Dictionary of Pet Food and Product Additives


Artificial Flavor - Means any substance, the function of which is to impart flavor, which is not derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof. Furthermore, most of the chemical compounds in artificial flavors are not recognized as food by our digestive systems and are not metabolized. That's why you won't find them listed in the Nutrition Facts chart; they are not nutrients.
To make an artificial flavor, a flavor chemist (called a flavorist) in a laboratory has to create a molecule that mimics the molecule in a food that provides its flavor or select and blend the right chemical compounds in the right amounts to simulate the natural flavor. This is often done much more cheaply than trying to extract the flavor from a natural food in the quantity needed.

Ascorbic Acid - A water-soluble sugar acid with antioxidant properties commonly known as vitamin C. Ascorbic acid is found in plants, animals, and single-cell organisms. All living animals either make it, eat it, or die from scurvy due to lack of it. Reptiles and older orders of birds make ascorbic acid in their kidneys. Recent orders of birds and most mammals make ascorbic acid in their livers where the enzyme L-gulonolactone oxidase is required to convert glucose to ascorbic acid. Humans, guinea pigs, and some other primates are not able to make L-gulonolactone oxidase because of a genetic defect and are therefore unable to make ascorbic acid in their livers so it must be provided by their diet.


Bisphenol A - Found in polycarbonateplastic type 3 & type 7 (located in the recycling symbol on the container). A hormone-disrupting chemical (endocrine disruptor)linked to Down's syndrome, early onset ofpuberty, obesity, hyperactivity, and breastand prostate cancer. Almost all plastic babybottles are made from polycarbonate plastic,as well as popular reusable water bottles(like some Nalgene brand bottles) and largewater cooler jugs. In addition, a resin madewith bisphenol A coats the inside of aluminumand tin food cans. Bisphenol A leachesreadily into food and liquids. There is no lawprohibiting its use, and currently, very fewmanufacturers have taken any action to stopusing polycarbonate plastic in their products. With the headlines in 2008 in which several governments issued reports questioning its safety that may change.


Cellulose - An organic compound that forms the structural component of the primary cell wall, or fiber, of green plants. Cellulose is not digestible by mammals, with the exception of ruminants, and is often referred to as 'dietary fiber' or 'roughage', acting as a water soluble bulking agent for feces. Powdered cellulose (Microcrystalline cellulose) is also used as an inactive filler in tablets and as a thickener and stabilizer in processed foods. We are not aware of any toxicity issues.

Cetyl Alcohol - AKA Palmityl Alcohol - A solid organic compound whose name "cetyl" derives from the whale oil (Latin: cetus) from which it was first isolated. No longer primarily produced from whale oil, but instead either as an end-product of the petroleum industry, or produced from vegetable oils such as palm oil and coconut oil. Production of cetyl alcohol from palm oil gives rise to one of its alternative names, palmityl alcohol. Used in the cosmetic industry as a surfactant in shampoos, or as an emollient, emulsifier or thickening agent in the manufacture of skin creams and lotions as well as a lubricant for nuts and bolts. It has a low toxicity for both skin and ingestion and is sometimes used as a laxative. Can act as a skin irritant but has a "Low Hazard" rating of '1' (out of '10') at the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database.

Chemical Preservative - Any chemical that, when added to food, tends to prevent or retard its deterioration and spoilage. Examples include substances such as BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin and propylene glycol. These chemicals are also known as antioxidants because they prevent the oxidation of primarily fats and oils which go rancid quickly when exposed to oxygen. Many are linked with liver and kidney problems as well as increasing the risks of various cancers and tumors. Dramatically increase product shelf-life.

Chicken - The clean combination of flesh and skin with or without accompanying bone, derived from the parts or whole carcasses of chicken exclusive of feathers, heads, feet and entrails. Whole chicken is preferable to meal because the source and quality of the product is more easily determined by concerning manufacturers. Because of the assumed higher quality and the higher moisture content that requires more chicken as opposed to drier, more concentrated chicken meal, chicken is much more expensive.

Chicken Meal - The dry, rendered product from a combination of clean flesh and skin with accompanying bone, derived from whole carcasses of chicken, exclusive of feathers, heads, feet and entrails except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. Basically, meal is dehydrated meat and a concentrated source of protein. As long as the species is defined, and not just “meat meal”, it is not necessarily inferior to whole, fresh meat. However, the source does matter because some product can have excessive bones or fat, come from chicken that has spoiled, be from low quality or diseased animals or can be poorly processed at excessively high temperatures that can ruin valuable amino acids. What source of chicken meal do you think those inexpensive supermarket or big box store brands use? Manufacturers use chicken meal because it provides a higher concentration of nutrients than whole chicken at a lower cost. It is never suitable for human consumption because it is rendered.

