Fooding for Life

What is Really in that McKibble or McCan?

Fooding Picky Eaters
Many pet parents and guardians have been convinced that the "healthy", "natural", "premium" and "recommended by" labels on pet feed MUST mean that the stuff inside the bag is good for your fur kids.

The Truth is Out There ..

Many pet parents and guardians have been convinced that the “healthy“, “natural“, “premium” and “recommended by” labels on pet feed MUST mean that the stuff inside the bag is good for your fur kids. Alongside these words, we often find claims of 100% “complete and balanced” that leave us to assume we are providing the best food for our dogs and cats;- feeding the same dry cereal based diets day in and day out. Yet, most pet parents and guardians do not fully appreciate what goes into these feeds, even their own food. BigPetFood place images of fresh cut chicken breast, fresh fruits and vegetables and wholesome grains on their packages, but, this is rarely what is actually inside the bag.

The truth is out there, but it takes a little time and effort to find. Even reading our article, and references below, you should know that the McKibble and McCan you are feeding contains many more than one of the ingredients we discussed here. BigPetFood has a broad range of unsavoury options available to them when it comes to what substances may be used in pet feed, and the freedom to print enticing pictures, however misleading, on the packaging. It is only when your pet’s health begins to decline, and eventually fail, that most pet parents and guardians begin to question why. Dogs are NOT what they eat, but what they eat, impacts their healthfulness forever. After all, a healthy body can only be as good as what is put into it. To help your pack thrive, and not just survive, read and understand the uses of the common ingredients below, learn who uses them, and make sure to always read your labels!

Corn, Corn Meal, or Corn Gluten Meal

Years ago, BigPetFood discovered that pets adore the sweet taste of corn. Corn is one of the most heavily subsidized crops in agriculture around the world, making its market price lower than the cost of producing the corn, and therefore an attractive ingredient for pet feed. The gluten in corn is used as an inferior protein source in commercial pet feed. Corn protein in itself is not a complete protein source and must be balanced with animal proteins to create a usable amino acid profile for pets. Corn protein used exclusively results in muscle loss in carnivores ​1​ .

The AAFCO definition for corn gluten meal is (was) “The dried residue from corn after the removal of the larger part of the starch and germ, and the separation of the bran by the process employed in the wet milling manufacture of corn starch or syrup, or by enzymatic treatment of the endosperm.” (see: What is in Pet Food, (AAFCO)).

Unfortunately corn is often abused as the single most abundant ingredient in many pet feed, contributing to the many diseases linked to high carbohydrate diets, including obesity, chronic inflammation, diabetes and cancer ​2​ . The quality of the corn used in pet feed is also a concern, as many pet feed use low quality corn that could contain toxins, including mycotoxins ​3​ and mold, which cause damage to a pet’s liver and kidneys (see: The Invisible Toxin With Life-Threatening Outcomes – Be Watchful, Dr Becker (Mercola)).

Carnivores, including our facultative fur kids, were never designed to obtain the majority of their energy requirements from carbohydrates. In fact dogs, cats and ferrets have zero nutritional requirements for carbohydrates or grains (see our article on this topic). Even veterinary text books agree upon topic. Low and behold, the mass of pet feed on the market regularly consist of 50% or higher carbohydrate content?

Corn is also more often than not, genetically modified and although many people call corn a vegetable, it is actually a grain. It also converts to sugar in the body, which has a negative affect on your pet. Sugar puts stress on the organs, and causes GI tract upset.


Hand-in-hand with corn, wheat is another ingredient found in abundance in many pet feed. The repetitive and persistent exposure of wheat to our fur kids’, we believe and observe, has resulted in allergies and intolerances to wheat gluten. Wheat gluten is also used as an inexpensive protein source in pet feed (see: Why Grain Free Cat Food May Not Always Be the Best Choice, (PetMD)). Wheat contains high amounts of gluten, which damages the small intestine, alters gut flora, and can lead to autoimmune disease. It can also cause inflammation leading to joint pain. There is little to no nutritional value in wheat, so we feel it has no place in your pet’s diet.


