Do You Even Know What’s In Your Pet’s Food?

By Dr. Jeannnie Thomason

Plump whole chickens, choice cuts of beef, fresh grains, nutritious vegetables and all the wholesome nutrition your dog or cat will ever need??

These are the images pet food manufacturers promulgate through the media and advertising. This is what the multi-billion dollars per year U.S. pet food industry wants consumers to believe they are buying when they purchase their products. However, is this really what’s in your pet’s food?

A growing number of pet owners and a few holistic veterinarians are now beginning to agree with animal naturopaths and carnivore nutritionists stating that processed pet food (kibbles and canned food) is actually the main cause of illness and premature death in today’s dogs and cats.

The truth is that if you are still feeding your dog or cat processed pet food – kibble or canned – you are most likely feeding them substances that will sooner or later cause them serious, possibly fatal, harm.

Everyone knows there is a connection between our diet and health. Of course, the same applies to our pets. Let’s face it, processed pet food whether it be a bag of kibble, a can of slop or pretty, colorful pellets for your pet parrot is NOT biologically appropriate food!

Our animal companions – whether dogs or cats are carnivores and they should be eating accordingly. What does a lion eat? What does a wolf eat? If you dissect a Yorkshire Terrier and a grey wolf and lay them side by side you’ll find that their digestive systems are identical in every way (except for size of course) The two animals are essentially the same species and so closely related that they can even interbreed.

Grey wolves live on prey such as deer, rabbits and mice, and eat everything including the bones, from which they get much of their nutrition.

So, what should our carnivore pets diet consist of? Raw meat, raw bones and organs. This species specific and biologically appropriate diet, is the diet that allows our pet dogs(and cats) to achieve optimum health and longevity.

In December 1995, the British Journal of Small Animal Practice published a paper contending that processed pet food suppresses the immune system and leads to liver, kidney, heart and other diseases. Dr. Kollath, of the Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm, headed a study done on animals. When young animals were fed cooked and processed foods they initially appeared to be healthy. However, as the animals reached adulthood, they began to age more quickly than normal and also developed chronic degenerative disease symptoms. A control group of animals raised on raw foods aged less quickly and were free of degenerative disease.

Don E. Lundholm, DVM – “We are seeing disease conditions in animals that we did not see years ago. Many of these may be traced to nutrition as the source.”

Do You Even Know What’s In Your Pet’s Food?

What many people still don’t understand is that the primary ingredient in most commercial pet foods is not animal protein but cereal.

Corn and wheat are the most common grains used. However, many so called “premium” or better quality foods use rice, oats millet and or barley in their foods to make you think these grains are some how safer or better for your pet.

Even if Dog (or cat) could utilize the nutritious parts of a grain, (which they are unable to do due to the lack of the production of the enzyme amylase) they are generally present only in trace amounts if at all since the heat of processing leaves most of the ingredients dead and void of nutrition of any kind. The corn gluten meal, wheat gluten or wheat middlings added to pet foods are in reality, leftovers after the grain has been processed for human use, containing no real nutritional value. Or they may be grains that are too moldy for humans to eat, so it’s incorporated into pet food. The eating of grains actually changes the acidity (PH) in the stomach which is not a good thing.

Mycotoxins, potentially deadly fungal toxins that multiply in moldy grains, have been found in pet foods in recent years (2013). In 1995, Nature’s Recipe re-called tons of their dog food after dogs became ill from eating it. The food was found to contain vomitoxin, a mycotoxin. In 2005, Diamond Pet Foods has had to recall food due to aflatoxin contamination and in recent years, the largest pet food recall ever! And it continues today, a brand of food here and another brand there…

For more information on grains in pet foods, go HERE

But what about grain free pet foods?

With more people learning the truth about dog food and that dogs (and cats) are carnivores and the rash of food allergies, IBS, pancreatitis, etc. due to the pet’s inability to digest grains in the first place; the demand for grain free pet foods began. So the problem arose as to how to hold the slurry of cooked down meats and vegetables together in a pellet or larger sized form. Along came the use of Potatoes or other starchy root vegetables instead of grains.

Seems well and good at first thought to use potatoes to hold the food together and it is not a grain. However, the fact of the matter is that potatoes first of all are not a food that a carnivore would eat in the wild and they contain a carcinogen – *acrylamide*

As a daily maintenance food, potatoes are not a health food at all, in fact, maybe quite the contrary! They may actually play a small roll in the cancer epidemic in pets! The August 14, 2002 issue of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, reported presence of high levels of acrylamide in carbohydrate rich foods including potatoes.

*Acrylamide induces gene mutations and has been found in animal tests to cause malignant stomach tumors. It is also known to cause damage to the central and peripheral nervous system.

