(CATS & DOGS/PET FOOD) How much do we really know about what we’re feeding our pets?

While modern pet product marketing focuses on consumers’ responsibility as pet parents and providing our beloved pets with “all-natural,” “human-grade” food made with the “highest quality ingredients,” we must remember to take food labels with a grain of salt.

It's important to avoid feeding your dog table scraps. Photo Credit: Don Mason, Corbis
Make sure to do your research before believing misleading pet food labels that claim their products are “all natural” and “organic.” Photo Credit: Don Mason, Corbis

The Clean Label Project, a nonprofit focused on health and transparency in consumer product labeling, conducted research on over 900 of the most popular pet food products and tested for 130 industrial and environmental toxins like arsenic (the main ingredient in rat poison), cadmium (found in battery acid), pesticides, and several other contaminants linked to cancer and other fatal diseases.

Purina stands by their argument that Beneful is a high-quality, nutritious meal. Photo credit: http://dailysavings.allyou.com/
Did you know certain pet foods contain harmful ingredients like cadmium, lead, and arsenic? Photo Credit: dailysavings.allyou.com

The results reveal a severe disconnect between what companies are promising their customers versus what consumers are actually paying for.

These pet food ratings show cause for extreme concern, with some foods containing traces of lead 16 times the concentration of lead in Flint, Michigan’s contaminated drinking water.

What’s more, other pet foods contained arsenic at 555 times greater than the maximum contamination level for human drinking water established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

“Companies may be unaware these chemicals are in their products, as many of these tests are not routine or required—but that doesn’t make the presence of these toxins any less dangerous,” says Jackie Bowen, Clean Label Project executive director. “The real question is, now that they do know, what are they going to do about it?”

The Clean Label Project tested the most purchased dog and cat food products (wet and dry), as well as dog and cat treats from 74 brands ranging from more popular, affordable brands like 9 Lives and Kibbles ‘n Bits, to more specialized, premium brands like Blue Buffalo and Orijen. The report lists the top and bottom 10 products for each category (dry dog food, wet dog food, and dog treats, as well as dry cat food, wet cat food, and cat treats), noting overall trends.

The highest ranking pet foods include:

  • Eagle Pack Large and Giant Breeds Natural – dry dog food
  • Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Grain Free, Limited Ingredient Diet Chicken and Sweet Potato Formula in Broth Shreds – wet dog food
  • Full Moon Chicken Strips – dog treats
  • Purina Beyond Simply White Meat Chicken and Whole Oat Recipe – dry cat food
  • Wellness Grain Free Signature Selects Shredded Boneless Chicken and Beef Entree – wet cat food
  • Three Dog Bakery We Pity the Kitties Premium Chicken – cat treats
Some dogs eating Beneful have experienced Internal bleeding, diarrhea, seizures, and liver malfunction. Photo credit: ABC 7 Chicago
Specialized, premium pet food is not always as safe and healthy as you would think. Photo Credit: ABC 7 Chicago

Adversely, Halo Spot’s Stew Wholesome Chicken Recipe (dry dog food), Nulo Grain Free Medal Series Salmon and Chickpea Recipe (wet dog food), Earthborn Holistic Whitefish Meal Recipe (dog treats), Wellness Grain Free Core Kitten Formula (dry cat food), Nulo Grain Free Salmon and Mackerel Recipe (wet cat food), Purina Friskies Party Mix Cheezy Craze Crunch Cheddar, Swiss and Monterey Jack Flavors (cat treats), were among the worst ranked pet foods.

“One of the most important contributors to a pet’s health and wellness is the quality of their food,” says Dr. John Tegzes, veterinarian and certified specialist in toxicology by the American Board of Veterinary Toxicology. “However, little to no attention is being paid by many pet food brands to the toxic metals, pesticides, mycotoxins, antibiotics and BPA/BPS in their ingredients.”

To see every product tested, visit cleanlabelproject.org/petfood. Educate yourself so you can make informed purchasing decisions based on science, rather than marketing terms.


  • Demand better! Sign the Clean Label Project petition demanding transparency in FDA
  • Be a conscious consumer. Research the products you buy on cleanlabelproject.org and share “shopping lists” with friends and family. Also be on the lookout for a Clean Label Project certification emblem on the products you purchase.
  • Speak to your veterinarian if you are concerned about your pets exposure to toxins and contaminants, your veterinarian may run a complete blood count and chemistry panel to assess overall organ function and blood counts.