7 Deadly Ingredients Legally Allowed in Pet Foods

By Chelsea Hunt-Rivera / January 8, 2018
Dog Food Brands To Avoid

Pet food can be confusing for a pet owner. When we go to the grocery store, we want the best for our cats and dogs. But how do we accomplish this? Should you buy grain-free dog food or not? Is there really a difference between organic and all-natural? Added vitamins and minerals have to be a good thing, right? It’s enough to drive anyone mad. That’s why most of us opt for a well-known, commercial pet food company with the expectation that it will nourish our pets and contribute to a long, happy life.

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you’re being deceived.

The unfortunate truth is that the majority of pet food brands, especially the big ones, purchase cheaper, subpar ingredients filled with additives and low-quality protein like meat by-product, which have been proven time and time again to have a negative impact on your pet’s health.

What’s worse? These lethal ingredients are 100% legal…

Sadly for our animals, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) let a lot slide when it comes to pet food industry products.

However, there is a silver lining. All of these ingredients are completely avoidable by following a couple of rules…

Rule #1: Buy Grain-Free Dog Food


What’s the big deal about grain-free dog food?

So glad you asked! It’s not that grains are inherently bad for pets. However, they way in which they are grown and processed can do some serious damage. The number one thing to be concerned about in foods that contains grains are…


Mycotoxin, a toxic byproduct of mold or fungus, was coined “the largest concern in pet foods today” by pet scientist, Trevor Smith. In fact, Aflatoxin B1, one of the most well known mycotoxins, is the most carcinogenic naturally occurring substance known to science.

Mycotoxins are commonly found in cereal grains such as corn, barley, and wheat. In fact, a global survey conducted from 2004 to 2013 found that mycotoxins were present in 76% of grains and byproducts meant for animal consumption.

While mycotoxins mostly affect the liver, they can also affect the lungs, kidney, brain, and heart. If enough is consumed, it can even cause acute toxicity or death. Even with this knowledge, the FDA allows up to 20 micrograms of mycotoxins per kilogram of pet food. Protect your pet by purchasing grain-free dog food.

Rule #2: Buy Organic


Do organic foods really make a difference?

Indeed, they do. Not only are organic foods more nutritionally dense but the lack of pesticides and chemicals don’t hurt either. Also, when you buy organic, you’re ensuring that your pet doesn’t consume any…


Genetically modified organisms are created when genes from the DNA of one species is extracted and artificially injected into the genes of another plant or animal. The most common crops affected include: soybean, canola, corn, beets, rice, potatoes, tomatoes, peas, and alfalfa.

GMOs can cause a range of health problems including: allergies, liver/pancreatic/renal/reproductive diseases, tumors, and even pre-mature death.

While GMOs are prevalent in the United States, by the end of 2015, GMO crops were banned in 38 countries, 28 of which are in Europe. The best way to avoid GMOs is to buy organic or avoid the commonly affected crops.

Rule #3: Avoid Added Vitamins & Minerals

But aren’t vitamins and minerals good?

Fresh, unprocessed foods have all of the vitamins and minerals that your pet needs. The only reason a company would add additional vitamins and minerals is because so much processing has taken place, that a the bulk of those nutrients have been lost. Purchasing pet food without added vitamins and minerals is a good indication that the food is nutrient dense and it doesn’t include…


Fluoride toxicity has been linked to a number of serious health problems including: weak bones, bone fractures, reproductive issues, and bone cancer. The primary source of fluoride in pet food comes from mineral supplements that contain phosphate.

In June, 2009 an independent study tested 10 dog food brans. Eight out of the ten brands contained up to 2 ½ more fluoride than the “safe, allowable level.” Protect your pet by filtering your water and avoiding pet food with added minerals.

Rule #4: Consider All-Natural Pet Food


What is all-natural food anyway?

All-natural foods are not a cure all by any means. In fact, there are many things allowed in all-natural pet foods that can harm your pet, i.e. Mycotoxins which as we learned are naturally occurring. However, one thing is for certain: all-natural foods do not allow artificial flavoring, coloring, preservatives, or other food additive, all of which can be very harmful to your pet, especially…


Food coloring doesn’t offer any nutritional value. Unfortunately, the only thing it does offer is a slew of health problems. Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 make up 90% of dyes in pet foods with Red 40 being the most widely used.

Banned in most European countries, Red 40 has been proven to damage DNA and can contribute to immune system cancers. Yellow 5 is known to cause allergic reactions and genotoxicity. It is banned in Norway and Ostria. Yellow 6 has the same cancer causing compounds as Yellow 5. Additionally, it’s proven to cause tumors. Yellow 6 is banned in Norway and Finland.

Rule #6: Avoid Dry Cat Food


Wet vs. Dry Cat Food

As a general rule, wet food is preferable to dry food as it is less processed and doesn’t have as many preservatives. Additionally, cats are more likely than dogs to suffer from dehydration so the higher moisture content in wet foods is incredibly beneficial. Lastly, when you buy wet food for your cat, you don’t have to worry about…


Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, also known as cat crack, is a synthetic palatant used in dry cat food. Phosphates in general have been linked to renal failure and cardiovascular disease while sodium phosphates specifically have been linked to severe dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, organ damage, and bone & tooth decay. Protect your cat by avoiding dry foods and checking out our 7 Dangerous Ingredients Found in Cat Food Infographic.

Rule #5: When in Doubt, Call



Call your Pet Food Manufacturer

The only surefire way to protect your dogs and avoid a harmful ingredient is to call your pet food manufacturer. Pet food labels are tricky. For instance, MSG is even allowed in all-natural pet food because it falls under a “natural flavor.” So if you want to avoid the following chemicals, get to dialin’!


Monosodium Glutamate over stimulates the brain, causing overproduction of dopamine, so the brain thinks the food being consumed tastes better than it really does. Not surprisingly, MSG causes brain damage as well as obesity.

Despite the known dangers of this chemical, the FDA allows more than 40 ingredients that contain MSG. Additionally, it is allowed in all-natural pet foods because it can be passed off as “natural flavoring.” While you’ll never find MSG on the label, you can watch out for its many pseudonyms including: natural flavor, protein isolate, digest, textured protein, yeast extract/nutrient/food, anything hydrolyzed, gelatin, or glutamate.



Bisphenol A, used in the production of plastic, is most often used to line cans of dog food. However, lab studies link BPA to cancer, decreased sperm count, and other hormone related issues. Protect your pet by calling your pet food manufacturer and asking for verification that their packaging is BPA free.

Use this infographic for a quick reference guide! 

Share this Image On Your Site


Helpful Hint: Protein sources are very important! Opt for products with an ingredient list that includes real meat. For instance, it should say chicken instead of chicken meal, chicken by-product meal, or poultry by-product meal. Products that list “by-products” or “meals” are using other part of the meat (like bone or feathers). Remember: just because AAFCO lets it slide, doesn’t mean you should!

About the author

Chelsea Hunt-Rivera

Chelsea Rivera is a Dedicated Pet Parent who loves to create amazing content for pet owners and is helping change pet wellness as the Head of Content for Honestpaws.com.