February 4, 2012 15

Killing Me Softly: The Truth Behind Pet Treat Labels

Posted in Archived

In 2010, author and natural pet food entrepreneur Amy Renz was one of many pet parents who wondered what the truth was behind pet treat labels. Many do not realize that behind the colorful packaging and clever slogans of pet treats, there are dangerous, carcinogenic substances, masked by vague wording like “natural flavors” and “meat.” So what’s the truth behind a pet treat label? In 2010, Renz investigated, finding astonishing and disturbing results.

According to Renz, pet treat labels often include BHA, BHT, Ethoxyquin, Sodium Metabisulfite, and TBHQ among the ingredients. Renz notes that Del Monte and Purina routinely use these chemical ingredients, which are known to be carcinogenic and can also cause liver and kidney problems, loss of consciousness, brain damage, and life-threatening asthma. In addition to being in the top-selling dog treats, these chemicals are also used to manufacture rubber and petroleum products, including embalming fluid.

Many pet treats, such as Purina Moist ‘n Meaty, list Ethoxyquin on their label. Ethoxyquin is so toxic that the FDA prohibited it from human consumption except for minute quantities in certain spices. Despite the behest of veterinarians, the FDA has done nothing but suggest to pet product manufacturers that they reduce its usage.

Sodium Metabisulfite (the preservative in Milk-Bones) is harmful if ingested or inhaled. It reacts with water and acids (like those in your dog’s stomach) to release toxic sulfur dioxide gas. It can cause life-threatening asthmatic reactions after ingestion as well as gastrointestinal, circulatory, and central nervous system problems.

BHA and BHT are banned in England, Japan, and numerous European countries. BHA is thought by the National Institutes of Health to cause stomach cancer. BHA and TBHQ are classified as nongenotoxic (not directly affecting DNA) carcinogens (Kroes and Wester, 1986). A Consumer’s Guide to Food Additives (Winters, 1999) stated that TBHQ can cause death from ingestion of as little as 5 grams. Ingestion of one gram causes nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, a sense of suffocation, and collapse. The FDA puts strict requirements on all of these toxic chemical preservatives in human food, but pet foods have few if any requirements and often contain much more. Why are companies allowed to place these dangerous substances in our pets’ food?

There are natural solutions for preserving food, such as dehydration. Taking the moisture out of a food ensures that bacteria cannot grow. Vitamin E and Vitamin C also make effective natural solutions. But dehydration is more expensive than using sodium metabisulfite, BHA, BHT, TBHQ or ethoxyquin.

Many pet food labels vaguely list “meat” as an ingredient…but what does this really mean? The FDA states that “meat” for animal feed comes from “independent [rendering] plants that obtain animal by-product materials, including grease, blood, feathers, offal and entire animal carcasses from the following sources:  butcher shops, supermarkets, restaurants, fast-food chains, poultry processors, slaughterhouses, farms, ranches, feedlots, and animal shelters.”

AAFCO, the organization that works with the FDA to standardize definitions of ingredients and other things for the pet food industry, broadly defines “byproducts.” Poultry byproducts, for instance, can include:  “the carcass of slaughtered poultry such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines exclusive of feathers except… as might occur unavoidably…” The FDA also allows 4D animals, including roadkill, dying or diseased animals, disabled, and spoiled or contaminated meat to be used in pet food. “Meat” and “by-products” are found in Milk-Bones (Del Monte), Pup-Peroni (Del Monte), Busy Bones (Purina), Moist n Meaty (Purina), T-Bonz (Purina), and Beneful Snackin’ Slices (Purina).

The effect of ingesting these toxic substances is drastic. Many young and middle-aged dogs are developing myriad medical issues, including skin irritation and gastrointestinal issues. The reason behind their symptoms is that dogs cannot digest what they are eating. Many dogs cannot digest components like wheat, corn, and soy. Some dogs are allergic to these ingredients, but they are included in dog food because they are economical for the large companies that produce dog food and dog treats.

MSG, an addictive substance, is included in pet food but not listed on the label. When a protein is listed as “hydrolyzed,” it likely contains MSG. MSG is likely a causal factor in pet obesity because it can more than triple insulin levels. More than 50% of dogs and cats in the U.S. are reportedly obese.