Citric acid - Primarily used as a flavoring agent to add an acidic or sour taste to foods and drinks and a natural preservative. When used in certain household products its buffering action helps to control Ph. When used in soaps and shampoos its chelating effect (bonds with minerals and metals) helps soften water, allowing products to produce a foam and work better. Because of citric acid’s chelating ability, it can help to take certain minerals with citric acid (for example calcium supplements in the form of calcium citrate), since the body will more easily digest chelated minerals. Can be a skin and eye irritant and in high concentrations can damage hair and tooth enamel. Stomach sensitivity to citric acid can occur in some people. Occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables with the highest concentrations found in citrus fruits such as lemons and limes. However, today the majority of citric acid is derived from certain strains of mold fed an inexpensive sugary solution such as hydrolyzed cornstarch. More than 50% is produced in China. Rates a 4 out of 10 in the Skin Deep Cosmetics Safety Data Base and its use is restricted in Canadian cosmetics because of its skin, eye and lung irritant effects.

Corn Gluten Meal - A byproduct of corn processing used for animal feed and corn sweeteners and corn syrup for the human food industry. Primarily used as a low-cost protein source for pet foods. Studies have shown that animals fed a diet consisting exclusively of corn gluten meal as the protein source had greater muscle loss in 10 weeks than dogs fed a similar diet containing chicken protein! Other studies have reported that corn gluten meal was not as digestible, reduced calcium and magnesium availability and did not improve urinary predisposition to crystal formation relative to meat meal. The only way this cheap protein source can be of any benefit to animals is when combined with meat protein, and unfortunately there is usually very little high-quality meat protein in the foods that use these types of ingredients!
As a final thought, 1.35 million tons of corn gluten meal is currently consumed by the livestock market, so when you and your animals consume factory farmed or conventionally raised meats, you are consuming a lot of corn gluten meal. That is why we always recommend grass-fed or free-range meats and eggs as the healthiest and most nutritious protein sources (though you have to be careful of the source because beef can be “finished” on grain feed lots)!

Cyanuric Acid - A non-protein nitrogen (NPN), a term used in animal nutrition to refer collectively to components including urea, biuret, and ammonia, which are not proteins but can be converted into proteins by microbes in a ruminant’s (ex. cow's) stomach. Due to their lower cost, compared to plant and animal proteins, their inclusion in a diet can result in economic gain, but at too high levels cause a depression in growth and possible ammonia toxicity (microbes convert NPN to ammonia first before using that to make protein.) NPN can also be used to artificially raise crude protein values in pet foods, which are measured based on nitrogen content, as protein is about 16% nitrogen, but, for example, urea is 47% nitrogen. The source of NPN is typically a chemical feed additive, chicken waste or cattle manure.


Decyl glucoside - See Decyl Polyglucose.

Decyl Polyglucose - Derived from corn, coconut & palm kernel oils by reacting cornstarch glucose with a c6-c16 natural fatty alcohol. It can also be described as being made from corn, glucose & starch. Corn supplies the carbohydrates which are converted with fatty alcohols from native oils, such as coconut or palm kernel oil, into alkyl polyglycosides. Decyl Polyglucose is considered to be an effective, gentle, cleaner with no reported adverse effects and is fully biodegradable. The significance of its considered safety is appreciated when you realize that most of the cosmetic ingredients used for the same purpose such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) are believed to cause health problems. It is used as a mild non-ionic primary or secondary surfactant in cosmetic formulas including baby shampoo and in products for individuals with a sensitive skin. Many natural personal care companies use this cleanser because it is plant-derived, biodegradable, and gentle. It is considered safe but has virtually no safety testing.






Imidazolidinyl urea - An antimicrobial preservative used in cosmetics. It is chemically related to diazolidinyl urea which is used in the same way. Imidazolidinyl urea acts as a formaldehyde releaser. Some people have a contact allergy to imidazolidinyl urea causing dermatitis. May be derived from animals when excreted from urine and other bodily fluids. Is a human immune system toxicant and skin toxicant. Has a "Moderate Hazard" rating of '5' (out of '10') at Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database.