Toxins in Pet Food

Today, there are many different forms of toxins that find their ways into our pets’ bodies and the biggest form is through feeding highly processed, cooked, kibble and/or canned diets.

These toxins include: aflatoxins, heterocyclic amines, acrylamides, and most recently discovered in dry, cooked pet foods, PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) a chemical used as a flame retardant!


As briefly mentioned above, grains such as corn, wheat, and rice, as well as nuts and legumes, are often contaminated with molds, either pre or post harvest, as a result of poor growing conditions or substandard or extended storage. These molds can easily grow and produce a very potent carcinogen (aflatoxins). ” The aflatoxins are very stable and high temperature processing steps will not render them benign. Exposure to these toxins, even at low doses, can wreak havoc on your dog’s system, causing anemia, liver or kidney failure, cancer and premature death”. Knueven, Doug, DVM, CVA, CAC. The Holistic Health Guide, Natural Care for the Whole Dog. (2008).

Again, even if your kibble is grain free, it still contains a high carbohydrate content, so there is the potential for mold spores to contaminate the kibble during storage, especially if it is exposed to any kind of a moist environment. (This can also happen in your home if your kibble is stored in a moist basement or an open container.)

Heterocyclic amines

Many scientific studies have established the presence of mutagenic, cancer causing substances such as heterocyclic amines as a result of cooking meat and fish, and have additionally demonstrated a relationship between dietary heterocyclic amines and cancer. A 2003 study that sampled 25 cooked, commercial, store bought pet foods showed that all but one tested positive in their mutagenic test, and a subset of 13 of these same samples were tested and confirmed the presence of heterocyclic amines.


Both the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and WHO (World Health Organization) have classified acrylamide as “a probable carcinogen”. Studies show that acrylamides are formed due to the high temperature heat applied to vegetable foods; more specifically a reaction between the amino acid asparagine and the simple sugars found in these foods. Whether that food is fried, baked, roasted or extruded, these substances have been measured at many levels, and in some studies, there are significantly high levels. Factors that contribute to acrylamide formation are the lack of remaining moisture in the product and the surface area. These two attributes are found in every type of kibble, which are all low in moisture.

PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers)

Granted, further studies are needed to determine if there is a direct toxicological effect from PBDEs.  However, it should go without say that if nothing else, the continual taking in of PBDEs via the diet on a daily basis will build up in the liver and kidneys over time.  This is very disturbing that they are even finding the presence of these chemicals, most commonly used as flame retardants not only in many household products, but also in most commercial pet foods. A recently published study in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology revealed that the average blood concentration of these PBDEs was as much as ten times higher in tested dogs than in humans. The researchers also found the presence of PBDEs in dog food samples and at higher levels than in meats sold for human consumption. The authors suggest these PBDEs found in the dog food may be a result of processing rather than contributed by the food source itself.

But I Feed a Quality, Organic and Grain Free Pet Food

The labels – “Organic”, “All Natural” and even “No GMO’s” all mean nothing when feeding a processed diet to our pets.

It makes no difference what the ingredients used are to begin with because once processed they have no more nutritional value than the pet food that started out with rotting, GMO grown vegetables and road kill.

That’s right – the processing of the ingredients renders any and all nutrients, enzymes, vitamins, etc. totally lifeless and void of any nutrition by the time it is packaged and put on the shelves. Preservatives only keep the nuggets from rotting or molding and those preservatives are toxic the liver.

Read the article – Kibble is kibble is STILL kibble! for information.

Commercial kibbles not only harbor harmful toxins, they are also stripped of much of their nutrient value, becoming a “dead” food product.  Unfortunately, many well intentioned consumers who want to give their pet a high quality commercial diet choose to buy expensive, “grain free” kibbles, with claims of “all natural“ or even “organic“ ingredients, believing they are purchasing a more nutritious pet food. But the fact is, even if these kibbles contain high quality ingredients with no preservatives, fillers or additives, they are still going through a cooking process which ultimately destroys the nutritional value these quality ingredients started out having in their raw state.  The kibble or canned food is left with proteins that have been denatured, enzymes that are rendered inactive, and any natural, beneficial microflora (good bacteria) are no longer viable. These components are all extremely important and provide a synergistic effect for the complete digestion, absorption and assimilation of nutrients from the food. Manufacturers try to add back some of the lost nutritional value with synthetic vitamins and minerals so their formulas comply with AAFCO standards and they can call their food “complete and balanced” on their label. However, studies show that these synthetic, man made vitamins can actually cause more harm than good to our pets, because their body does not recogonise them as anything other than toxins that will build up in the eliminative organs causing more stress to the liver and kidneys.

What About a Home Cooked Diet?