Refined sugars are added to pet food because dogs can taste sweetness. Sugar can cause obesity, dental problems, and diabetes. The FDA still allows cancer-causing saccharine to be sold to humans and genetically modified ingredients to be undisclosed on labels. Glycerin is a sugar substitute and filler and hydrogenated starch hydrolysate is an artificial sweetener with a similar chemical compound to Xylitol, which is a known pet toxin.

Wheat, which can be difficult for dogs to digest, is frequently identified as an allergen. Wheat is in countless dog treats, including Milk-Bones (Del Monte), Pup-Peroni (Del Monte), Beggin Strips (Purina), Waggin Train Jerky Tenders (ADI in China),  Busy Bones (Purina),  Moist n Meaty (Purina), T-Bonz (Purina), Beneful Snackin’ Slices (Purina), and The Goodlife Recipe (Mars, Inc.).

Titanium dioxide, copper sulfate, calcium proprionate, sodium bisulfite, propylene glycol, and zinc sulfate are toxic, commonly used food additives. Food colorings Yellow #6, Blue #1 and #2, Red #3 and Green #3 are linked with cancer in animal testing. These are in Milk-Bones, Beggin Strips, Beneful Snackin Slices, and T-Bonz.

Titanium dioxide is a widely used white food coloring that is suspected of causing genetic disorders and lung tumors and has caused emphysema-like lung injuries in mice. Sulfate is an herbicide, fungicide and pesticide that’s also a known toxin. Calcium proprionate is a mold inhibitor. Sodium nitrite is linked with cancer and can be found in Beggin Strips and Pup-Peroni. Sodium nitrate is easily converted into carcinogenic compounds (called NOCs). Both sodium nitrite and nitrate have been linked with gastric cancer, esophageal cancer, and colorectal cancer.

Propylene glycol, which is lethal for pets, is found in antifreeze as well as the following pet treats: Milk-Bones (Del Monte),  Beggin Strips (Purina),  Pup-Peroni (Del Monte), T-Bonz (Purina),  Beneful Snackin’ Slices (Purina),  Moist n’ Meaty (Purina), and Busy Bone (Purina).

Wolves in captivity live for 20 years or longer, but dogs frequently die at far earlier ages. Cancer is the #1 killer of our dogs; 25-50% of them die from it by some estimates. The toxins in their food are arguably a significant contributing factor.

Our pets cannot tell us that they feel ill – experiencing headaches, itchy skin, gastrointestinal upset, dizziness, and weakness – after ingesting the treats that are intended to act as a reward. Disturbingly, in the three years since this article’s publication, few, if any, changes have been made to diminish the danger to pets who consume store-bought treats and foods.

“In the last couple years, I haven’t noticed the big guys make any improvements in their products,” Renz stated. “The market for healthier pet food and treats is growing rapidly. But instead of making a better product, companies like Del Monte (the maker of Milk Bones) makes a better gimmick. They invent Milo’s Kitchen, for example. Del Monte markets Milo’s Kitchen as a ‘home-style’ treat, but there are dozens of ingredients in them that you would never find in your home kitchen, and the chicken treats are produced in China.”

Renz recommends using alternatives to the larger companies. “What I have noticed are healthier choices coming from new companies,” she stated. “These are products that contain what the industry strangely doesn’t like us to call ‘human-grade’ ingredients. They’re products from companies like my company, Goodness Gracious, or The Honest Kitchen, or Primal Pet Foods. The ingredients we use are fresh, wholesome, USDA certified, and nutritious for dogs and cats. They are the same ingredients you’d buy in a grocery store and feed all members of your family.”

“Consumer awareness has grown over the last couple years and that is encouraging,” Renz stated. “People are reading labels, asking educated questions, and finding a lot of good information on-line. Just like they do with their children, parents need to take an active role in guiding their pet’s nutrition. A trip to McDonald’s will always be cheaper than a trip down the produce aisle of the grocery store.  But there’s a reason the parent does the latter.  The same rule applies to our pets.  I’m often asked to recommend a healthy, cheap treat.  They don’t exist. Quality ingredients and careful preparation costs money. The better choices are more expensive. So don’t sweat it. Just give your pet one healthy piece of jerky over five or ten junk-food biscuits. Your dog will make up the difference by living longer.”

While our pets cannot tell us that our kindness is killing them softly, educating yourself by taking the time to read a label can help your pet live many years longer. To learn more about Renz’s company, visit their website.