Microcrystalline cellulose - Cellulose derived from wood pulp. Because it is naturally occurring and thought to be stable, safe and physiologically inert (odorless and tasteless) it is typically used as an excipient (inactive substance used as a carrier for the active ingredients) in the formulation of tablets and capsules. An indigestible dietary fiber (99.5% dietary fiber) it works well as an anti-caking agent, a binding agent, due to its excellent compression properties, a disintegrant, so tablets dissolve quickly to increase the biological availability of a medicine and as a lubricant (seperating agent) to aid in the tableting procedure. GRAS.

Magnesium Silicate - A silicate salt of magnesium used as an anti-caking agent and consisting of a fine, white, odorless and tasteless powder known as talc (finely powdered native magnesium silicate). Gives a slippery sensation to powders and creams. Prevalent in many vitamins, powders, makeups and creams. There may be links to it being a cancer-causing agent upon ingestion because of the high incidence of stomach cancer among the Japanese who like their rice treated with talc. Several studies have also established preliminary links between talc and pulmonary issues, lung cancer, skin cancer and ovarian cancer. This is a major concern considering talc's widespread commercial and household use. In 1993, a US National Toxicology Program report found that cosmetic grade talc caused tumours in animals, even though it contained no asbestos-like fibres. Scientists have been aware of the toxicity of talc since the late 1960s, and in 1971 researchers found particles of talc embedded in 75 percent of the ovarian tumors studied. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers non-asbestiform talc, that is talc which does not contain potentially carcinogenic asbestiform amphibole fibers, to be generally recognized as safe (GRAS) for use in cosmetics. Further study has been recommended because ingestion causing kidney damage in dogs has been reported. Fibrous magnesium silicate, AKA asbestos and chrysotiis, is a chemically inert, white to gray powder used as an extender and/or a filler for high temperature resistance. Both Pleural Mesothelioma and Peritoneum Mesothelioma are primarily caused by the inhalation or exposure to asbestos, an incombustible fibrous mineral of impure magnesium silicate used in various industrial products. GRAS.

Magnesium Stearate - A soft, tasteless, odorless white powder insoluble in water. This type of magnesium is the form that manufacturers use in vitamins. The stearate is a very inexpensive synthetic "salt" derived from stearic acid. Magnesium lactate is how it is found in whole foods and "natural vitamins". Because it is widely regarded as harmless, it is often used as a filling and lubricating agent (preventing ingredients from sticking to equipment) in the manufacture of medical tablets and capsules and as an emulsifying agent in cosmetics. When used as a filling agent in the manufacture of capsules and tablets, such as vitamins, the source of this ingredient is typically bovine. However, there is an increasing number of vegetarian options in which the product specifically indicates it contains magnesium stearate from vegetable sources. Stearic acid, from which stearates are derived has been shown to be a skin irritant, sensitizer for allergic people and has caused tumors in experimental animals. A bit of trivia - magnesium stearate is a major component of "bathtub rings". When produced by soap and hard water, magnesium stearate and calcium stearate both form a white solid insoluble in water, and are collectively known as scum. GRAS.

Melamine - A high-nitrogen containing compound added by Chinese firms to wheat flour to mimic higher protein wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate, thereby avoiding the processing necessary to extract the wheat gluten. What people did not realize, and research has found evidence of, is that cyanuric acid, found in cattle feed and lower-quality pet foods, and used to artificially raise protein levels, when combined with melamine forms extremely insoluble crystals, leading to the formation of kidney stones and potentially causing kidney failure and death in animals. Most melamine today is derived from urea. See Cyanuric Acid above.


Natural – A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed (a process which does not fundamentally alter the raw product) may be labeled natural.” Most foods labeled natural are not subject to government controls beyond the regulations and heath codes.
The official AAFCO definition for "natural" as the term relates to pet food is: A feed or ingredient derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources, either in its unprocessed state or having been subjected to physical processing, heat processing, rendering, purification extraction, hydrolysis, enzymolysis or fermentation, but not having been produced by or subject to a chemically synthetic process and not containing any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic except in amounts as might occur unavoidably in good manufacturing practices. The committee suggested that an exception be made for synthetic vitamin and mineral additives as long as the product is not used as a dietary supplement, so even in a “natural” pet food there still may be synthetic chemicals.

