Ingredient Splitting In The Pet Food Industry

dog food ingredient splitting

The pet food industry wants to know what pet owners want in products. It’s why companies do regular surveys. But if you think this means they really care about you and your dog, think again. Once you learn about this sneaky trick, you’ll be looking even closer at your dog food labels for ingredient splitting. 

First let me tell you why they want to know what you care about.

They Want A Piece Of The Pie

Here’s some stats …

  • 61% of you evaluate the source of protein
  • 42% of you evaluate the amount of protein in the food
  • 73% are concerned about how healthy the food appears
  • 78% are concerned with the nutritional quality of the food
  • 76% consider the ingredients listed on the label

That’s what one large player in the pet food industry found out during a survey of pet owners. But they didn’t go out to get that information because they truly want to improve their food …

In 2019, Americans spent $36.9 billion on pet food. All the pet food manufacturers are competing for a piece of that pie. And they want you to spend it with them. They want to talk your language so they can get your pet food dollars in their pockets.

On the front of the bag they use all the buzzwords to get your attention. 

On the back they list their ingredients. Then they can show you they’re giving you the proteins you want, in the amounts you want. It’s right there at the top of the list after all. 

But how did protein get to the top of the list? Did they add more chicken, beef, lamb or fish?

Heck no!

They’re more creative than that. That’s where they came up with ingredient splitting.

Pet owners have been reading labels for decades. So you know ingredients are listed in order of weight. The ingredient that weighs the most is first. And it ends with the ingredient that weighs the least. So dog food manufacturers have created a devious run-around splitting ingredients.

RELATED: Is protein deficiency hurting your dog?

Let me tell you about dog food ingredient splitting.

How Manufacturers Divide And Deceive

Ingredient splitting divides a low quality ingredient into two or more ingredients. The intention is to artificially raise a meat item to a higher position. And move the inferior ingredients down the list. 

Shuffling inferior ingredients down the list makes them less obvious to savvy consumers. You might wave them off as unimportant because the meat you want is right at the top. 

But further down there are three types of rice. And that may seem okay. Afterall, how much can there be if it’s down there? But if you add them all together … the rice would be at the top!

Call it smoke and mirrors or sleight of hand. It’s meant to trick pet owners. And it does.

It skews the list of ingredients. The ingredients you want to see like chicken, beef, salmon or bison, rise to the top. Now they’re above the cheaper ones like grains, starches and other fillers. But the manufacturer never added a shred of extra meat.

Yes. Manufacturers distort and misrepresent the ingredients listed. Colorful packaging on the front of the bag shows off meat, fruit and vegetables. The things you told manufacturers you want to feed your dogs. The ingredients that are most important to pet owners.

And on the back, this tactic tricks you into believing there’s more meat in a product than there actually is.

RELATED: Is your loving, kind, fluffy dog friend a carnivore or an omnivore?

This trick can be done with almost any ingredient in any bag of pet food! Here’s how they do it …

Ingredient Splitting 101

Let’s imagine I’m producing a new pet food with kangaroo. But when I am done with my recipe I’ve got more peas and lentils in the ingredients than kangaroo. I can’t call it Peas, Lentils and Kangaroo. If I’m selling kangaroo, I want kangaroo to be first in the title on my shiny package. So it needs to be the first ingredient on the label. This is where ingredient splitting comes in. 

Instead of using just peas, I break down them down into 3 categories: 

  • Peas
  • Pea flour
  • Pea protein

This divides the weight of the peas into 3 ingredients. 

I also use two kinds of lentils in my recipe so I can divide them into: 

  • Red lentils
  • Green lentils

That divides the weight of the lentils into 2 ingredients. 

That leaves kangaroo meat on top of the list. 

Very deceiving.

The total amount of the pea variations outweigh the meat. But it’s not called Peas and Kangaroo. The label is Kangaroo and Peas because of this sneaky trick. After all, there are rules about how to name an ingredient. But there are no rules to prevent ingredient splitting!

Some other examples of ingredient splitting are …

  • Corn – corn gluten meal, corn flour, and whole ground corn
  • Rice – whole rice, white rice, brown rice, rice flour and rice bran
  • Potatoes – dried potatoes, potato starch, potato protein and potato flour


The amount of salt in commercial dog foods is a minimum of .3% by Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) standards. It’s estimated the average amount used in commercial dog food is 1%. That means that any ingredient listed on the label after salt must be less than 1% of that food. Sodium chloride may appear on the label instead of salt. It’s the chemical name for salt. Iodized salt is another name used.

Let’s look at some labels. The more aware you are, the better prepared you are to avoid these tricks.

Different But The Same

Each variation of a carbohydrate or grain can be listed separately.

You might see brewers rice, whole grain brown rice and rice bran listed on a label with chicken. They fall under different names in AAFCO nutrient definitions. So the rice needs to be listed as three ingredients. But they’re essentially the same product … rice. 