Thanks to the support of readers like you, Pasado’s Safe Haven can investigate issues pertaining to animal welfare, health, and safety. Please consider making a donation today: With just one click of the mouse, you can help us continue to make a difference in the local community and beyond.

Thank you – from all of the animals at Pasado’s Safe Haven.

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  • youareamazing

    you need an email icon so I can send this article out to all my friends. thanks

    • tracy

      Thank you for the feedback – that’s a great idea! And thank you for sharing our website with others.

  • Violet



  • Kentucky Lady

    People’s willingness to just accept what governmental agencies (such as the FDA) say as gospel without questioning their motives behind their statements/facts, is unbelievable to me. The “root” always goes back to their craving of money aka greed. Just like physicians pushing the drugs they get the biggest kickback on. Long before these debates were well known I questioned why my grandparents and further back didn’t suffer from the chemically induced diseases we suffer from today. Its because they grew their own foods without chemicals, pestisides, GMO’s and their meats came from animals they raised, again, without chemicals, hormones and bits/parts of the animals “own kind” and/or other animals. Both sets of grandparents lived well into their 90′s and their parents into their late 90′s and early 100′s. From my generation down have died and are dying in their 50′s and 60′s.

  • Jayme/Pretty Pets Grooming

    I am not a vet but I worked as a vet assistant for a couple of years as a high school kid I had aspirations of becoming a vet and decided that I had to big of a hart to put healthy young animals to sleep because they were no longer convenient! I have been grooming dogs for 22 years! In my years of caring for the dogs I have watched them from puppy to adult to passing away! I can say that some dogs can eat a dog food for their whole life and never have a single problem. I have also seen puppys develop hot spots chronic ear infections hair loss and cancer tumors and yes even death, my own dog. From pet foods and treats! When owners switch them from the food causing the allergy to an all natural diet and it goes away it becomes obvious what caused the problem. People need to be more aware of what they are putting in their pets it does shorten their lives! I have done the research and watched what it did to my own animals. Weigh out the dog food it is cheaper to feed your dog raw all natural food. My dogs love it and guess what I haven’t needed dental care for one of my dogs in 3 years scince I started feeding the “barf” diet to my dogs! Sure your vet wants you to keep feeding dog food you buy the dog food some times from the vet, which causes health problems then you bring the dog to them to treat the health problem!!!!! You are money in the bank for the vet, people it is not in your best interest to always follow the doctors advise!!!!! Love your dog research the label and then use your brain. If you wouldn’t eat it do not feed it to your dog!!!! A few years back some dog breeders did get together and sued a few of the dog food company’s because the dog food was causing problems do the research if you are concerned . Type in Barf, bones and raw foods there are books out their that will tell you!!! Our dogs are canines, wolves and coyotes do not like to eat corn or wheat they like meat and they eat meat, bones, and guts!


    This entire article is full of misstated facts. So many in fact, I don’t have the time to go through them all.

    Here is one typical example: The author says “TBHQ can cause death from ingestion of as little as 5 grams. Ingestion
    of one gram causes nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, a
    sense of suffocation, and collapse.” This statement was pulled from
    Wikipedia and is misstated. It is un-cited for one, and it should read
    that ingestion of 1g/kg causes those symptoms. In an 11kg dog (24 lbs)
    that would mean the ingestion of 11 grams. The amount of this substance
    in dog foods is much, much less than 1g/kg, on the order of .01g/kg.
    You might know this chemical by another name, an ANTI-OXIDANT.
    Anti-oxidants are GOOD FOR HEALTH, but like ANY SUBSTANCE including
    WATER, they can be toxic at extremely high doses.

    That’s why when dolts like the author of this article, who have no training
    whatsoever in chemistry, look and see a scary looking substance is in a
    food at any amount, they freak out. Water, by the way, is also in dog
    food. Here is what wikipedia says about water ingestion: ”
    …difficulty breathing during exertion, muscle weakness, twitching, or
    cramping, nausea, vomiting, thirst, dulled ability to perceive and
    interpret sensory information,cerebral edema, seizures, brain damage, coma or death.”

    Apply this misunderstanding of even basic chemistry and biology to every
    other statement this person makes, and you begin to see how silly this

    • tracy

      John –

      Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to this article. It now includes additional links and citations.

    • tracy

      John –
      Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to this article. It now includes additional links and citations.

