When was the last time you read the ingredient panel on your dog’s bag of kibble? Did you stop and think “What are all of these ingredients I cannot pronounce? What are byproducts? Are corn and gluten even safe for my dog?” Or better yet, “How was this all made… are dogs even supposed to be eating this?” I like to put that into perspective by asking what all animals are designed to eat. Rabbits eat veggies, snakes eat mice, but what do dogs eat? “Dog food” is the average response - but what is dog food? How is it made to be dog food? The process of creating kibble is called extrusion, but first let’s touch on each step of the whole process.
The Ingredients Come Together
Before the extrusion process, the raw materials will need to be gathered first. The main raw materials consist of meat, fat, grains and concentrated minerals and vitamins. After these materials arrive at the pet food manufacturer, they are rendered down into a coarse powder (yuck) and all mixed together. Starch, whether rice, potatoes or lentils, are required to make kibble - it acts as the glue that binds all the ingredients together. But did you know, dogs have absolutely NO dietary need for carbs?
A pile of animal parts used at a rendering plant
The Rendering Process
During the rendering process, waste animal tissue, also known as by-products, are turned into “usable” materials used in pet food. Most of this waste animal tissue that is processed comes from slaughterhouses, expired meat from grocery stores, and even restaurant grease. Animals used for pet food can be ones that have died on farms, roadkill or euthanized animals… yikes. Next step to the rendering process is to dry the material to separate the fat and water from the meat solids which are then ground cooked to become meat meal (a very common ingredient in kibble).
The extrusion process
The Extrusion Process
After rendering, wet and dry materials are mixed together to form a dough-like consistency that is put into an expander and uses pressurized hot water or steam to cook all of the ingredients. The dough is extruded through die (specific shaped holes) then cut to form those perfect little balls of kibble. Since extruding is such an aggressive process, all kibble, even brands that use decent quality meat, will have no palatability or nutrients that may have once been beneficial. So, what’s next when this highly extruded dry food has no flavor?
Artificially flavored and colored pellets of kibble
The Finishing Touches
Kibble is spun through a revolving drum which sprays the dried, flavorless pellets with fat, coloring and flavoring. The reasoning for spraying fat is to provide an energy source (since the meat ingredients are extruded at such a high temperature, the healthy source of fat from the meat is now non existent). Adding color to the kibble is to make it appear for appetizing versus a gray color. The reasoning for the flavoring, is well, to attract dogs to the kibble. Dogs can actually become addicted to the fat and carbohydrates in kibble, just like humans can become addicted to sugar.
Meat after flavoring, fat and color has been mixed into slime
Is There a Healthy Kibble?
Unfortunately, even the highest quality of kibble brands are still made up of mostly carbohydrates and the nutrients are not bioavailable. The carbohydrates are used not only as binders to create the compact form of kibble but they act as fillers as well. All carbohydrates break down into sugar and sugar is toxic to dogs as sugar feeds inflammation and cancer. Kibble manufacturers such as Blue Buffalo advertise that carbohydrates are a key source of energy for dogs, yet claim that “wolves have an innate desire for meat, just like dogs”. Both of these statements contradict each other. Wolves and dogs having an innate desire for meat is true - however companies like Blue Buffalo do not offer a wholesome, meat based, biologically appropriate diet... instead they offer over 80 different dry dog food formulas containing inferior ingredients such as potatoes, peas, tapioca starch and tomato pomace. Sure, meat may be the first ingredient, but there is not much of it, and what is the quality of the meat? Blue Buffalo is one of the thousands of dry food manufacturers who claim to have “natural, wholesome ingredients” but would you consider kibble natural and wholesome after it has went through the multi-step extrusion process? This is definitely something to think about when purchasing your next bag of kibble. That’s why I will always recommend a fresh, raw, species-appropriate diet!