Natural Flavor - A flavor-enhancing substance made from the chemical extracts of natural sources (animals, plants, etc.). Not often realized is the fact that all flavoring additives, natural or artificial, are made by humans. More directly, a natural flavor is defined as a substance extracted, distilled or otherwise derived from plant or animal matter, either directly from the matter itself or after it has been roasted, heated or fermented and whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional. Note also that a natural flavor need not come from the very food it is flavoring. For example, a flavor chemical derived from chicken -- and it need not taste like chicken -- can be used to flavor a can of beef pet food.
"Natural" does not mean it is not a harmful food additive. "Natural" only means that the natural flavor ingredient originated from a natural source. For example, "natural" can mean a type of isolated natural chemical found in fruits, vegetables or meat that may not be good for you and even toxic or a food additive such as MSG which has been found to be a dangerous food additive ingredient for many of the people who consume this so-called natural additive.
Why do companies hide ingredients under "natural flavors"? It's considered a way of preserving the product's identity & uniqueness. Sort of like a "secret recipe" - they worry that if people knew what the flavorings were, then someone would be able to duplicate their product.
Furthermore, most of the chemical compounds in natural flavors are not recognized as food by our digestive systems and are not metabolized. That's why you won't find them listed in the Nutrition Facts chart; they are not nutrients.
Here is something that confuses even me: the vanilla bean derives the majority of its natural flavor from its content of about 2 percent vanillin, known to chemists by its nickname, 4-hydroxy-3- methoxy benzaldehyde. If these natural flavors are extracted into alcohol, the product may legally be labeled Pure Vanilla Extract, that is, as a "natural" flavoring. But if the product contains synthetic vanillin, which can be made by any of several processes, it must be labeled Imitation Vanilla Flavoring.
But get this: If the synthetic vanillin was made not by combining chemicals in a laboratory but by allowing bacteria to ferment ferulic acid, a chemical obtained from corn or rice, it may be labeled Natural Vanilla Flavor because fermentation is a "natural" process. The vanillin obtained by both methods, however, is absolutely identical.
So, this past Easter when I did not buy that chocolate with vanillin because I thought that it was an artificial flavor, was I right or wrong? Was that vanillin a natural isolate from the vanilla bean or synthetic vanillin?



Palmityl Alcohol - See Cetyl Alcohol

Phosphoric Acid – An inexpensive, colorless, odorless mineral acid made from phosphate rock. Used as a sequestering agent (a preservative that prevents physical or chemical changes) for rendered animal fat as well as an acidifier, emulsifier (allows unblendable substances to mix), antioxidant (prevents oxidation and discoloration) and flavoring agent. Concentrated solutions are irritating to the skin and mucous membranes.

Potassium Chloride – A chemical compound composed of potassium and chlorine creating a odorless, colorless crystalline powder with a salty taste. The majority is used for making fertilizer, but in the food industry it is used as a sodium-free substitute for table salt, to replenish potassium and treat hypokalemia (low blood potassium levels). Side effects can include small intestinal ulcers and at higher doses gastrointestinal discomfort including nausea and vomiting, diarrhea and bleeding of the digestive tract can occur. Overdoses cause hyperkalemia which can lead to paresthesia, cardiac conduction blocks, fibrillation, arrhythmias, and sclerosis. Just for trivia - potassium chloride is also used as the third of a three drug combination in judicial execution through lethal injection.

Phthalates - Used in many plastics,especially PVC products, including vinyl dog toys, as a softening agent to make the plastic flexible. Phthalates are a group of chemicals,some of which can disturb normal hormonal processes, called endocrine disruptors, often at low levels of exposure. In addition exposure to phthalates is linked to birth defects of the genitals, reproductive problems like altered levels of reproductive hormones in baby boys, early onset of puberty, liver and thyroid damage, testicular cancer and an increased breast cancer risk is also suspected.



Rendering - The process generally considered to convert waste animal material or animal byproducts into a more usable form, such as meat & bone meal or poultry byproduct meal, by simultaneously drying the material and separating the fat from the bone and protein. The material used generally comes from slaughterhouses but also includes restaurant grease and butcher shop trimmings, expired meat from grocery stores, the carcasses of euthanized and dead animals from animal shelters, zoos and veterinarians. Rendered products are not fit for human consumption and include products commonly found in pet foods such as meat meals, bone meal and animal fats. The source used for rendering is very important, as some higher quality dog foods can use rendering to produce what is considered to be a higher quality product such as chicken meal.