    • Amy Renz

      I am the author of the article. Why some people sternly defend the use of chemicals in our food remains a mystery to me. You speak of TBHQ is if it is a root vegetable.

      My source is not wikipedia, and for one to assume so is jumping to conclusions.

      A Consumers Dictionary of Food Additives by Ruth Winter M.S. (available on Amazon) is one of my go-to resources. I have the 7th edition. According to this 500+ page book which covers over 12,000 ingredients (and sits on my nightstand), tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) “was put on the market after years of pushing by food manufacturers to get it approved. It contains petroleum-derive butane and is used either alone or in combination with the preservative-antioxidant butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and or butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). [There's sufficient data on the harmful effects of these substances]. Hydroquinone combines with oxygen very rapidly and becomes brown when exposed to air. The FDA said that TBHQ [in human food only] must not exceed 0.02 percent of its oil and fat content. [The FDA does not protect animal food to any reasonable standard - if at all.] Death [of the human kind] has occurred from the ingestion of as little as 5 grams. Ingestion of a single gram (a thirtieth of an ounce) has caused nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, a sense of suffocation and collapse. Industrial workers exposed to the vapors – without obvious systemic effects – suffered clouding of the eye lens. Application to the skin may cause allergic reactions.”

      So I believe you and I agree on just ONE thing: TBHQ is chemically classified as an antioxidant. But as you have now read, not all antioxidants are healthful. Thinking of all antioxidants as beneficial is as erroneous (even doltish) as thinking a dolphin is a human just because they’re both classified as mammals.

      To be clear, according to the same reference manual by Winter, the definition of an antioxidant is as follows:

      “ANTIOXIDANT – Substances added to food to keep oxygen from changing food’s color or flavor. Apples, for instance, will turn brown when exposed to air, and fats will become rancid after exposure. Among the most widely used antioxidants are butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)… Vitamin E and vitamin C are natural antioxidants.”

      Vitamin C and vitamin E can be found in pill form at your local pharmacy, grocery or health food store. I doubt you will ever find BHA, BHT or TBHQ in pill form. But if you do, and want to experiment by taking them, then knock yourself out. The pills will probably do that job just fine for you.

      One last thing. It would be hugely erroneous to think that the FDA protects the food for our pets in the same manner that it protects human food. There’s plenty of documentation – from the FDA itself – that it does not. In flagrant violation of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic act, the FDA has written compliance policies that allow food unfit for human consumption because of rendering, contamination of banned substances, toxicants, pesticides, industrial chemicals, filth, or other substances over the permitted amount for human consumption to be redirected to animal feed. This absolutely includes pet food.

      You can read the Compliance Policies yourself on the FDA’s website. Here are just two of the particularly disturbing policies. There are more if you care to do the reading…

      Here’s the one on rendering: http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/ComplianceManuals/CompliancePolicyGuidanceManual/ucm074712.htm

      Here’s the one on a lot of other toxins: http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/ComplianceManuals/CompliancePolicyGuidanceManual/ucm074694.htm

  • Dog lover

    After reading this article, I will check into this further. On the other hand though, one of my dogs lived to be 18 years old and had a wonderful life right up to the end. I was so grateful that she was able to happily gobble up her morning piece of Pupperoni as I left for work, as she had for all 18 years, on the day she passed away. She loved her Pupperoni’s.

  • http://www.facebook.com/syidrivera Syid Rivera

    The thing is people don’t realize not all vets will tell you the truth purina actually pays alot of money for some vets to say purina is the best! So forget people’s opinions do the research your self you saw the list of toxic substances right ? Write them down and go find them on the bags the proof is on the lable not someone’s OPINIONS

  • Linda

    I am 98 % sure that my 8!year old golden doodle is suffering from severe skin allergies due to the introduction of beggin strips into his diet. If I could upload a pic of his condition you would be repulsed at the sight of the lesions covering his entire abdomin legs and ears He is now taking 4 different medications 2 days out and starting to respond to food(raw diet) and water. Please spread the word!

  • http://www.facebook.com/cirememberu Cherie Daniels

    I’ve learned to NEVER EVER buy any pet food or treats from CHINA……

  • Kristen

    Telin, where are you finding your “links”?

  • youareamazing

    once you educate yourself, you will find the article is accurate. in addition, once you have knowledge of these ingredients and you bring up the subject with your vet, you will find most are not up to date with nutrition (similar with medical doctors).