The very worst thing about feeding a processed pet food and yes, even a home cooked diet; is that the heat used in processing and cooking destroys all the important enzymes – natural body chemicals responsible for thousands of vital metabolic processes – in the food, and alters its structure, making it not only pretty much impossible for the dog to digest but causes it to become carcinogenic. For more information on the damage heat does to our carnivore companion’s diet please read “Cooked Vs. Raw Foods”

And Let’s Not Forget GMOs!

What is a GMO?

A Genetically Modified organism (GMO) is created when a scientist in a laboratory takes the genetic material from one species, such as bacteria, viruses, animal or human, and now chemicals and even drugs – and then inserts it into the genes of another species, either a food crop or animal. This creates a new genetic code and new traits for a new species that was not made by nature.

These many genetically modified food sources (both plant and animal) are now marketed as being able to create increased meat or crop yields and prevent the use of insecticides or antibiotics due to the fact that these have been gene spliced into the very seed or egg’s DNA. According to the Center for Food Safety, these crops are currently in 70-85% of processed foods including pet food. The U.S Food and Drug Administration does not require safety testing on these genetically modified products nor do they require labeling. It can be very confusing because of the multiple layers of potential exposures to the GMO crops and the common ingredients made from GMO crops. When you review the ingredient label on standard pet food, chances are you will not be able to find listed any these GM crops or one of their over 200 derivatives. For the most current list of these derivatives, you can go to

What You Need To Know About GMO’s

The genetically modified portion of the foods eaten (plant or animal) and digested, are NOT recognized by the body; they are seen as something foreign and not naturally occurring in nature. Our pet’s body (and ours too) responds to foreign material in different ways.

In 2009, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) stated that, “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with genetically modified (GM) food,” including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. Profound allergic reactions to the components of GM food crops are also documented. Observation and evidence based medicine have confirmed positive changes in weight maintenance, immune function, fertility, as well as decreases in inflammatory diseases, agitation, need for antibiotics and other medications. In these cases, the removal of all GMO foods alone results in these positive changes.

The American Academy of Environmental Medicine has called for a moratorium on GM foods and advised physicians to educate their patients, the medical community and the public to avoid GM foods. This concern has been repeated by organizations such as the American Medical Association and Center for Food Safety. However, to our knowledge, veterinarians have never been taught or told to advise and educate their clients; the pet owners. It may be that some veterinarians are aware of these facts about GM food stuffs however they also have quite a bit of money to lose since most carry some kind of “prescription” diet that contains among the other things, GM ingredients. 🙁

So, next time you look at your devoted carnivore companion, stop and think about his or her true species and nature. If you would not think about eating processed junk food with all of it’s toxins yourself, let alone feed it to your children, why oh why would you feed it to you dog (or cat)?

While we can’t always protect our pets against environmental toxins, don’t we owe it to them (and our families) to do the very best we can to eliminate these pollutants and toxins in our homes and in the food we feed them?

In addition to eliminating toxins and pollutants in our home, yard and food, remember that our pet’s bodies need a strong, well established, healthy immune system to thrive.  A raw, species appropriate diet is the best offense and defense we can give our pets to thrive and maximize their opportunity for a long, healthy life.

Remember to think about what’s in it for the dog?  They look to us to keep them safe and to provide for them the very best and most healthy lifestyle we can.

A couple more references:

T. Sugimura (Eds.), Food Borne Carcinogens: Heterocyclic Amines, Wiley, West Sussex, 2000, pp. 3171.

Knize, M.G, Salmon, C.P., Felton, J.S. Mutagenic Activity and Heterocyclic Amine Carcinogens in Commercial Pet Foods. Mutagenic Research/Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis. August 2003 539 (1-2): 195-201.6.

Rohrmann, S., Hermann, S. and Linseisen, J. Heterocyclic Aro- matic Amine Intake Increases Colorectal Adenoma Risk. Am J Clin Nutr. May 2009 89 (5): 1418-24.

© 2002 – 2018 The Whole Dog All Rights Reserved

*A consultation is highly recommended before switching your pet to a raw diet or prior to any preventative program being started. While I continue to provide educational articles and information for you here, most of these are general in nature. Therefore, I encourage you to set up an appointment with me to tailor a program specifically for your individual pet’s needs. This is particularly imperative in pets that are aging, has existing health issues, or if you’ve done a lot of outside reading and have conflicting information.

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*DISCLAIMER The information contained on this web site is intended as education/information only. It is not intended to replace your veterinarian. Please use your good judgement.
Thank you

1 Comment

  1. […] Do you know what is in processed, commercial dog food?   If you are still feeding processed kibble or canned food, and especially if you are breeder, I encourage you to take a long hard look at the ingredients in that bag and can and think about how it could be nutritious.  No matter what the pet food industry or veterinary industry try to tell you.   Think for yourself, do a little research. […]

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