Along with corn and wheat, soy is one of the most common allergens in companion animals. Soy is one of the most genetically modified foods on the planet (see: Genetically Engineered Crops in Pet and Human Foods (Advocacy for Animals)). While their crops are covered in pesticides, everything dies, except for the soy. It is left to absorb all of those chemicals that were sprayed onto the crops. And, if it’s in the soy – it will go into your pet.

Soy also wreaks havoc with the endocrine system causing problems for thyroid function. Soy has been falsely advertised as a health food, but in our opinion, it is most definitely NOT. Carnivores were never meant to eat soy, it is commonly used in pet feed as an inexpensive substitute for meat protein.

There is a large body of knowledge being created around the concerns of GMO food stuff in our daily lives. A growing body of research suggests that genetically modified organisms may be doing more harm than good when it comes to human health and the health of the environment.

Powdered Cellulose, Dried Beet Pulp, Rice Hulls

Love Parmesan cheese? Best you check the label. Cellulose or Powdered Cellulose is essentially nothing more than 100% filler. “Powdered cellulose is purified, mechanically disintegrated cellulose prepared by processing alpha cellulose obtained as a pulp from fibrous plant material. In other words, sawdust.” Cellulose is commonly used in attic insulation. Don’t think it’s just being used in your pet feed. Most Parmesan cheeses use cellulose to “bulk out” the cheese – you pay the same (or more), and you get less (see: Why Wood Pulp In Your Parmesan Won’t Kill You (Article)). Or maybe your favourite creamy Ice Cream (see: Why Wood Pulp Makes Ice Cream Creamier (Article)). Gotta love the “trash to cash” approach to feeding ourselves and our pets.

The other common “ingredient” is dried beet pulp. Another misnomer. Dried Beet Pulp is the left over residue from the extraction of sugar in the production of table sugar. It is used as a filler. Note that the source of dried beet pulp is from sugar beets, not red beets.

And the “rice” used? Rice Hulls (or rice husks) are the hard protecting coverings of grains of rice. In addition to protecting rice during the growing season, rice hulls are put to use in toothpaste, as building material, fertilizer, insulation material, or fuel! (see: Rice hulls (or rice husks) are the hard protecting coverings of grains of rice (Wikipedia)).


By-Products are left over waste from human food production. By-Products come in two forms: named and un-named. Examples of named by-products include “chicken by-products” and “pork by-products” (see: Pet Food (What You Need to Know) for Your Pet’s Sake (PetMD)). As defined by AAFCO, “Chicken by-product meal consists of the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered chicken, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines, exclusive of feathers, except in such amounts as might occur unavoidable in good processing practice.

Un-named by-products include “meat by-products“. The AAFCO definition, “Meat by-products consist of the non rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially defatted low-temperature fatty tissue and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth and hooves.

By-products are not classified as meat; in many pet feed the exclusive use of by-products creates a food-like that does not contain any actual meat content, all to minimize costs while depicting premium or healthy imagery through marketing. By-products, in many cases, are also derived from “4-D” meat sources – defined as food animals that have been rejected for human consumption because they were presented to the meat packing plant as “Dead, Dying, Diseased or Disabled.

Animal Fat

Unlike “chicken fat” (named animal source), un-namedanimal fat“, as defined by AAFCO – “Animal Fat is obtained from the tissues of mammals and/or poultry in the commercial processes of rendering or extracting. It consists predominantly of glyceride esters of fatty acids and contains no additions of free fatty acids. If an antioxidant is used, the common name or names must be indicated, followed by the words “used as a preservative”.

Again in many cases “animal fat” includes meat sources from the “4-D” class – defined as food animals that have been rejected for human consumption because they were presented to the meat packing plant as “Dead, Dying, Diseased or Disabled.

Ever wondered what that unique, pungent odour is when opening a new bag of dry pet food – what is the source of that smell? It is most often rendered animal fat, or vegetable fats and oils deemed inedible for humans. For example, used restaurant grease was rendered and routed to pet foods for several years, but a more lucrative market is now in biodiesel fuel production. (see: Rendered Products in Pet Food (DNM)).

