The Big Players in Pet Food

kibble moneySoap, battery acid, diapers, home pregnancy tests, dangerous chemicals, chocolate, sneakers, gum and syrupy fruit cocktail; what do they have in common with dog kibble?

Well, on the surface the answer is absolutely nothing; but when you delve a little deeper you’ll see that the connection is there (and upon cursory inspection, a bit odd). The major companies that make dog food primarily make those other products. If you’re me, then that seems a strange leap.

So who are the big players in the pet food industry? Who is it that is making all these bagged kibbles that people like me rail against? There are five big giants that dominate the market, and then a few big guys after them along with several contract manufacture plants. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Let’s start with one of the worst of the worst out there: Colgate-Palmolive*.  What, you ask? The toothpaste-dish soap company? No, you must be mistaken. They aren’t a company dedicated to companion animals and running clean, small kitchens to produce species-appropriate and high quality animal feed… What do they make?

*Link takes you to a horrible article on their website about how your carnivorous dog shouldn’t eat protein, that it is dangerous even. And how dogs might  be in the carnivore family, but hey, they’re really just omnivores at heart, don’t you think? So feed them our garbage.

Hill’s Science Diet, Hill’s Prescription Diet and Nature’s Best

What’s worse? Colgate-Palmolive doesn’t even manufacture the foods themselves. They contract it out to other plants, who process many other foods in the same factory. Contract manufacturers are responsible for buying all the ingredients, so your prescription diet has the same cheap by-products and meals, etc. as whatever cheap-o brands happen to be manufactured at this same plant. Moreover there is no assurance that you’re even getting the ingredients on the label in the proportions promised. The company slapping their label on the food isn’t making the food and they don’t care about the food. They aren’t hand-selecting fresh ingredients like the sellers of the food would have you believe. Some faceless plant is throwing the food together. This faceless plant does not care one iota for the quality of the foods they produce. After all, their name isn’t going on the bag. All they care about is how much of a profit they can make. And you can bet that the minimum wage employees working in those hot, horrible smelling manufacturing plants are not even remotely concerned about proper procedure. This is a sure recipe for the cheapest, most low quality ingredients that can possibly be found anywhere in the world, and that is a guarantee.

Have you ever had the dubious honor of being “prescribed” a Hill’s food for one of your pets? These foods are enormously expensive. They are so outrageously overpriced that I remember being shocked by it as a young woman working in the vet hospital (back when money wasn’t all that precious to me, since Daddy still paid the bills, so if I thought it was ridiculous then, imagine what I think as an adult who actually pays bills). And now with competing holistic and high-protein brands these foods have increased in price to make up for losses. These foods are worse than just expensive. They are expensive GARBAGE. I would never return to a veterinarian that prescribed this food to any patients, because that is not a veterinarian that takes the time to learn anything for him or herself.

You know who funds the veterinary schools in the USA? You guessed it, Hill’s (which is Colgate-Palmolive). And imagine that, the vets prescribe this diet to their clients, having swallowed the horse *cough* that they were fed in school. Sound way too “evil corporation” to you? Maybe you don’t believe that big businesses do these kinds of things? Maybe you don’t believe that institutes of higher education can be so easily bought? Well, you’re going to be surprised when you read on, I’m afraid, because that is exactly what is going on here. There is no intricate conspiracy theories here. This is cut and dried greed. Very simple and nothing more. Greedy companies who understand business (which is why they are huge corporations in the first place. Unfortunately these huge corporations become extremely greedy and don’t care who they step on and hurt in their quest for the bottom line.

You know what you call a veterinary student who graduates in the bottom 10% of the class? A veterinarian (or doctor, take your pick).

Veterinarians learn nothing substantial in school about diet and nutrition. Furthermore they really are taught a broad scope of animals and simply do not have the time to go into depth regarding the specifics for each species of animal they might treat. Therefore you must find the veterinarian that is the star of the class. The one that does her own research and learns more for herself. The one that has a true scientist’s mind and is interested and curious in all things animals (and especially those that she calls ‘patient’. That is the veterinarian you want; the one that says “Hill’s Prescription Diet? We do not prescribe that garbage here. The ingredients are horrible and the nutrition is sub-par. We work to make animals healthy here, not sick”.

