The dark side of dog food

We spoil our pets with name-brand toys, beautiful beds, and the finest collars cash can buy. Yet, when it comes to what’s for dinner, we’ve been misled into feeding them food that’s far less healthy than we think. Join us as we get to the bottom of how this all got started and why it needs to end. Sponsored by The Farmer's Dog

March 18, 2020

The Farmer's Dog image
Sponsored by                  
The Farmer's Dog image


Butylated Hydroxyanisole. Sodium Tripolyphosphate. Propylene Glycol.

These aren’t just fancy words used to thin out the competition at a high school spelling bee. They’re also common ingredients in store-bought dog food. 

Yup, that big sack of kibble with the smiling corgi on the front is actually not as good for your faithful companion as you think. 

Along with other unsavory additions like rendered fat, animal digest, and “meat meal” (“meat meal”???), dry dog food contains all sorts of nasty ingredients — like the ones above, which can also be found in detergent, insecticide, chemical preservative, and even antifreeze.

And you want to feed that to Fido? We think not. 

So, where exactly did these sad, stomach-churning mixes come from? How did they make it onto the shelves of your friendly neighborhood pet store? And — most importantly — what should you be feeding your pets? 

Lend us your leashes and we’ll walk you through how we ended up here.


The original dog diet consisted of little more than table scraps. We’re talkin’ meat, bones, and whatever else could be scavenged between meals. 

This approach to feeding our four-legged friends remained status quo until the first commercially-prepared pet food was formulated. In 1860, English businessman James Spratt created the original “dog biscuits” using a blend of wheat meal, veggies, beetroot and beef blood. Mmmm… beef blood. 

Dog biscuits became quite popular (enough so for his recipe to get acquired by another company and brought to the U.S. in the 1890s), but the real dietary shift came with the introduction of Ken-L-Ration canned dog food in the 1920s. 


Developed using a mixture of dehydrated horse meat and grain, Ken-L-Ration’s new alternative was a notable shift in our approach to pet food — and soon, this more affordable canned food soon made up 90% of the market. 

As the country entered lean times around World War II, rationing of meat and metal meant dry dog food became the de facto standard for our faithful sidekicks. Soon after the war ended, the trend of convenience and affordability exploded thanks to a new process known as “extrusion. 

Extrusion made manufacturing dog food at scale much easier… but that simplicity only papered over a much uglier truth about this new air-puffed kibble: it was nasty. 


At its core, the kibble-making process is two things: 1) Complicated. 2) Gross. 

Here’s how it works: 

First, all sorts of different (loosely regulated) ingredients come together through “rendering” — the process of combining all the parts that go into kibble prior to it being extruded. 

The catch? Pet food standards are much lower than human food, meaning the scraps we can’t use can be used in kibble. This includes:

  • Hair, bones, and beaks
  • Digestive systems and udders
  • Expired packs of meat (with wrapping still on)
  • Remains of diseased animals or even euthanized pets (!!!)

Have we lost you yet? Yeugh

Rendering this mishmash creates an ingredient known as “meal.” Meal then undergoes extrusion, which involves being cooked under extremely high temperatures — up to 392 degrees Fahrenheit. — until much of the nutritional value of the “food” (if you can even call it that) is stripped out. 

Once it’s heated enough, the meal puffs up into those familiar brown squares known as kibble… except now, additional nutrients and minerals have to be injected back in to cover for what was lost during extrusion.

Easy to make? Check. 

Cheap to buy? Check. 

Good for your golden retriever? Er, not exactly… but thanks to some well-placed lobbying and a heavy advertising push, dog owners in the latter half of the 20th century were wholly convinced that the only logical food to feed Fido was this factory-made kibble.

And that, my fine friends, has continued alllll the way to today. 


The explanation for why we still buy our dogs bags of this highly-processed food is simple — it’s what we’ve been led to believe is appropriate, even healthy, for our pets.  

(Hey, we said it was simple, not logical.) 

Lucky for our canine companions, in recent years we’ve begun to see the value in balanced diets featuring fresh, high-quality ingredients.

One leader in the better food movement? The Farmer’s Dog

By putting quality, freshness, and customization first (and ditching the kind of chemicals that even a high schooler in advanced literature can’t spell) they’re showing dog owners the impact a proper diet can have on your pet’s life… and the negative effects of the old approach, like: 

When each of these poor pups made the switch to real food, their problems subsided.

It’s this belief — that better food makes for better health — that has helped companies like The Farmer’s Dog make waves in the pet food industry. 

By focusing on custom meal plans and fresh ingredients that cater to the specific needs of each dog, they’re helping happy hounds live healthier lives and solve the multitude of problems that highly-processed dog food usually exacerbates. 

It’s a big step forward for the industry and, more importantly, a wake-up call to owners everywhere. 


Gone are the days of canned horse meat and chemical mash-ups created to imitate real food. With companies like The Farmer’s Dog leading the way, we now know just what a difference your dog’s diet can make — which is exactly why it’s so important to make sure it’s fresh, wholesome, and perfect for them. 

A subscription to their food delivery service that’s tailored to your pup’s particular needs starts at around $3 a day. But knowing you’re feeding your dog fresh food (and not Butylated Hydroxyanisole)? Now that’s priceless. 

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