Pet Food Ingredients that May Harm Your Pet’s Health

A major concern of many conscientious pet parents is, “What’s all that mumbo jumbo at the bottom of the pet food label?” That’s actually a good question, and taking the time to find out what ingredients to avoid can help protect your pet’s health, as well as your wallet. Preservatives and stabilizers, as well as artificial coloring, must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in order to be included in pet food. However, many pet owners question the safety of some of these approved chemicals and compounds. In fact, some are highly suspect for causing major health issues for pets, including death.

What chemical additives should I avoid in my pet’s food? Three of the most common chemical preservatives used in pet foods are butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), and ethoxyquin. Although the FDA states that these ingredients are safe at the levels used in pet foods, there has been some concern in recent years that they may cause health issues. Some dogs that were fed diets containing ethoxyquin, for example, were shown to contract “skin allergies, reproductive problems, cancer, and organ failure.” Tests conducted by Monsanto Company indicated liver damage in dogs fed high levels of ethoxyquin. As a result, the FDA asked dog food manufacturers to reduce by half the maximum amount of ethoxyquin previously allowed.

Then why include synthetic preservatives in the first place? All pet foods contain fat, as a certain amount is necessary for a pet’s health. In a dry food, that same fat can, in time, become rancid. Even though dogs and cats are known for eating lots of disgusting things they find out in the yard, eating rancid fat can cause an unhealthy increase in liver enzymes, as well as diarrhea. Adding chemical preservatives can extend the shelf life of a dry food product, making it more convenient and possibly more cost effective for pet parents.

Are there alternatives to synthetic preservatives? Vitamins E and C, as well as some plant extracts like rosemary, act as natural preservatives that can help keep foods fresh, yet not for as long as their synthetic counterparts. If you choose to go the natural route, it is especially important to always check the “Best By” date, and purchase in quantities you’ll have no problem using up by that date. The trade off here is obviously cost, as buying in larger quantities is usually more cost effective. When it comes to your pet’s health, however, it may be a wise investment. Paying a few extra dollars for safe, quality pet food is good insurance for keeping your special friends healthy and happy.


Elizabeth Lee, “How to Read a Dog Food Label,”

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