Many of us have been convinced that the "healthy", "natural", "premium" and "recommended by" labels on pet food must mean that the food inside the bag is good for our pets.
Alongside these words are claims of 100% complete and balanced that leave us to assume we are providing the best food for our dogs and cats, feeding the same dry cereal based diets day in and day out.
Yet, most people do not fully appreciate what goes into these pet foods. Pet food manufacturers place images of fresh cut chicken breast, fresh fruits and vegetables and wholesome grains on their packages, yet this is rarely what is actually inside the bag.
What's the truth? Chances are you are feeding a pet food which contains more than one of the ingredients discussed below. The pet food industry has a broad range of unsavoury options when it comes to what substances may be used in pet food and freedom to print enticing pictures, however misleading, on their packaging.
It is only when our pet's health begins to degrade and eventually fail, that most people begin to question why. After all, a healthy body can only be as good as what is put into it.
To promote the best health you can in your companion, read and understand the uses of the common ingredients below, learn who uses them, and make sure to always read your labels!
Top 12 Pet Food Ingredients to Avoid
Corn, Corn Meal, or Corn Gluten Meal
Years ago pet food manufacturers discovered that pets adore the sweet taste of corn. Corn is one of the most heavily subsidized crops in agriculture, making its market price lower than the cost of producing the corn, and therefore an attractive ingredient for pet food.
The gluten in corn is used as an inferior protein source in pet foods. Corn protein in itself is not a complete protein source and must be balanced with animal proteins to create a usable amino acid profile for pets. Corn protein used exclusively results in muscle loss in carnivores. 
The AAFCO definition for corn gluten meal is "The dried residue from corn after the removal of the larger part of the starch and germ, and the separation of the bran by the process employed in the wet milling manufacture of corn starch or syrup, or by enzymatic treatment of the endosperm." 
Unfortunately corn is often abused as the single most abundant ingredient in many pet foods, contributing to the many diseases linked to high carbohydrate diets, including obesity, chronic inflammation, diabetes and cancer.
The quality of the corn is also a problem as many pet foods use low quality corn containing toxins including mycotoxins and mold which cause damage to a pet's liver and kidneys. 
Carnivores were never designed to obtain the majority of their energy requirements from carbohydrates. In fact dogs, cats and ferrets have zero nutritional requirements for carbohydrates or grains. Veterinary text books agree upon this.  Yet the mass of pet foods on the market regularly consist of 50% or higher carbohydrate content.
Eons of evolution have designed carnivores to obtain energy from amino acids (protein) and fatty acids, fat from prey animals through the process of gluconeogenesis.
Other than simple economics there is no reason to challenge the eons of evolution nature has put into place when it comes to feeding carnivores like dogs, cats & ferrets.
When we force such a dramatic change in metabolism and utilize least cost ingredients, adverse effects over the long term become much more likely. The same effects of junk food on humans can be seen in today's companion animals.
Dr. T.J. Dunn D.V.M.- "There is ample proof that today's pet dogs and cats do not thrive on cheap, corn-based pet foods. Dogs and cats are primarily meat eaters; to fill them up with grain-based processed dry foods that barely meet minimum daily nutrient requirements has proven to be a mistake."
Wheat is another ingredient found in abundance in many pet foods. The repetitive and peristent exposure of wheat to pet animals has resulted in allergies and intolerances to wheat and wheat gluten. This is another starchy crop that should be avoided.
Wheat gluten is also used as an inexpensive protein source in pet foods. Wheat gluten contamination was the cause of the massive 2007 Menu Foods pet food recall, which caused a countless numbers of companion animals to suffer from kidney failure, debilitation and death.
Menu Foods manufactured pet food for hundred's of common brands. This ordeal would have been avoided if the pet food companies involved used quality ingredients such as human grade meat rather than lower cost cereal alternatives.
Even responsible manufacturers including those of Acana Dog Food confirm that utilizing grains in pet food is used more as a cost measure than for any health benefits.
Along with corn and wheat, soy is one of the most common allergens in companion animals. Carnivores were never meant to eat soy, it is commonly used in pet food as an inexpensive substitute for meat protein.
As an additional complication is that an estimated 89% of soy and 61% of corn crops are genetically engineered . GMO, genetically modified organisms or foods are shown to adversely affect our pet's as well as our own health.  What's more, the estrogenic properties of soy can wreak havoc on a pet's hormonal system.
Unlike traditional forms of cross breeding, genetic engineering is accomplished through cell invasion.
"The process behind genetically modified food involves a careful re-configuration of genes combining e-coli bacteria, soil bacteria and the cauliflower mosaic virus that causes tumors in plants. They add an antibiotic and then artificially force it into plant cells with a gene invasion technique. All this is so farmers can douse nearly unlimited amounts of Roundup Herbicide on the crops and the plants won’t die." 
Genetic engineering is a big business, when successful the seed is patented and may not be farmed without a license or studied without permission from the parent company. Internal documented studies of GMO crops fed to laboratory animals demonstrated a significant increase in tumor growth, the onset of infertility and decreased life span when compared to those fed the equivalent organic crops.
Powdered Cellulose, Dried Beet Pulp, Rice Hulls
Cellulose or Powdered Cellulose is essentially nothing more than 100% filler. "Powdered cellulose is purified, mechanically disintegrated cellulose prepared by processing alpha cellulose obtained as a pulp from fibrous plant material. In other words, sawdust."  Cellulose is commonly used in attic insulation.
Dried Beet Pulp is the left over residue from the extraction of sugar in the production of table sugar. It is used as a filler. Note that the source of dried beet pulp is from sugar beets, not red beets.