Dog food makers have the blessing of AAFCO to split the heavier ingredients into separate items on the list. Voila! Chicken moves to the top of the list. And a juicy photo of chicken shines on the front of the package. Same amount of rice. Same amount of chicken. It’s all in the labeling. 

PRO TIPAn ingredient label listing both corn gluten meal and soybean meal is an indication of a food low in animal protein. That’s because these ingredients boost the protein content.

This Lamb and Oatmeal Dinner lists peas and pea protein. These are the same ingredient – peas. Plus ground brown rice, rice bran and rice hulls. They’re all rice. If reduced to two ingredients instead of split into five, they move lamb meal down the list. Here’s what that would look like.

Original List of Ingredients:

  • Rice
  • Peas
  • Lamb meal
  • Oatmeal
  • Pearled barley

New List With Ingredient Splitting:

  • Lamb meal
  • Oatmeal
  • Peas
  • Ground brown rice
  • Pearled barley
  • Pea protein
  • Rice bran
  • Rice hulls

There is another creative way manufacturers split ingredients as well …


Dogs thrive on a meat-based diet. But meat is an expensive ingredient. Manufacturers use cheaper carbohydrates as binders and fillers

And they condition the public to accept these carbohydrate filled kibbles. They’re told these are the best source of food for their dogs. That’s why it’s so deceitful to practice ingredient splitting. This reduces the amount of meat going into dog food even more.

A bag of Dog Food With Farm Raised Beef has beef as the first ingredient. This is beef with 70% water, not beef meal. The next four ingredients are:

  • Whole grain corn
  • Barley
  • Rice
  • Whole grain wheat

At first glance that looks like a nice variety. But it’s really just a lot of carbohydrates. They simply have to use different grains in the recipe and they can split them up … and move them all further down the ingredient list. 


Dogs are more carnivore than omnivore. They have teeth and a digestive system designed to eat meat. Carbohydrates have little place in a dog’s diet. They aren’t built to break down large amounts of starch and grains.

Here we’ve got Lamb and Oats kibble. Lamb meal is already a dry ingredient with about 10% moisture. It’s concentrated so it’s lighter and its weight won’t change much with processing. 

That makes it necessary to use not 3, not 4 or 5, but 6 different carbohydrates in the recipe. 

Like this:

  • Whole grain brown rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Cracked pearled barley
  • Ground white rice
  • Grain sorghum
  • Millet

That way, their individual weights stay below the weight of the lamb meal. Clever, eh? 

RELATED: Why your dog needs more meat and fewer carbohydrates …

And don’t be swayed by claims of grain-free diets. Grains had to be replaced by something … other cheap carbohydrates.

Grain-Free Isn’t Carb-Free

Just because a food is grain-free doesn’t mean there are less carbohydrates in it. Other starches such as peas and potatoes replace the grains as you’ll see here. 

This is a grain-free recipe with turkey, salmon and duck. Potatoes and peas are substitutes for grains. But they’re still carbohydrates. Potatoes and potato flour are the same ingredient. If listed as one ingredient, they’d be higher on the list. Peas and pea flour are also the same ingredient and would rank higher as one ingredient.

RELATED: 4 ways grains are sneaking into your grain free dog food …

Want to add insult to injury? Pet food labels list ingredients before they’re cooked.

There’s Even Less Meat Once It’s Cooked

Manufacturers can mislead consumers in another way. Ingredients like meat contain water when added to the food. Others are added dry. 

AAFCO dog and cat nutrient profiles are expressed on a dry matter basis. Dry matter means there’s no moisture or water in the food. But the Guaranteed Analysis you see on the pet food label reports nutrients on an “as fed” basis. That means it includes the moisture in the food.

Water adds weight to the ingredient. Meat will be heavier than dried meat meal. The water content in meat places it higher up on the label. After processing, the overall water content in kibble is less than 10%. So meat, with a moisture content of 78% when added, will have moisture of less than 10% after processing. That means it loses 68% of its weight. Meat meal has a moisture content of 10% when added as a primary ingredient. It doesn’t lose any weight after processing.

This means that a label listing chicken first and rice second can contain far more rice than chicken. Chicken has a high moisture content and a greater weight. In comparison, the rice is added as a dry product. The consumer is in the dark. He can’t tell whether chicken is the main protein source, or the most plentiful ingredient. Even when it’s listed first on the label.

So it’s buyer beware. Knowing about dog food ingredient splitting makes you better equipped to make informed decisions … until dog food manufacturers come up with another shady practice.

RELATED: Ready to switch to raw? Try these herbs to help make the transition easier for your dog …

5 minutes a day. Healthier Dog.

Get important health plans from vets & experts. It’s natural and it’s free.


Get instant access to easy-to-make and affordable recipes. Plus get new recipes delivered right to your inbox.

Recipe Cards for Making Raw Dog Food

Related Posts