Are Commercial Pet Food Preservatives Dangerous ?

To read more about cooking your pet's meals at home, go here


To learn more about the health issues sometimes associated with store-bought petfoods, go here




Ron Hines DVM PhD  

"I'm a vegetarian or a vegan. Shouldn't my cat and dog be one too ? "

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Why Do Pet Food Companies Add These Products ?

Pet foods that are sold in cans, rely on the sterility of the can to protect them from spoilage in deterioration of the ingredients. But pet foods that are sold dry in bags rely on chemical preservatives to prevent spoilage.

What Are Some Common Pet Food Preservatives ?

One of the ingredients most susceptible to spoilage (oxidation) is fat. Commonly used preservatives in the pet food industry include BHA, BHT, TBHQ, ethoxyquin, propyl gallate, benzoic acid, sodium benzoate, potassium benzoate, sodium nitrate, sodium nitrite, propylene glycol and tocopherols.

If those Preservative Ingredients Are Not Listed On The Bag, Does That Mean The Product Is Free Of Them ?


Even brands marketed as “all natural” and “preservative-free” are likely to contain some of these compounds if any of the ingredients are of less than human supermarket quality. Manufacturers that do not, themselves, add preservatives to their product can lawfully claim their product is “preservative free”. But their suppliers of raw sub-ingredients are under no such obligation. (ref)

What Are Some Of The Potential Dangers Of Food Preservatives ?

The compounds I have mentioned prevent, spoilage, and microorganism growth by interfering with cell metabolism in one way or the other. Your pet’s body cells share many of the processes found in these microorganisms. What one hopes is that the amounts found in pet foods are not enough to damage the body. You can read about their potential to damage the body here. When those compounds are tested by the FDA, the tests are for acute toxicity, not for the long term, chronic effect of eating a small amount of the chemicals day-after-day, year-after-year.

Triad Disease Of Cats

Cats, in particular, are susceptible to chronic inflammatory conditions of their digestive tract and its surrounding organs. With time, this chronic inflammation sometimes progress to cancer. The problem is called triad disease when liver and gall bladder signs predominate; but inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and chronic pancreatitis are probably part of the same inflammatory complex. You can read my article about that problem here and another published one here. Diet and dietary ingredients may well be one cause of this - it is thought to be so in humans. (ref) Cats are also particularly sensitive to benzoic acid and propylene glycol. (ref , ref)

It is true that in most cases, the presence of preservatives at very low levels cause no immediate health problems in your pet. However, there is another issue that pet food companies and the FDA do not address. What is the effect of these chemicals on the life-sustaining microorganisms in your pet’s digestive system? You can read about those important “Back Seat Driver” organisms here.

Spoilage occurs in two ways, natural oxidation of ingredients and bacterial deterioration. Common food preservatives inhibit both these processes. In the process (similar to that of antibiotics) they also kill bacteria needed for good health. (ref)

Physicians have come to realize that a lack of good bacteria allows bad bacteria to prosper. You can read about an increasingly common human disease caused by that problem here. Replacing those lost “good” bacteria (gut flora) helps those patients overcome their illness. (ref) I do not know of any studies that determine the health effects on pets that do not have there complete gut flora. So far, the negative effects have only been studied in simpler life forms (ref) and theorized in humans. You can read about their importance to a healthy immune system here , and here .

What Is The Best Thing To Do ?

The safest thing you can do is purchase the components of a healthy diet you would eat and prepare your pet’s meals at home. (ref)