Petrol Derivatives, Poisons and Preservatives - What's In Your Pet's Food?

Petrol Derivatives, Poisons and Preservatives - What's In Your Pet's Food?


The food we give our pets each day, has far reaching consequences for their health.   And yet, it’s often not until a much-loved pet becomes ill, or a disturbing report appears in the press, that we’re prompted to take a closer look at what we are giving our pets.

The obvious place to head for, if we’re feeding a commercially prepared food, is the 'product description.'  This however, won’t give us the information we want.  It’s the ‘nutritional  additives’ or 'additional information’ part of the label that we're looking for, where the additives used can be found.  This information might  take a little deciphering to begin with, and it's not the most riveting of reads, but learning to analyse a list of additives or ingredients, is well worth the effort when a much-loved pet’s welfare is at stake.

Good, nutritious, healthy and wholesome ingredients are rich in biologically active, essential nutrients, which promote health, happiness and longevity.  Poor quality, ­species inappropriate or unhealthy ingredients on the other hand, predispose pets to illness, the early onset of degenerative diseases, and reduced life expectancy.  As pet owners we get to choose, which is the more likely outcome for our pet.

Simple you might think, picturing nice glossy packaging, cute furry faces smiling from ear to ear, and wonderful sounding words declaring ‘100% natural goodness’, ‘nothing nasty added’ or ‘ best quality, wholesome ingredients.’

The reality as we dig deeper, might come as quite a surprise.

Is Synthetic The New ‘Natural’?

Long lists of amino acids, vitamins, minerals and trace elements on a label look impressive, and it’s easy to assume that they are natural ingredients. This however, is not the case.  Most itemised ‘nutrients’ are in fact synthetic and produced in large manufacturing facilities from chemical raw materials.  They are added one by one to pet foods, as part of a particular producer’s recipe. 

Does it really matter if vitamins, amino acids or minerals are created in a laboratory, or are products of Nature? 

It’s a good question. 

There are those who say it doesn’t, claiming that the synthetic versions are chemically identical to their natural ­counterparts, and therefore have the same effect on pets.  This fails to recognise however, that naturally occurring vitamins, amino acids, minerals and many other nutrients essential for good health, are not found in isolation, but as part of rich biological complexes.  And it is from these that the digestive systems of dogs and cats have learnt over millions of years of evolution, to assimilate the nourishment necessary for good health.

Assembling a collection of additives, however well intentioned, doesn’t come close to replicating this ­extraordinarily sophisticated process.  Nor does it alter the fact that additives are made from inert materials, not by living things.  These are just two of the reasons I believe that nutrients supplied as whole foods and whole food extracts provide health benefits that synthetic additives cannot.

Spotting Synthetics

It’s easy to spot synthetic amino acids, vitamins, minerals and trace elements in a pet food, supplement or treat.   The fact that they are manufactured individually, and added one by one to the mix that makes up a particular product, means that their names will be itemised, usually under the heading ‘ingredients’, ‘nutritional ­additives’, or simply 'additives'.  Many will have long chemical names.

Here is a label from a typical ‘natural’, ‘healthy’ pet food which illustrates this:

Vitamins: Vitamin A; Vitamin D3; Vitamin E; Vitamin C; Biotin (all synthetic).

Amino acids: Taurine; DL Methionine; L-Carnitine; L-Lysine (all synthetic).

Minerals / Trace elements: Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Zinc Oxide, Manganous Oxide, Sulphate Monohydrate, Manganous Sulphate Monohydrate, Cupric Sulphate, Potassium Iodide, Zinc Sulphate Monohydrate, Manganous Sulphate Monohydrate, Ferrous Sulphate Monohydrate, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite (all industrial salts). 
Some manufacturers, instead of providing a full breakdown of all the additives, use the umbrella term ‘added vitamins and minerals’ or '
vitamins and minerals' instead. They are still synthetic.

It is important to note, that pet foods  described as ‘100% natural’, ‘healthy’, ‘holistic’, ‘powered by Nature’, ‘naturally powered’, ‘organic’ ‘premium quality’ ‘no nasty additives’ etc. can still contain additives.

Is Industrial The New ‘Healthy’?

If many food additives are synthetic, where do they come from?  Some rather startling raw materials, treated with powerful processing chemicals is the answer.

Here are a few examples:

  • Vitamins B1, B3, B9 - from coal tar derivatives
  • Vitamin B6 - from petrol derivatives treated with hydrochloric acid and formaldehyde
  • Vitamin B12 -  from cobalamins reacted with cyanide
  • Vitamin C - from hydrogenated sugar treated with acetone
  • Amino acids such as lysine, methionine, threonine, tryptophan and others - by fermentation, ­chemical synthesis or protein extraction, which may involve genetically modified bacteria
  • Minerals - from industrial chemical salts, which in many cases are produced by treating various rocks with strong acids

It’s easy to see how using additives produced in this way, carries the risk of pets being inadvertently poisoned by dangerous chemicals, should anything go wrong.  This has in fact happened on more than one occasion, resulting in the death of many pets (US store pulls Chinese-made dog food after 1,00 deaths2007 pet food recalls).