The commercial dog food industry is a big one. And truly they are all big “evil” corporations (can I dress up as an “evil corporation” for Halloween? They scare me much more than vampires and mummies (but not more than Zombies). These big companies exist because they manufacture a lot of human products and have a lot of useless stuff left over. These are waste products that would otherwise wind up in the garbage. Many companies have these waste products. What do they do with all the waste? Why, they use the waste products from the manufacturing of foods and products for humans for animal feed. What can be better than that for these big companies? They can spend just a couple bucks turning trash into feed and make a fortune with fancy labels and packaging.

You know those pretty pictures on the dog food bags with chicken, whole eggs, and whole, fresh-looking grains and veggies? Real slabs of muscle meat or fish, maybe even berries adorn the bags. But that is most certainly not what is in the bags, not by a long shot.

So who else is in the dirty business of commercial dog food production? Let’s line the evil corporations up for inspection, shall we? Maybe you’ll find a current or past dog food of choice down there:

Del Monte Foods*: yes, the canned fruits and veggies company. They make dog food. Canine Carry Outs, Gravy Train, Jerky Treats, Kibbles n’ Bits, Meaty Bone, Milk Bone, Milo’s Kitchen, Natural Balance, Nature’s Recipe, Pup-peroni, Snausages, Wagwells

Since Del Monte cans all those fruits and veggies, I suppose they thought to try their hand at canning pet foods. They do a ton of contract manufacturing of canned pet foods. Yum. Might make you look at that canned pineapple a bit differently, eh? The foods that Del Monte slaps a label on are particularly low quality and completely terrible for your pet. Milo’s Kitchen has treats that are currently poisoning pets to death (yay China) and yet a real recall has yet to be issued.

*At the time of this publication Del Monte foods is involved in a nation wide concern over jerky dog treats, ingredients are from China. There isn’t a mandatory recall as of yet, since not enough pets have died. 2013

Mars, Inc: Why yes, the candy bar and chewing gum giant is also in the pet food business. This company, owned by Masterfoods, is the company behind the brands: Banfield veterinary, Cesar, Excel, Goodlife Recipe, Greenies, Kal Kan, Nutro, Ol’ Roy (for WalMart), Pedigree, Royal Canin, Sensible Choice, Waltham

This company produces DNA breed-identification tests that notoriously do not work (you can swab your 100% papered, purebred dog and send in the sample and see that you’ll get a bogus multi-breed result). They are behind the terrible prices and poor medicine of Banfield Veterinary Hospital inside Petsmart big-box stores, they make a food that is responsible for countless doggie deaths in recalls (Ol’ Roy) and that is a food that is particularly horrendous. I’m not sure there is a dog food available that is worse than Ol’ Roy. Their dog breath-freshening biscuit Greenies are dangerous. They have choked many, many medium-t0-small sized dogs to death and yet you still don’t see a solid warning on the box or a change in the product to prevent this horrible thing from happening over and over again (and yes, it is happening with proper pet-parent supervision!)

Nestle-Purina*: they make candy and Alpo, Beneful (especially horrific garbage), Canyon Creek Ranch, Chef Michaels, Dog Chow, Mighty Dog, One, One beyond, ProPlan, Puppy Chow, Veterinary Diets (Prescription)

*Check out the Nestle site yourself and see what they say about pet food. They have a pet-food myth-buster webpage up that actually claims these ingredients are healthy for your dog or cat: Animal digest, by-products, preservatives, Corn, gluten, wheat, carbohydrates for cats (which are obligate carnivores), and food coloring. They go on to say that Organic foods are not healthier than “traditional” foods (how traditional is it, really? Drowning our food in Round-up isn’t exactly an age-old method of food production). They also claim that “Grain-free” diets are not better for dogs and cats, that grains are not highly allergenic for these species which aren’t meant to consume them in any amount, and that wheat is a highly important component in pet feed (no, really. Read it for yourself.)**

The only good thing about Nestle-Purina? They never use contract manufactures. The company owns & manages 13 manufacturing plants and makes its own foods. But when those plants are producing foods as awful as Alpo and Beneful it is hard to believe they care about pet health (that and they are insisting that awful ingredients represent a quality of which they’re proud.)