Rice Hulls (or rice husks) are the hard protecting coverings of grains of rice. In addition to protecting rice during the growing season, rice hulls can be put to use as building material, fertilizer, insulation material, or fuel. 
By-Products are left over wastes from human food production. By-Products come in two forms: named and un-named. Examples of named by-products include "chicken by-products" and "pork by-products".
As defined by AAFCO, the Association of American Feed Control Officials, the organization that creates guidelines for livestock feed and pet food, "Chicken by-product meal consists of the ground, rendered, clean parts of the carcass of slaughtered chicken, such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines, exclusive of feathers, except in such amounts as might occur unavoidable in good processing practice."
Un-named by-products include "meat by-products". The AAFCO definition, "Meat by-products consist of the non rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially defatted low-temperature fatty tissue and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth and hooves."
By-products are not classified as meat; in many pet foods the exclusive use of by-products creates a food that does not contain any actual meat content, all to minimize costs while depicting premium or healthy imagery through marketing.
By-products, in many cases, are derived from "4-D" meat sources - defined as food animals that have been rejected for human consumption because they were presented to the meat packing plant as "Dead, Dying, Diseased or Disabled." 
Unlike "chicken fat" (named animal source), un-named "animal fat", as defined by AAFCO - "Animal Fat is obtained from the tissues of mammals and/or poultry in the commercial processes of rendering or extracting. It consists predominantly of glyceride esters of fatty acids and contains no additions of free fatty acids. If an antioxidant is used, the common name or names must be indicated, followed by the words "used as a preservative"."
Again in many cases "animal fat" includes meat sources from the "4-D" class - defined as food animals that have been rejected for human consumption because they were presented to the meat packing plant as "Dead, Dying, Diseased or Disabled." 
"There’s a unique, pungent odor to a new bag of dry pet food — what is the source of that smell? It is most often rendered animal fat, or vegetable fats and oils deemed inedible for humans. For example, used restaurant grease was rendered and routed to pet foods for several years, but a more lucrative market is now in biodiesel fuel production." 
As defined by AAFCO, "Meat Meal consists of the rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices."
What this definition does not mention is the "4-D" class of meat sources may still be legally used in "meat meal". 
Meat and Bone Meal
The rendered product from mammal tissues, including bone, exclusive of blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents, except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices.
Recently many pet food companies and rendering plants have undergone scrutiny over their inclusion of euthanized pets in "meat and bone meal". Ann Martin, in her book, "Food Pets Die For", exposed this revolting practice and the detection of sodium pentobarbital in pet foods, a veterinary drug used in the euthanasia of pet animals.
"At the rendering plant, slaughterhouse material, restaurant and supermarket refuse, dead stock, road kill, and euthanized companion animals are dumped into huge containers. A machine slowly grinds the entire mess. After it is chipped or shredded, it is cooked at temperatures of between 220 degrees F. and 270 degrees F. (104.4 to 132.2 degrees C.) for twenty minutes to one hour. The grease or tallow rises to the top, where it is removed from the mixture. This is the source of animal fat in most pet foods. The remaining material, the raw, is then put into a press where the moisture is squeezed out. We now have meat and bone meal."
Chemical Preservatives: BHA, BHT, Propyl Gallate, Ethoxyquin, Sodium Nitrite/Nitrate and TBHQ
These powerful chemicals are used as preservatives and to prevent rancidization of fats.
BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene) are petroleum derived preservatives used in food and hygeine products. TBHQ (tertiary butylhydroquinone) is another petroleum derived preservative. BHT has been banned from use in baby products in the United States and both BHA and BHT are banned entirely from use in human products in many countries throughout the world. Our pets do not receive the same protection.
Ethoxyquin is used as a food preservative and a pesticide. In pet foods it is typically found in meat and fish based ingredients. Ethoxyquin has been banned from use in human products because it is believed to cause cancer. It is important to note that when a manufacturer obtains an ethoxyquin preserved ingredient from a supplier or if it is added to pet food ingredients prior to food manufacture, the manufacturer is not required to list ethoxyquin on the pet food ingredient panel. The same applies to the other chemical preservatives.
Propyl Gallate is used in foods, cosmetics, hair products, adhesives, and lubricants .
The use of these harsh chemicals are known to cause cancer, organ toxicity and are considered neither inert nor "safe", yet are widely used in pet foods.
Powerful preservatives provide an inexpensive means of providing long product shelf-life. Naturally preserved products may utilize tocopherols (Vitamin E), citric acid and rosemary extract to prevent rancidity.
These natural preservatives are common in truly healthy pet foods as the manufacturers realize that the small additional expense is worth it when it comes to our pets safety.
It is also important to note that pet food manufactuers are not required to list ethoxyquin in their ingredient listings when utilizing "meals" or ingredients obtained from their suppliers that used the chemical to preserve the meals prior to delivery.
Who Uses them?
Table sugar is often used to perk interest in the unsavory concoctions pet food manufacturers make. There is no reason for added sugar to be placed in pet food, other than the reason mentioned.
Like sugar, propylene glycol is used in many pet foods and treats as a flavour enhancer due to its sweet taste. It is also found in many semi-soft or moist pet products and is another questionable ingredient in pet food.
In human uses it is a common ingredient in stick deoderant and make-up as a humectant.
It is interesting to note that propylene gycol is the less toxic chemical sister to ethylene glycol, or "anti-freeze".
Coloured kibble bits are not for the benefit of the dog or cat, they are in fact to make them more appealing to you!
Our pets could care less what colour their food is, this is simply another marketing trick to catch your attention in the meriad of pet food labels.
Artificial colours are synthetic chemical dyes that have no place in pet food. Cases have linked FD & C colours to cancer and other ill health effects .