Another concern, is how healthy can synthetic vitamins, amino acids, minerals or trace elements really be, when toxic materials and chemicals are their source? 


Having identified which additives are synthetic, and gained some idea where they come from, it’s worth considering how safe they are to use.  And this is where things get even more contentious.

EU approved feed additives by definition, are considered ‘safe’ to use in pet foods.  But are they?

Most dogs and cats tend to be fed the same or a similar food each day, often for many years.  And so the effects of any additives present are cumulative. Continued exposure to even small amounts of potentially harmful substances - even if they are of ‘low toxicity’ - can therefore, still cause significant health problems over time.  This is  especially true for cats, sensitive individuals and those rendered more vulnerable to harm by illness or injury. 

Coupled with this, some additives have a much narrower margin of safety than others.  This means the difference between the amount considered safe and that which clearly causes harm is small.  Too much of such an additive in a product can have disastrous consequences for pets.

One guide as to how safe an additive might be, is to note how it is used outside of the pet food industry, as in this label, taken from a typical ‘healthy’, ‘natural’, ‘wholesome’ food:


Vitamin A (synthetic),  Vitamin D3 (synthetic),  Vitamin E (synthetic), Biotin (synthetic).

Copper sulphate (industrial salt - in high concentrations used as herbicide, fungicide and ­pesticide), zinc sulphate monohydrate (industrial salt), manganous sulphate monohydrate (industrial salt), ferrous sulphate monohydrate (industrial salt - in high concentrations used as a moss killer), Calcium iodate anhydrous (industrial salt), sodium selenite (industrial salt).

A handy reference list of additives is useful for this, which is why we are creating one on our website here.

Before moving on, artificial colours and flavours (which includes the notorious propylene glycol) are worth mentioning.  These additives are included in pet foods, supplements and treats to make products appeal more to pet owners and not for the benefit of pets.   As such they are best avoided. 


Synthetic antioxidants, such as ethoxyquinbutylated hydroxyanilose (BHA) and butylated hydrototulene (BHT) are some of the most frequently  talked about additives.

Although less commonly used than they used to be, these preservatives are still added to some pet foods.  Where this is the case they may simply be listed as ‘EU approved’ or ‘EEC permitted antioxidants / preservatives’ or even just 'antioxidants.'

If they are added to raw materials before they are incorporated into pet food, they might not appear on the label at all.  

An alternative to these, is to use pure, natural, ingredients rich in Vitamin E and tocopherols.  These will protect the fats in a product from going rancid, without the risks associated with chemical preservatives or antioxidants.

Other Additives

The additives covered so far, are the main ones to look out for,  but there are others - which appear more frequently and in greater quantity in supplements and treats.  The more common ones to keep an eye out for are:   

  • Cellulose - derived from plant cell walls, which are indigestible to dogs and cats
  • Microcrystalline cellulose - a smaller version of the above
  • Silica and silicon dioxide - a major component of rocks and sand, which is used to ‘bulk up’ products, and goes in one end of dogs and cats, and out the other
  • Titanium oxide - a pigment.
  • Sodium benzoate - a preservative, which can convert to benzene, a known carcinogen.
  • Magnesium stearate or stearic acid - a lubricant which one published study suggested may ­suppress the immune system.

There are also some unethical animal products to avoid, such as chondroitin from inhumanely harvested shark cartilage or battery hens.

Choosing The Path To Health, Happiness And Longevity

And so, armed with this information, what will you chose?

A  diet of poor quality, ­species inappropriate or unhealthy ingredients, which predispose to illness, the early onset degenerative diseases, and a reduced life expectancy?

Or, a diet of good, nutritious, healthy and wholesome, additive-free ingredients, rich in biologically active, essential nutrients, which  promote health, happiness and longevity?

In making a decsion, the key as we have seen, is to:

  1. Look past influential marketing.
  2. Ignore descriptions like ‘100% natural’, ‘only natural ingredients’, ‘healthy, wholesome and nutritious’, ‘holistic’, ­‘organic’, ‘powered by Nature’, ‘naturally powered’, ‘no nasty additives’ etc.
  3. Learn to read labels - focusing on what’s listed under ‘additives’, ‘ nutritional additives’, ‘added vitamins and minerals.’
  4. Choose species appropriate foods, supplements and treats, from reputable suppliers, which are made from premium quality, pure, fresh, natural ingredients with NO additives or GMO’s.
  5. Use nutritional supplements made from the finest quality, pure, natural, additive-free whole foods and whole food extracts to provide the extra vitamins. amino acids, minerals, trace elements and other health-promoting nutrients your pet needs in addition to their normal food.  Vince The Vet® products are perfect for this.
  6. Be unafraid to ask questions - you’re entitled to know exactly what’s in a pet food, supplement or treat meant for your pet.

You can also help other pets by:

  • sharing this information with fellow pet lovers, and dog and cat owning friends
  • supporting companies who produce, high quality, ethical nutritional products for pets

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