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What's really in my Bag of Food? Dog Food Ingredient Splitting is so sneaky!

Ingredient Splitting In The Pet Food Industry - what does this mean, and how am I being tricked into thinking I'm choosing the best for my dog?

The pet food industry is a multi BILLION dollar industry. All the pet food manufacturers are competing for a piece of that pie. And they want you to spend it with them. They want to talk your language so they can get your pet food dollars in their pockets.

On the front of the bag they use all the buzzwords to get your attention. And big, sexy pictures of ingredients we understand to be healthy, like vegetables & fruits. If I see a bag of kibble with a glossy image of some lean raw meats, some leafy greens & some blueberries I am going to pick up that bag due to my perceptions that this is a visual summary of the ingredients. Then, I turn the bag over. I love my dogs and want healthy foods for them.

On the back they list their ingredients. Then they can show you they’re giving you the proteins you want, in the amounts you want. It’s right there at the top of the list after all. But how did protein get to the top of the list? Did they add more chicken, beef, lamb or fish?

Heck no! They’re more creative than that. That’s where they came up with ingredient splitting.

Pet owners have been reading labels for decades. So you know ingredients are listed in order of weight. The ingredient that weighs the most is first. And it ends with the ingredient that weighs the least. So dog food manufacturers have created a devious run-around - splitting ingredients.

Let me tell you about dog food ingredient splitting. How Manufacturers divide & deceive!

Ingredient splitting divides a low quality ingredient into two or more ingredients. The intention is to artificially raise a meat item to a higher position. And move the inferior ingredients down the list.

Shuffling inferior ingredients down the list makes them less obvious to savvy consumers. You might wave them off as unimportant because the meat you want is right at the top.

But further down there are three types of rice. And that may seem okay. After-all, how much can there be if it’s down there? But if you add them all together … the rice would be at the top!

Call it smoke and mirrors or sleight of hand. It’s meant to trick pet owners. And it does. It skews the list of ingredients. The ingredients you want to see like chicken, beef, salmon or kangaroo, rise to the top. Now they’re above the cheaper ones like grains, starches and other fillers. But the manufacturer never added a shred of extra meat.

Yes. Manufacturers distort and misrepresent the ingredients listed. Colorful packaging on the front of the bag shows off meat, fruit and vegetables. The things you told manufacturers you want to feed your dogs. The ingredients that are most important to pet owners.

And on the back, this tactic tricks you into believing there’s more meat in a product than there actually is.

This trick can be done with almost any ingredient in any bag of pet food! Here’s how they do it …

Ingredient Splitting 101

Let’s imagine I’m producing a new pet food with kangaroo. But when I am done with my recipe I’ve got more peas and lentils in the ingredients than kangaroo. I can’t call it Peas, Lentils & Kangaroo. If I’m selling kangaroo, I want kangaroo to be first in the title on my shiny package. So it needs to be the first ingredient on the label. This is where ingredient splitting comes in. Instead of using just peas, I break down them down into 3 categories:

  • Peas

  • Pea flour

  • Pea protein

This divides the weight of the peas into 3 ingredients.

I also use two kinds of lentils in my recipe so I can divide them into:

  • Red lentils

  • Green lentils

That divides the weight of the lentils into 2 ingredients.

That leaves kangaroo meat on top of the list. Very deceiving.

The total amount of the pea variations outweigh the meat. But it’s not called Peas & Kangaroo. The label is Kangaroo & Peas because of this sneaky trick. After all, there are rules about how to name an ingredient. But there are no rules to prevent ingredient splitting! Some other examples of ingredient splitting are …

  • Corn – corn gluten meal, corn flour, and whole ground corn

  • Rice – whole rice, white rice, brown rice, rice flour and rice bran

  • Potatoes – dried potatoes, potato starch, potato protein and potato flour

Different But The Same Each variation of a carbohydrate or grain can be listed separately.

You might see brewers rice, whole grain brown rice and rice bran listed on a label with chicken. They fall under different names in AAFCO nutrient definitions. So the rice needs to be listed as three ingredients. But they’re essentially the same product … rice.

Dog food makers have the blessing of AAFCO to split the heavier ingredients into separate items on the list. Voila! Chicken moves to the top of the list. And a juicy photo of chicken shines on the front of the package. Same amount of rice. Same amount of chicken. It’s all in the labeling. This example Lamb & Oatmeal Dinner lists peas & pea protein. These are the same ingredient – peas. Plus ground brown rice, rice bran & rice hulls. They’re all rice. If reduced to two ingredients instead of split into five, they move lamb meal down the list. Here’s what that would look like.

Original List of Ingredients:

  • Rice

  • Peas

  • Lamb meal

  • Oatmeal

  • Pearled barley

New List With Ingredient Splitting:

  • Lamb meal

  • Oatmeal

  • Peas

  • Ground brown rice

  • Pearled barley

  • Pea protein

  • Rice bran

  • Rice hulls

There is another creative way manufacturers split ingredients as well …

Carb-Splitting Dogs thrive on a meat-based diet. But meat is an expensive ingredient. Manufacturers use cheaper carbohydrates as binders and fillers. And they condition the public to accept these carbohydrate filled kibbles. They’re told these are the best source of food for their dogs. That’s why it’s so deceitful to practice ingredient splitting. This reduces the amount of meat going into dog food even more.

