How Pet Food Is Made

pet foodRecent events have many people questioning what goes into their pets’ diets and what kind of safeguards the pet food manufacturers have in place. With more than 15,000 brands of pet foods available, owners are often confused about which diet might be best for their dog or cat. With the help of your veterinarian, choosing the ideal food doesn’t have to be so complex. Because of these massive recalls, the pet food industry will be forever changed. Much more scrutiny and care will be given to supply chains, testing and quality control – even in an industry that for the most part has done an amazing job at all this for decades. For now, be vigilant now and watch the news. We predict pet foods will improve even further and the companies that make them will work hard to re-gain your trust and re-build their image.

Many pet owners are just as concerned about what goes into their pet’s food as they are about their own food. With so many brands out there, how can a concerned pet lover know that they are feeding the best? How can we know what is going into our friends’ diets?

Strolling along the pet food aisle in a large pet food retail outlet is an amazing event. Playful puppies and adorable kittens almost seem to jump out of the colorful packages, beckoning the pet owner to choose their very special brand of food. Large pallets containing bags of dry food, stacks of orderly cans, and rows of moist pouches often leave a pet owner literally dazed and confused with the overwhelming selection.

In the past half century, the production and marketing of pet foods has grown into an $11 billion dollar a year industry with more than 3,000 manufacturers producing over 15,000 separate brands of dog and cat food alone. Marketing ideas leap off the products claiming “more protein”, “rich, meaty taste”, and “real wholesome ingredients”. All of these speak to us as ways to provide the very best for our family members. But, in light of pet food recalls and concerns about pet food manufacturing, how can a pet owner really know that they are truly providing the best?

Although feeding dry kibble to dogs is an idea that was born more than 150 years ago, the latter half of the 20th century saw many advances in the pet food production industry. Not only was dry food advancing, but canned diets and the newly created “semi-moist” diets began to find a loyal following among pet owners as well. Food safety and hygiene were becoming more highly developed as the concern for the health and well-being of the pets continued to grow among pet lovers. Here in the United States, the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine oversees the safety of pet food ingredients.

The process of creating and producing a pet food begins with the selection of appropriate ingredients. Huge train cars and tractor trailers haul in the enormous amounts of grains and meat meals that are used in producing a commercial diet. Many high quality pet food companies use inspectors at the rail yards and shipping terminals to scrutinize the raw ingredients before it ever enters the food plant. Diets such as Hill’s Science Diet, Iams, Eukanuba, and others will use human quality meats and grains to insure an optimal balance of the nutrients needed for the pet’s good health.

According to the 4th Edition of Small Animal Clinical Nutrition (Hand, et al), one of the most important steps is the compounding and mixing of the ingredients. It is important for the diet to contain an equal distribution of essential nutrients and unequal compounding may lead to a lack of key ingredients in the diet. Harmful microorganisms and potentially destructive hydrolytic enzymes are then destroyed by a thorough cooking process.

Many pet owners are concerned with the safety and adequacy of the foods that they buy their pets. According to Dr. Andrea Fascetti, a nutrition professor at the University of California Davis’ School of Veterinary Medicine, pet owners should feel very comfortable with commercial diets. “People should realize that this (pet food recall) is not a common occurrence. Over the history of commercial pet foods, they have been very safe and a very good way to feed animals to ensure that they’re meeting their nutritional requirements.”

Additionally, all pet food companies are required to meet guidelines that are set forth by the Association of American Feed Control Officials for the nutritional adequacy of their foods. Many companies will go beyond requirements and actually have inspectors from the human food industry come and examine production facilities as a means of insuring the best product for the animal consumers. The Pet Food Institute ( has stated that pet foods are one of the most highly regulated food products. In fact, pet foods require more information on their labels than human foods.

Still, many pet owners are turning to home-cooked meals or organic substitutes for the more common commercial diets. Proponents of home cooked meals feel that a pet’s health can be better managed than with commercial diets. Pet owners are urged to speak with their family veterinarian who may then recommend a veterinary nutritionist. Many home-made diets do not meet the nutritional needs of the pet. Says Fascetti, “We are frequently asked by owners or their vets to evaluate something they’ve found and we frequently find problems, often deficiencies, sometimes excesses.”

It is extremely easy to become overwhelmed and discouraged with the sheer numbers of pet foods and the reports of potential concerns with the diets. However, remember that your family veterinarian is a great source for dietary recommendations for your pet. He or she understands your pet’s needs, as well as your own concerns much better than any source online. To learn more about how pet foods are produced, visit and watch the pet food video.