D’s”; meat from dead, dying, diseased, and/or disabled animals. Both of these ingredients, while completely different in terms of their quality, may be labelled as the same thing: chicken. 

Without doing their due diligence beyond reading the pet food labelling, it is very difficult for pet owners to truly know what they are feeding their pets in terms of ingredient quality. 

Rendered Meats are Perfectly Legal in Today’s Pet Foods

Would you believe me if I told you many of today’s popular pet foods contain euthanized pets as sources of meat? Tying in to the previous point about pet food labelling, we now delve into the dark and disturbing world of rendered meats in pet foods. 

When it comes to pet food labelling, manufacturers must list the animal source (chicken, beef, fish, etc), however there is a miscellaneous set of ingredients called “meat”, “meat meal”, or “meat by-products”. These are the terms that pet food manufacturers use when they make a food containing a combination of indiscriminate meats. These meats can include, but are not limited to: euthanized pets (like dogs, cats, and horses), livestock, zoo animals, roadkill, and pretty much any mammal that was once alive. 

Rendered meats are commonly found in many of today’s popular pet foods. Sounds pretty bad, right? Well, it also gets worse. Rendered meats often contain varying amounts of identification tags, fur/hair, plastic wrap, flea collars, and even pentobarbital, a commonly used euthanasia drug. 

In 2018, the FDA issued a recall for Gravy Train, Kibbles ‘N Bits, Ol’ Roy, and Skippy dog food (produced by the J.M. Smucker Company) for containing low levels of pentobarbital. It is stated that any detection of pentobarbital in pet food is a violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. 

In the last three years, there have been four major recalls, affecting twenty-seven brands of dog food, for containing pentobarbital. 

Commercial Pet Foods Are Loaded With Synthetics

For any commercial pet food seeking approval from the American Association of Food Control Officials (AAFCO), they must meet certain standards for vitamin and mineral content. The majority of pet foods on the market are highly processed, destroying much of the naturally occurring nutrients found in the ingredients prior to processing. As a result, it is common for pet food manufacturers to add synthetic, manufactured vitamins and minerals back into the food.

There is much debate over whether synthetic vitamins and minerals are safe for pets long-term. While many experts believe there is no risk in adding synthetic nutrients to pet foods, others express concern about the function of cell receptors in the body. Cells contain receptor sites, which are responsible for certain cellular functions. The concern pertains to receptor sites becoming clogged due to synthetic nutrients, which may compromise their biological functions over time. 

Another significant concern is the fact that the majority of synthetic vitamins and minerals used in pet foods come from China, where there is virtually no regulation whatsoever. 

With all this talk about synthetics in pet food, there is a silver lining. Not all pet foods contain synthetics. There is a small (but growing) number of manufacturers making very high-quality, synthetic-free pet foods. Dry (kibble) brands like Carna4 are made with organic sprouted seeds; one of the most nutrient-dense foods on Earth. Ingredients like sprouted seeds, and gentle processing enable brands like Carna4 to make a synthetic-free kibble, and still meet standards for nutritional completeness. Also, raw diets, because they are unprocessed to begin with, are ideal synthetic-free options to consider. Whether its frozen, dehydrated, or freeze-dried raw, there are a multitude of synthetic-free raw options for dogs and cats. Consider brands like Smack or ZiwiPeak, for example.

Grain Splitting In Pet Foods is Common

In an effort to make their product more alluring to consumers, many pet food manufacturers use a deceptive tactic called grain splitting. Grain splitting is when a manufacturer divides a substantial, often less-desirable ingredient into smaller segments. The purpose of this sneaky trick is to save money on more expensive ingredients (like meat), and to make it appear as if there is more meat in their product, when in actuality, there is not. 

For example. If a pet food heavily consists of rice as the first ingredient, many consumers may see this as an indicator of a lower-quality product, and will likely purchase another product. So instead, rice is split into smaller segments, like “rice bran” and “rice flour”. By doing this, rice now becomes two (or more) separate ingredients, and since ingredients are listed in descending order by volume, rice is no longer listed as the primary ingredient. Now, meat becomes the first ingredient on the panel, however the product is still mostly comprised of rice. 

Very sneaky, right? Grain splitting can be done with any grain, but most commonly includes wheat, rice, and corn. 

If you’re concerned about the quality of your pet’s food, speak to one of our certified pet nutrition experts. We can help answer all of your nutrition related questions and concerns!

About Brandon Forder

Brandon holds multiple certifications in pet nutrition, and has more than twenty-five years experience specializing in pet nutrition, behaviour, and healthy pet lifestyles. He has a passion for helping people become great pet parents. Brandon has written hundreds of informative pet-related articles for newspapers, magazines, web, and radio.

6 Responses

  1. I’m concerned about the food I’m feeding my 8 month old Westie. I have recently switched from Royal Cannin to Canadian Naturals. Is this a good choice. I did This because of cost. Thanks. Sharron

    1. Hi Sharron, thank you for your comments. While Royal Canin is a nutritionally complete diet, and many dog live long, healthy lives on it, it does contain by-products and ingredients I do not approve of. There are many healthy alternatives to Royal Canin to consider, and are often less expensive. In my opinion, Canadian Naturals is the better choice of the two brands you have asked about. I am here to help if you have any questions or comments.

  2. We are going to be getting a puppy in a few weeks. We have been reading so many different articles, on which is the our choices are, Kabo, Smack,Orijen, Stella.
    Out of these brand’s.which is the best?
    Thank you

    1. Hi Cathy, thank you for reading. Congratulations on your new puppy! Such an exciting time.

      With regards to the brands you mention, you cannot go wrong with any of them. They are all among the best pet foods in the industry. To get more insight on the best brands in Canada, have a look at our Top 20 Canadian Dog Foods List for 2020.

  3. Hi Brandon,
    I just Switched my dog food to Performatrin brand Dogfod is it a good choice? Wish I had seen your article prior to purchasing this brand.
    Thank you!

    1. Hi Lisa, thank you for reading.

      Performatrin is PetValu’s house brand, so unfortunately, I do not have any first hand experience with this brand as Canadian Pet Connection is an independent retailer. If you are happy staying with that brand, I would advise going with the Performatrin Ultra line as it is their higher quality line.

      If you are curious about your alternatives, consider checking out our Top 20 Canadian Dog Foods 2020 list. I am here to help if you have any questions! Thanks, Lisa 🙂

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