In this second article, I’m going to talk about something important when working with fresh meat to produce any type of dry food: additives.

This is a very controversial field because lovers of natural diets use additives as an argument to ‘demonise’ dry food.

Additives are substances that are added to dry food for many reasons. Some contribute nutritional value to the food, as in the case of vitamins. Others, such as flavouring or colouring, don’t add nutritional value but do make pellets more palatable. And others, such as thickeners, are necessary in the production process of pellets. But there’s no question about the importance of additives such as preservatives, acidulants and antioxidants, which prevent dry food from undergoing processes that could affect or even endanger our pet’s health. Today, we’re going to focus on the latter.

Additives used to preserve dry food can be natural (such as citric acid) or synthetic. Obviously, synthetic ones are much cheaper to obtain in the laboratory and they’re also much more stable than natural ones, so their use is very widespread.

The European Union has a Register of Feed Additives, which it renews every so often.

Here’s the link if you’d like to look at it:

What does the use of one or the other depend on? Well, it depends on many factors, such as the technology available at the dry food factory, the quality of the raw materials used, and – above all – the end product.

Let me explain:

-Dry food (the pellet that we all know) has a moisture level of between 7% and 14%

-Semi-moist food has a moisture level of between 25% and 40%

This means that the preservation of semi-moist food is going to be much more complicated than that of dry food, as moisture fosters the growth of microorganisms that can harm the food, and therefore our pet. Therefore, more or stronger additives will be needed than for dry food.

As for fresh meat in dry food, the higher the percentage, the higher the moisture level of the end product (although it’s not the only factor that gives moisture to the product). This means, in principle, that the more fresh meat there is, the greater the number of additives required by the dry food (in the third article, I’ll focus on this paragraph to clarify the concept, as it’s not always the case).

When talking about dry food, even if we use fresh meat (as long as we conform to the moisture levels described above), we can significantly restrict the use of additives, or even use natural additives, which obviously are much more harmless to animals than synthetic ones. The problem is that there are “dry” foods that have a higher moisture level in the end product than the ones mentioned above, and need to use a greater number of additives to stabilise the food.

So, is it harmful for animals to ingest these types of additives? As with everything, it depends on the dose to which they’re exposed. Substances like these at a minimum dose are totally harmless to animals, but prolonged exposure and a slightly higher level than usual can be harmful.

One example is with the synthetic additives BHA and BHT. These are permitted by the EU and were widely used in previous decades, but are now in disuse due to supposedly having carcinogenic factors. In other words, sporadic consumption isn’t going to lead to cancer, but repeated consumption (for example, daily) could be an important factor towards causing cancer.

Another widely-used additive is sorbitol, which is highly toxic to dogs and, fortunately, is hardly used in the pet food industry.

With everything I’ve mentioned above, I’d like to make you understand one thing… Your dog consuming additives doesn’t mean they are going to get sick, or that you’re doing things wrong. Additives are essential and totally beneficial to the food industry. The problem isn’t in the use of additives, but in the necessary dose to maintain the properties of dry food. So, the lower the moisture level of dry food, the less the additives required, and we won’t be exposing our animal to substances which in the long run, and in significant quantities, could be a problem.