An example bag of Dog Food With Farm Raised Beef has beef as the first ingredient. This is beef with 70% water, not beef meal. The next four ingredients are:

  • Whole grain corn

  • Barley

  • Rice

  • Whole grain wheat

At first glance that looks like a nice variety. But it’s really just a lot of carbohydrates. They simply have to use different grains in the recipe and they can split them up … and move them all further down the ingredient list. Dogs are more carnivore than omnivore. They have teeth and a digestive system designed to eat meat. Carbohydrates have little place in a dog’s diet. They aren’t built to break down large amounts of starch and grains.

Grain-Free Isn’t Carb-Free And don’t be swayed by claims of grain-free diets. Grains had to be replaced by something … other cheap carbohydrates.

Just because a food is grain-free doesn’t mean there are less carbohydrates in it. Other starches such as peas and potatoes replace the grains... & increase the Protein count on the Analysis Panel as they are high plant based proteins. And cheaper than animal based proteins!

There is one ingredient in particular that can shed some light on the smoke & mirrors of marketers. And that’s salt.

Why Is Salt Added To Pet food?

Salt is essential for your dog to function normally. In small amounts, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Manufacturers add salt to increase the palatability of pet food since salt is a natural and safe flavouring. Salt is also a natural preservative in pet foods. Salt absorbs excess moisture to prevent the growth of harmful mould and bacteria.

Quoting Dr Marion Nestlé, Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University and Malden Nesheim, Professor of Nutrition Emeritus and Provost Emeritus at Cornell University, in their book Feed Your Pet Right:

“Because most pet foods use similar formulas, our rule of thumb is that any ingredient that follows salt on the list must make up less than 1% of the diet. This has to be true for ingredients like vitamins and trace minerals because only tiny amounts are needed […]. Salt is a convenient marker of quantity.”

What Is The Salt Divider?

The salt divider tells you that anything below the salt on the ingredient list is less than 1% of the food. Ingredients after the salt are in tiny amounts in the product. So with this in mind, you can return to the pet food label and seek out the salt divider.


Here’s an ingredient list example:

Organic chicken, potato, arctic char, chicken fat naturally preserved with mixed tocopherols, sweet potatoes, dried egg product, peas, natural chicken flavour, dried tomato pomace, whole flaxseed, lecithin, potassium chloride, salt, choline chloride, yeast extract, calcium carbonate, dried chicory root (a source of inulin), ferrous sulfate, taurine, zinc oxide, organic duck, alpha tocopherol acetate (a source of vitamin E), apples, organic cranberries, yucca schidigera extract, crab and shrimp meal, New Zealand green mussels, sea cucumber, organic dried blueberries, organic dried pineapple, honey, organic dried rosemary, organic dried parsley, organic dried spearmint, organic carob, organic dried seaweed meal, organic dehydrated alfalfa meal, organic asparagus, organic

green tea extract, organic dried spinach, organic dried broccoli, organic dried carrot, organic dried cauliflower, zinc …


Ten ingredients past salt, after all the vitamins and minerals, is organic cranberries.

So you’ve got a 15kg bag of food with a photo of a cranberry the size of a football on it! And you’re expecting it to contain a decent amount of that ingredient. However, the ingredient panel shows it 10 ingredients past salt. That means less than a sprinkle of a cranberry was actually in that bag … no more than a pinch in almost 120 cups … a 40-day supply of food! Not to mention all those other healthy ingredients below the salt on the list – organic duck, apples, New Zealand green mussels, sea cucumber, blueberries and several nutritious vegetables!

Other Names For Salt

But that’s not all. In case you know about the salt divider, manufacturers have adopted another sneaky trick. They use different names for salt, like sodium chloride or iodized salt, or group it under “vitamins and minerals.” They’ll use the names sea salt, brine, sodium propionate, sodium nitrite, sodium metabisulfite, sodium erythorbate, sodium benzoate or disodium EDTA. Some pet food manufacturers are also using label-friendly “sea salt” or declaring “no added salt.” This makes it difficult to determine exactly where the official salt divide is — for anyone who knows to look for it. And now you have more to look for.

Deceptive Marketing In Pet Food

So if you believed the photos of fresh ingredients on the bag, now you’ve learned another cruel lesson from pet food manufacturers: Marketing overrides the ingredient list.

The promise of cranberries, along with images of blueberries, apples, cuts of meat and fresh vegetables, which can cover most of the bag, is deliberately misleading. The truth is that the amount of those 5 ingredients together would probably equal the size of a single blueberry.

This is the absurb reality. A manufacturer can take a single tiny apple seed and drop it into a 30 lb bag of pet food, and actually list it on the ingredient panel. To add salt to the wound (pun intended) they can splash apples all over the front of the bag. They’ve sold you the illusion that you’re going home with a bag of food full of healthy, delicious apples to feed your dog … and they haven’t broken any rules.

This tactic is highly exploited by manufacturers and their marketers. And it’s nothing new.

Your dog needs certain vegetables, organ meats, herbs, nutraceuticals and other nutrients in his diet. So you have to realize how important it is to pay attention to detail.

Expensive ingredients, essential nutrients, organic ingredients, GMO-free ingredients. These are plastered all over the packages with full-blown visuals, yet they fall 5 to 25 ingredients past the salt divider, meaning there’s barely a trace of them in the food.

So it’s buyer beware. Knowing about dog food ingredient splitting makes you better equipped to make informed decisions … until dog food manufacturers come up with another dodgy practice to sell their products!

The Blog piece is dedicated to my good friend Jill & her new best friend, Merlin. This divine pup has found his new forever home, & his mumma already loves him to bits! Eat well my furry friend.

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