Meat (or Bone) Meal

As defined by AAFCO, “Meat Meal consists of the rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices.” What this definition does not mention is the “4-D” class of meat sources may still be legally used in “meat meal”. (see: Meat vs. Meat Meal, The Dog Food Project (Article)).

The rendered product from mammal tissues, including bone, exclusive of blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents, except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. Recently, many pet feed companies and rendering plants have undergone scrutiny over their inclusion of euthanized pets in “meat and bone meal“. Ann Martin, in her book “Food Pets Die For”, exposed this revolting practice and the detection of sodium pentobarbital in pet foods, a veterinary drug used in the euthanasia of pet animals.

There is no such thing as “human grade meat meal“, since meat meal is never produced for human consumption and the facilities producing it are not licensed or certified to manufacture human-edible products that meet US FDA standards. If you are looking for the closest comparable thing, it would be something like meats that are freeze-dried after cooking, such as for backpacking and emergency food rations. These are made by manufacturers whose processing facilities fall under the regulatory requirements of the human food industry though, not the pet food industry!

Chemical Preservatives: BHA, BHT, Propyl Gallate, Ethoxyquin, Sodium Nitrite/Nitrate and TBHQ

These powerful chemicals are used as preservatives and to prevent rancidization of fats.

BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene) are petroleum derived preservatives used in food and hygeine products. TBHQ (tertiary butylhydroquinone) is another petroleum derived preservative. BHT has been banned from use in baby products in the United States and both BHA and BHT are banned entirely from use in human products in many countries throughout the world. Our pets do not receive the same protection.

Ethoxyquin is used as a food preservative and a pesticide. In pet foods it is typically found in meat and fish based ingredients. Ethoxyquin has been banned from use in human products because it is believed to cause cancer. It is important to note that when a manufacturer obtains an ethoxyquin preserved ingredient from a supplier or if it is added to pet food ingredients prior to food manufacture, the manufacturer is not required to list ethoxyquin on the pet food ingredient panel. The same applies to the other chemical preservatives.

Propyl Gallate is used in foods, cosmetics, hair products, adhesives, and lubricants (Wikipedia).

The use of these harsh chemicals are known to cause cancer, organ toxicity and are considered neither inert nor “safe”, yet are widely used in pet foods. Powerful preservatives provide an inexpensive means of providing long product shelf-life. Naturally preserved products may utilize tocopherols (Vitamin E), citric acid and rosemary extract to prevent rancidity.

These natural preservatives are common in truly healthy pet foods as the manufacturers realize that the small additional expense is worth it when it comes to our pets safety. It is also important to note that pet food manufactures are not required to list ethoxyquin in their ingredient listings when utilizing “meals” or ingredients obtained from their suppliers that used the chemical to preserve the meals prior to delivery.


Sugars are added to dog foods because dogs, like humans, like them. Sugar as an ingredient can be listed in a number of ways (sugar, caramel, syrup, sucrose etc.) and can come from a wide range of sources (corn/maize, wheat, sugar cane, sugar beet etc.). Unfortunately, too much sugar can have the same effects in dogs as it does in people. High sugar diets have been linked to hyperactivity, hypoglycemia, obesity and tooth decay amongst other conditions and should therefore be avoided (see: How Hidden Sugars in Your Dog’s Food are Making Him Sick (DNM)).

Even more concerning, is the linkages between sugar and cancer. Cancer cells love sugar! That is why refined carbs like white sugar, white flour, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) are extremely dangerous for pets and humans trying to prevent or reverse cancer.

Propylene Glycol

For those unfamiliar with the substance, here is the data on propylene glycol from the US Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (TATSDR) (see: Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR)):

Propylene glycol is a synthetic liquid substance that absorbs water. Propylene glycol is also used to make polyester compounds, and as a base for deicing solutions. Propylene glycol is used by the chemical, food, and pharmaceutical industries as an antifreeze when leakage might lead to contact with food. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified propylene glycol as an additive that is “generally recognized as safe” for use in food. It is used to absorb extra water and maintain moisture in certain medicines, cosmetics, or food products. It is a solvent for food colors and flavors, and in the paint and plastics industries. Propylene glycol is also used to create artificial smoke or fog used in fire-fighting training and in theatrical productions. Other names for propylene glycol are 1,2-dihydroxypropane, 1,2-propanediol, methyl glycol, and trimethyl glycol. Propylene glycol is clear, colorless, slightly syrupy liquid at room temperature. It may exist in air in the vapor form, although propylene glycol must be heated or briskly shaken to produce a vapor. Propylene glycol is practically odorless and tasteless.