Sodium Citrate - Sometimes referred to as trisodium citrate, a sodium salt of citric acid. See citric acid for more information.

Sodium Tripolyphosphate - The sodium salt of triphosphoric acid. Commonly used as a preservative in seafood, meats and pet foods as well as a food texturizer, builder and moisture retainer. Also act as a water softener allowing toothpaste, soap and other surfactants to work better. Moderately irritating to skin and mucous membranes and ingestion may cause violent purging. In the environment it is assimilated into the natural phosphorous cycle which contributes to the eutrophication of many fresh water systems resulting in an increase excessive plant growth and decay and further effects including lack of oxygen and severe reductions in water quality, fish, and other animal populations.

Stearic Acid - Sometimers referred to as octadecanoic acid, is a saturated fatty acid that occurs in many animal and vegetable fats and oils. It is usually prepared synthetically from the hydrogenation of some unsaturated vegetable oils and is commonly a mix of stearic acid and palmitic acid, although purified stearic acid is also available. Commonly used in butter and vanilla flavorings, as a hardener in soaps, candies, candles and dietary supplements (also used here as a parting compound for tablet molds), as a softener for chewing gum and rubber and in many cosmetics to produce a pearly effect. Findings may indicate that stearic acid is less unhealthy than other saturated fatty acids but at the same time it is implicated as being a sensitizer for allergic people, a skin irritant and has caused tumors in experimental animals. GRAS.


Titanium Dioxide - Occurs naturally in minerals. Primarily used as a white pigment, opacifier (makes opaque) and a thickening agent. Because of its high refractive index and its strong UV light absorbing capabilities titanium dioxide is commonly found in sunscreens. Titanium dioxide appears to be relatively safe when applied to the skin and we could not find evidence of ill effects when taken internally. However, there is evidence of respiratory irritation, damage and cancer when exposed to dust or products that may be aerosolized (airborne).

Triethanolamine (often abbreviated TEA) - An organic chemical compound used as a pH balancer, surfactant and emulsifier in cosmetic preparations and a variety of other products and uses. Gross pathology has been found in the gastrointestinal tract in fatally poisoned guinea pigs. It is an irritant and skin sensitizer and as with any "amines", it may have the potential to create nitrosamines (powerful carcinogens). Has a "High Hazard" rating of '7' (out of '10') at the Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database.

Trisodium Citrate - Sometimes referred to as sodium citrate, a sodium salt of citric acid. See citric acid for more information.


Urea - The major nitrogenous end product of protein metabolism, and the chief nitrogenous component of the urine of mammals and some other species. Used in fertilizers as a convenient source of nitrogen and as a non-protein nitrogen (NPN) as an economical replacement for protein fed to ruminants (cattle that can wind up in pet food) or added directly to pet food to artificially raise crude protein values which are measured based on nitrogen content, as protein is about 16% nitrogen, but, for example, urea is 47% nitrogen.
The reason your dog can leave brown spots where he/she urinates is because the urea found in urine has a very high nitrogen content that decomposes into ammonia and eventually into nitrates. Concentrated nitrates burn plants and dog urine can be similar to over-fertilizing your lawn in spots. To prevent brown spots, after your dog urinates, especially first thing in the morning when urine is most concentrated, try watering the spot to dilute the “fertilizer”.



Wheat Flour - A refined grain fraction (part of a grain) that is high in starch and low in nutrition having been significantly modified from its natural composition. Usually involving the mechanical removal of bran and germ and further refining that may include mixing, bleaching, and brominating. Additionally, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and iron are often added back in to nutritionally enrich the product. Because the added nutrients represent a fraction of the nutrients removed, refined grains are considered nutritionally inferior to whole grains. Can also contain "tail of the mill" which is the floor sweepings. Reducing whole grains to flour significantly increases the shelf life of the grain because the germ, rich in fatty acids that can go rancid quickly and, unfortunately, essential nutrients, has been removed.
Investigation has recently shown that the melamine-contaminated cat and dog food ingredient imported from China was actually wheat flour disguised to make the flour appear more protein-rich and less starchy, thus mimicking a higher-protein product, such as wheat gluten. The question we feel people who are buying low-cost pet food from supermarkets and big box stores should be asking themselves is, “why am I purchasing pet food that uses cheap and potentially dangerous ingredients from China that can kill my beloved companion?”.




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