Proctor & Gamble: they make Olay, Puma shoes, Hugo Boss, and Duracell and many more… they also make: California Naturals, Eukanuba, Evo, HealthWise, Iams, Innova, Karma, Mother Nature, (all Natura foods)

What’s worse? Only some of these foods are manufactured at company-owned plants. See above for the short-version of why contract manufacturing spells trouble for your pet. Some of these foods are extremely expensive to boot.

That’s it for the big five. Let’s see who the other key players are: 

Diamond Pet Foods Inc: This particular company has been associated with multiple, large recalls and deaths related to tainted pet food. They own and/or manufacture several brands including (but not limited to): Canidae, Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover’s Soul, Country Value, Diamond, Diamond Naturals, Diamond Naturals Grain-Free, Kirkland, Natural Balance, Premium Edge, Professional, Solid Gold, Taste of the Wild, Wellness, 4Health

So do you wonder if your expensive grain free “natural” and “premium” food is getting the same exact ingredients as the cheap grocery store brand? Well, you’d be right. If this company is willing to lie about the ingredients and the cleanliness of their plants then what else are they willing to lie about? Ingredient ratios? Nutritional content? We already know they allowed melamine in the gluten to falsely increase protein numbers, which killed hundreds of lovely companion animals whose health was entrusted to this company. Some of their foods are a cheap ticket into the world of “grain-free” but it is a risk.

Simmons Pet Foods Inc: This company is well-known for processing poultry. It is certainly no surprise that they contract manufacture foods for the pet food industry. They have access to all kinds of waste products from human food processing. What a great way to use up their carcasses, bones, cartilage, organs, etc. You ever wonder who makes the knock-off “store-brand” dog foods? Grocery store and big-box store foods like A&P, Petsmart, Kroger, Foodtown Wegman’s and Winn Dixie? Simmon’s would be the guys. They used to be “Menu Foods” until that company killed hundreds of pets with multiple deadly ingredients to include rat poison in their foods. Simmon’s bought Menu in 2004 and the name switch helps everyone forget all about the ugly affair. Simmon’s themselves have had to recall many products since, to include Iams and Eukanuba canned foods because the inner enamel of the cans were flaking off and mixing into the foods.

Other brands that are manufactured by obscure contract manufacturers include (and are certainly not limited to): Blue Buffalo, Burns Pet Health, Life’s Abundance, Drs Foster & Smith, Back to Basics, Solid Gold, Nature’s Logic, Natural Balance, Dad’s, VF, Rachael Ray’s Nutrish, Fromm’s canned foods and more. Many refuse to name their canned food manufacturer, or are not permitted to via contract (and why is that?)

So now you see who is really behind the aisles lined with seemingly endless brands of dog food. They really all come down to just a few big companies. All the ingredients are sourced from the same locations, and several of those locations include high-risk countries, like China.

The pretty photos and catchy tag-lines would have you believe that someone is hand-selecting fresh ingredients and lovingly preparing your pet’s meal in a clean and bright kitchen. Unfortunately that is not even close to what is really happening. All you’re really getting is slick marketing and the same kibble, perhaps in a slightly different flavor, or somewhere else on the range from horrible to poor quality. If you decide to spend $4-6 per pound of kibble you can buy a commercial food that is manufactured in the plant of a small, private and committed dog food company. There are a tiny handful of them out there. Unfortunately you’ll still only be sliding your quality up to mediocre. And for less than the price mentioned you can feed your dog a species-appropriate home made diet for minutes a day.

Remember dog-lovers; there is a difference between surviving and thriving.

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