Like sugar, propylene glycol is used in many pet foods and treats as a flavour enhancer due to its sweet taste. It is also found in many semi-soft or moist pet products and is another questionable ingredient in pet feed. In human uses it is a common ingredient in stick deodorant and make-up as a humectant (see: Should You Avoid Dog Foods With Propylene Glycol? (Article)).

Sugar and spice … all things nice … NOT! Dogs have a palate very similar to humans. For this reason, many pet feed manufacturers load up their feeds with sweeteners (sugar, sucrose, propylene glycol, etc) – to increase the palatability and to mask low quality ingredients. Problem is, like some of us, dogs can even develop a type of addiction to sweetness and the result is that they refuse, at first, to eat a healthier food when presented!

Concerns About GMO

We highlight this topic simply due to the fact that much of the pet feed your fur kids consume through McKibble and McCan, may contain GMOs. We don’t want to open the proverbial Pandora Box, but you really should take note (see: Doctors Warn: Avoid Genetically Modified Food (Mercola)).

Many crops (wheat, soy, corn and others) used in pet feed today, come from GMO sources. GMOs are organisms that have been created through the application of transgenic, gene-splicing techniques that are part of biotechnology. These methods for moving genes are also referred to as genetic engineering (GE). This relatively new science allows DNA (genetic material) from one species to be transferred into another species, creating transgenic organisms with combinations of genes from plants, animals, bacteria, and even viral gene pools. Mixing genes from different species that have never shared genes in the past makes GMOs and GE crops unique. It is impossible to create such organisms through traditional cross-breeding methods. Because of this uniqueness, there are many unknowns about genetically engineered (GE) crops and GMOs.

  • Organ failure (rats): A study analysing the effects of GE foods on mammalian health linked three GE corn varieties to organ failure in rats. The researchers led by Gilles-Eric Séralini of CRIIGEN and the University of Caen in France found new side effects linked with GE corn consumption that were sex- and often dose-dependent. These effects mostly occurred with the kidney and liver, while other effects were noticed in the heart, adrenal glands, spleen and hematopoietic system. The researchers concluded that these data highlight signs of hepato-renal toxicity, possibly due to the new pesticides specific to each GE corn ​4​ .
  • Glyphosate and birth defects: Research published Aug. 9, 2010, confirms that glyphosate-based herbicides cause malformations in frog and chicken embryos at doses significantly lower than those used in agricultural spraying and well below maximum residue levels in products currently approved in the European Union. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup. Publishing the research were researchers led by Professor Andrés Carrasco, director of the Laboratory of Molecular Embryology at the University of Buenos Aires Medical School and member of Argentina’s National Council of Scientific and Technical Research. “The findings in the lab are compatible with malformations observed in humans exposed to glyphosate during pregnancy,” Carrasco reported at a press conference during the 6th European Conference of GMO Free Regions. He explained that most of the safety data on glyphosate herbicides and GE soy were provided by industry and are not independent. Carrasco began researching the embryonic effects of glyphosate after seeing reports of high rates of birth defects in rural areas of Argentina where GE Roundup Ready soybeans are grown in large monocultures sprayed regularly from airplanes (see: Why Glyphosate Should Be Banned, (Science in Society)).
  • Impacts on animal health. Researchers from Greece reported that animal toxicology studies of GE foods indicate they can have toxic hepatic, pancreatic, renal and reproductive effects. Also, the use of recombinant growth hormones or its expression in animals should be re-examined since it has been shown that it increases IGF-1 which may promote cancer ​5​ .
  • Serious human health risks. The American Academy of Environmental Medicine, in a 2009 Genetically Modified Foods Position Paper, called for a moratorium on GE foods and warned that “GM foods pose a serious health risk in the areas of toxicology, allergy and immune function, reproductive health, and metabolic, physiologic and genetic health.” This position paper cites animal studies that indicate such health risks associated with GM food consumption as infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, dysregulation of genes associated with cholesterol synthesis, insulin regulation, cell signaling and protein formation, and changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system. “Because of the mounting data, it is biologically plausible for genetically modified foods to cause adverse health effects in humans,” the report notes, listing citations for numerous peer-reviewed studies as backup (see: Genetically Modifeid Foods (American Academy of Environmental Medicine) (AAEM)).
  • Bt toxin in human blood. Most recently, a study  accepted for publication in the journal Reproductive Toxicology conducted by scientists at the University of Sherbrooke in Canada reports the presence of Bt toxin, widely used in GE crops, in human blood. Although scientists and multinational corporations promoting GE crops have maintained that Bt toxin poses no danger to human health as the protein, Cry1Ab, breaks down in the human gut, the findings from this study show this does not happen. Instead, it was found circulating in the blood of pregnant and non-pregnant women. The study also detected the toxin in fetal blood. Cry1Ab toxin was detected in 93 percent and 80 percent of maternal and fetal blood samples, respectively, and in 69 percent of tested blood samples from non-pregnant women ​6​ .

