Monday, September 9, 2013

How did pet food start, and what's in it?

September 9, 2013

Hello again to my fellow pet lovers!

Last week I shared with you about how I got interested in feeding my carnivore pets (2 cats and 2 dogs) a prey model raw diet.  This week I want to share information with you about how the pet food industry began, what REALLY goes into commercial pet foods, how pet food is manufactured, and what the bandied-about terms “natural” and “organic” mean when you see them on pet food packaging.

Over 100 years ago the pet food industry got started.  It was the year 1860 in England when American James Spratt invented the first dog food biscuit, which was made of vegetables, beef blood, wheat and beet root.  The biscuits became popular, other companies started making their own versions, and by 1890, commercial pet food manufacture had started in the United States. 

In the 1900s, commercial pet food gained popularity.  F. H. Bennett formed a company in New York that made dog biscuits, canned horse meat for dogs was introduced after WWI, and canned cat food and dry meat-meal dog food products were introduced in the 1930s.   The next big innovation came in the 1950s with the use of the extrusion process.  In the extrusion procecess, the food is cooked into liquid form and then pushed, or extruded through the pipes of a mechanical extruder.  The pieces are then baked.  The food must contain large amounts of starch for the extrusion process to work.  Because the food is cooked twice at high heat, the amino acids, enzymes, vitamins and minerals are destroyed. The food is nutritionally void of these elements necessary for the health in your pet.  To make the food attractive to animals and to provide some kind of nutrition, artificial fats, flavorings and synthetic vitamins and minerals are sprayed on the liquid slurry if the product will be canned, or on the kibble if the product will be bagged.

In 1964, the Pet Food Institute, a lobbying group for the pet food industry, originated a campaign to get people to stop feeding pets anything but commercially made, packaged-in-a bag-or-can pet food.  Advertising and marketing efforts began to label these products as complete foods, and to persuade the consumer that food scraps/table scraps were dangerous to feed to pets.  The introduction of “prescription” foods sold through veterinarians came next.  The overall message was that feeding pets in complicated, and was best left to the professionals who were the only ones educated or knowledgeable about what is best for our pets to eat.  That message is still being pushed at us today.

Now we fast forward to today’s manufacture of commercial pet foods, and the ingredients used to make kibble and canned foods.  Indigestible animal parts from slaughterhouses (feathers, fur, feet, and hooves, for example) are sent for rendering.  Another source is 4-D livestock (dead, diseased, disabled, dying), as well as euthanized animals, animals found as road kill, and dead zoo animals.  A third source is market rejects, which are meat packages, and spoiled/rotten fruit and vegetables.  Before being delivered to rendering plants, the animal parts and carcasses must be de-natured to render them unfit for human consumption.  The meat sources are contaminated by the use of various toxic chemicals, such as carbolic acid, fuel oil, kerosene and citronella, among others.  When the chemicals have soaked into the meat, the meat can then be sent to rendering plants for processing.  Rendering plants use not only the denatured meat, and spoiled fruits and vegetables, but also any material that may be included, such as plastic bags, Styrofoam packaging, metal tags and pet collars; in other words, anything and everything that is considered animal waste but suitable for recycling into pet food.
Ingredient label showing additives

Are you grossed out yet?

At the rendering plant, the raw materials are blended to maintain a ratio between animal carcasses and supermarket rejects.  The materials are loaded into stainless steel pits or hoppers, ground up by augers, and then ground up again for finer shredding.  After shredding, the "meal" is cooked at 280 degrees Fahrenheit under pressure.  The result is a soupy mixture called slurry.  The slurry goes to a press, the moisture is squeezed out, and any solids remaining are pulverized.  The slurry mixture, or meal, is pushed or extruded through pipes to shape it into those cute little bite size pieces we find in kibble.  Synthetic vitamins, minerals, flavorings and preservatives are added.  Quality and content of the food may be variable across batches. 
Extrusion machine

Let’s define what the pet food industry means when foods are labeled “organic” or “natural”. The truth is that those two words mean anything the manufacturer wants them to mean, because they have not been officially defined by the U. S. government.  The term organic means that an ingredient was part of something alive.  Pet food manufacturers are allowed to say their products are organic because ingredients started out as live animals, fruits, or vegetables. 

AAFCO, the Association of American Feed Control, defines the term natural as meaning:

“A feed or ingredient derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources, either in its unprocessed state or having been subject to physical processing, heat processing, rendering, purification, extraction, hydrolysis, enzymolysis, or fermentation, but not having been produced by or subject to a chemically synthetic process and not containing any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic except in amounts as may occur unavoidably in good manufacturing processes. “

So where does our understanding of the meaning of the terms “natural” and “organic” lead us?  We come to realize that they mean a food that is overcooked and rendered into a pasty mush, but that can still be considered organic and natural if it contains ingredients that were once alive, and if nothing synthetic was added unless it was unavoidable.  We come to realize that the pet food industry uses ingredients that should be considered as refuse and disposed of instead of being used for pet food.  We come to realize that commercially prepared pet food is not a wholesome or healthy food for our pets. 

What is YOUR choice to feed your pets—commercially prepared food or food that supplies species appropriate, biologically available nutrition?

For the health of our pets,

Pawsitive Carnivore Pet Health offers consultations in canine and feline wellness, and has links to a variety of natural products for your pet’s health.  For more information, or to book a consultation, go to, or contact me at


Nutritional Value of Food Processing, 3rd Edition, Karmas, Harris, Van Nostrand Reinhold, publisher, Jessica Smith, The true horrors of pet food revealed: Prepare to be shocked by what goes into dog food and cat food

DISCLAIMER: The information contained on this blogsite is intended as educational only.  It is not intended to replace your veterinarian.  Please do your own research and use your good judgment. 


  1. Love your ideas, but it is 1950s, not 1950's. You are not talking about something that belongs to the year 1950. The more literate you are, the more seriously you are taken.

  2. Daniela, I thank you for pointing out that error.

  3. Great article Carole! Sharing this! :-)

  4. Dr. Jeannie-I'm glad you enjoyed it, and thank you for sharing it.

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