It’s a dog’s breakfast: trying to figure out what’s in pet food

It’s a dog’s breakfast: trying to figure out what’s in pet food

The pet food industry sums up what people think about advertising when they’re feeling especially cynical.

It’s shady, sketchy and more than a little dishonest.

Descriptions are twisted and turned. Words are left out. Others are honed to a fine edge, perfect to stick in your eye.

Does it have to be this hard?

No, it doesn’t. But this is big business, very big business. It’s estimated that last year alone, in just the United States, we spent more than $23 BILLION on pet food. So no wonder the stakes are so high when it comes to competition. Even the tiniest increase in market share can deliver hundreds of thousands of dollars to a company’s bottom line.

And it’s why pet food makers take short cuts, use the cheapest possible ingredients and hate to follow rules and regulations. They just don’t want us to know what’s in pet food.
dog looking at kibble on the ground


FAIL: What’s in this food?

Unless your Morkie is a vegetarian, you’d expect to find meat in his food. But not so fast… When it comes to the source of protein, there are several things to remember.

  • There’s “meat”
  • There’s meat by-products, and
  • There’s “meat meal”


About Meat

“Meat” is the muscle that is stripped off a slaughtered animal, which can include what’s attached, such as fat, skin, sinew, nerve and blood vessels.

If a pet food says “meat” instead of the specific source of meat like beef, lamb or chicken, then beware. You don’t know where the meat has come from. It can be from animals that didn’t make it to the slaughterhouse and died on the way (The infamous 4-D meats, dead, dying, diseased and disabled.) It can be road kill. It can be other dogs, picked up after they’ve been euthanized at the pound or shelter.

Bottom line, look for the specific source of meat.


Meat by-products

plate of chicken feetBy-products are the polite word for sh*t you wouldn’t consider eating or feeding to your pet. Chicken by-products for example, include beaks, feet, the head, bones, intestines and even some feathers that stick to the rotting by-products.

Again, if the source of meat by-products isn’t name, the nightmare doubles. It’s disgusting parts from unknown or mystery animals. At least beef by-products, for example, come from cattle despite being parts your don’t think can be food.

Bottom line, avoid by products. And especially avoid meat by-products, versus a named protein by-product.


Meal meal

Author Ann N. Martin describes a rendering plant in her book, Food Pets Die For. By-products and waste from the slaughterhouse pile up on the factory floor. Maggots thrive in the barrels of dead dogs and cats, snakes, roadkill, deer, foxes, spoiled grocery store meats still in their foam packaging and more.

This stuff is then picked up by front end loader and dumped into a huge vat, where it’s boiled and boiled — or rendered — down into a concentrated sludge of horrifying goop. At the same time, a grinder rips into the mess, popping bones and joins, and tearing skin apart. After cooking and grinding, the mess is spun by centrifugal fore to remove the fat. It’s measured and added back in to the food as “animal fat.” Again, not identified by type of animal. Because how could it be?

Finally the rendered material is dried to a highly concentrated protein powder.

Bottom line, if a meat meal is made from an identified source of protein, such as beef, it does offer more protein, although it’s from pretty unappetizing parts of the animal. But “meat meal” or even worse, “meat by-product meal” means you can’t get a worse food to feed your Morkie.

Look for a specific type of meat in your Morkie’s food. Period. Chicken meat, beef meat, lamb meat and so on.

How to pick the best dog food

How to pick the best dog food

You want your Morkie to have the most nutritious diet possible, but how to decide, with literally thousands of choices in commercial dog food? Here’s a great resource for rating commercial foods. It’s reliable and unbiased.

b&w and red dog bowl


An invaluable resource is the website Founder and editor Mark Sagman has made it his mission to help you make an informed decision when buying commercial dog food. Since 2008, Mark and his team have reviewed almost 5,000 products.

Mark was moved to start the site when he and his family lost their beloved rescue dog, Penny, in the massive 2007 pet food recalls. You might remember, there were tens of thousands of pet deaths, mostly due to poisonous fillers in the food. Fillers like melamine – yes, the same stuff that is used to make kitchen counters.

Read more about this heartbreaking disaster on Wikipedia.

Reliable, honest and unbiased

Here’s Mark’s basic advice about picking dog food:

Don't buy any dog food brand that is advertised on TV

Many commercial dog foods are well known, thanks to heavy advertising by the manufacturers. But their popularity has nothing at all to do with their nutritional value. Popular brands like Purina, Alpo, Beneful, Hills Science Diet and Pedigree dog foods all earn just 1 star out of 5 on the contents when analyzed by

Why? From harmful additives to mystery ingredients, these foods are made up of cheap fillers (corn, soybeans) that your dog can’t digest properly, or doesn’t need. They have “animal fat” from unidentified sources, such as dead, dying and diseased livestock and even euthanized pets!  And they’re processed at such high temperatures that much of the nutritional value has been cooked out.

Get alerts of dog food recalls

At you can sign up for free alerts about dog food recalls. No cost and no obligation.

Even quality foods can run into problems from time to time, with batches of food that are contaminated, so these alerts are well worth getting.



Rethinking Nylabone, thanks to

In a recent post, I wrote about the dangers of rawhide sticks. They can be a choking hazard and are manufactured with a lot of toxic chemicals.

I recommended alternatives, including a good quality nylon bone such as Nylabone. However, thanks to the website, I learned that even Nylabones can be recalled.

nylabone recall

In April 2015, the Nylabone puppy starter kit was recalled because it has the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.

Plus, if your Morkie can chew any bits of the Nylabone off, he could easily swallow these tiny plastic pieces, causing serious digestive problems.

The BEST commercial dog food – dry food

The BEST commercial dog food – dry food

Wellness CORE is one of the foods I recommend for your small dog.

With all the deceptive practices in labelling pet food, it’s difficult to find a good quality food for your dog or cat.  And since the pet food industry is self-regulated, it’s even harder. The ‘stamp of approval’ for pet foods comes from  AAFCO  (Association of American Feed Control Officials) which is a volunteer organization of industry insiders. It is NOT a government body, nor does it have any responsibility to government bodies, like the Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) . The nicest thing I can say about AAFCO, is that its reviews and approvals are better than nothing. But not much. 

So it’s up to you – the consumer and caring owner – to decipher what’s really in that food you pay good money for.

So what foods ARE safe?

Based on a number of experts’ reviews, and what a small dog like a Yorkie, Morkie or Maltese needs, I would recommend any of the following dry foods:

  • Acana from Champion
  • Amicus from Horizon
  • Before Grain from Merrick
  • Fromm
  • Go! Sensitivity
  • Holistic Precise
  • Life’s Abundance
  • NOW!
  • Orjen from Champion
  • Pinnacle
  • Wellness Core

This recommendation is based on my own research of expert opinions and my own experience – please keep in mind I’m not a trained animal professional, just a concerned consumer and committed dog lover.


Click to read more about the DOWNLOADABLE EBOOK – the Complete Guide to Feeding your Morkie. Just $7.

Please note:  I’m not a trained dog health professional. It is the reader’s responsibility to consult with a licensed, practicing Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine (DVM) (or equivalent in your country) before making any changes to your method of feeding, grooming or any other matter of dog care for any dogs for which you have any responsibility or contribute, in any way, to his or her care. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your own Veterinarian.

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