Our Conclusion?

Why not take the guess-work from feeding your pets, and turn meal time into a fooding experience for your pets instead? With real food, with real ingredients.

Articles and Videos

  • AAFCO Guidelines are now sold for profit (AAFCO);
  • Focus on Nutrition: Cats and carbohydrates: implications for health and disease (PubMED);
  • Mycotoxins (PubMED);
  • The Invisible Toxin With Life-Threatening Outcomes – Be Watchful (Mercola);
  • Do Dogs and Cats Need Grains? (Mercola);
  • Why Grain Free Cat Food May Not Always Be the Best Choice (PetMD);
  • Genetically Engineered Crops in Pet and Human Foods (Britannica);
  • Why Wood Pulp In Your Parmesan Won’t Kill You (Bonappetit);
  • Why Wood Pulp Makes Ice Cream Creamier (WSJ);
  • Rice Hulls (WikiPedia);
  • Pet Food (What You Need to Know) for Your Pet’s Sake (PetMD);
  • Rendered Products In Pet Food (Dogs Naturally Magazine);
  • Meat vs. Meat Meal (Dog Food Project);
  • Propyl gallate (WikiPedia);
  • How Hidden Sugars In Your Dog’s Food Are Making Him Sick (Dogs Naturally Magazine);
  • The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry TATSDR (CDC);
  • Should You Avoid Dog Foods With Propylene Glycol? (I Love Dogs);
  • Doctors Warn: Avoid Genetically Modified Food (Mercola);

Dr. Becker and Kohl Harrington on Pet Food Industry

References and Research

  1. 1.
    Wakshlag J, Barr S, Ordway G, et al. Effect of dietary protein on lean body wasting in dogs: correlation between loss of lean mass and markers of proteasome-dependent proteolysis. J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr (Berl). 2003;87(11-12):408-420. doi:10.1046/j.0931-2439.2003.00452.x
  2. 2.
    Laflammme D. Focus on Nutrition: Cats and carbohydrates: implications for health and disease. Compend Contin Educ Vet. 2010;32(1):E1-3.
  3. 3.
    Bennett J, Klich M. Mycotoxins. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2003;16(3):497-516. doi:10.1128/cmr.16.3.497-516.2003
  4. 4.
    de V, Roullier F, Cellier D, Séralini G. A comparison of the effects of three GM corn varieties on mammalian health. Int J Biol Sci. 2009;5(7):706-726. doi:10.7150/ijbs.5.706
  5. 5.
    Dona A, Arvanitoyannis I. Health risks of genetically modified foods. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2009;49(2):164-175. doi:10.1080/10408390701855993
  6. 6.
    Aris A, Leblanc S. Maternal and fetal exposure to pesticides associated to genetically modified foods in Eastern Townships of Quebec, Canada. Reprod Toxicol. 2011;31(4):528-533. doi:10.1016/j.reprotox.2011.02.004

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