Ingredient Splitting — The Dog Food Industry’s Dirty Little Secret


Ingredient splitting
might be one of the pet food industry’s most controversial practices.

Dog food companies deny any intentional wrongdoing. They claim they’re only reporting a product’s contents — and simply following government guidelines.

Yet others cry foul. They insist ingredient splitting is nothing less than a deliberate attempt to mislead consumers — a common trick used by less ethical dog food companies to make an ingredients list look more attractive to buyers than it really is.

So, who’s telling the truth?

What Is Ingredient Splitting?

Ingredient splitting is the deceptive practice of subdividing a more abundant — yet inferior quality — ingredient into smaller portions.

This dubious tactic can be used to artificially raise a meat item to a higher position on an ingredients list — and lower an inferior one.

How Does It Work?

Say you have a dog food in which corn is the dominant ingredient. Since corn is less nutritious to a dog than meat, it’s considered a lower quality item.

Remember, pet food manufacturers are required to arrange each item on every ingredients list in order of its precooking weight.

Now, take a look at the “Before Splitting” side of the table below.

Ingredient Splitting... Before and After

Notice how corn, with its 30% pre-cooking weight, gets a first place position. Second-ranked rice makes up the next 20%, thus leaving chicken meal (a quality item) to occupy the list’s #3 spot.

Of course, dog food companies want their products to “look” like they’re meat-based. So, they’re well aware an ingredients list like this isn’t likely to impress a label-reading shopper.

Turning Straw Into Gold

Now, what would happen to that same list if you divide a few of the more abundant ingredients into smaller portions?

Please look at the right side of the table labeled “After Splitting”.

Now, instead of using 30% corn, a pet food designer could simply split corn into corn meal and corn flour — at just 15% each.

And replace the original rice with other rice ingredients.

That would move the corn and rice components further down the list. And so, even though the amount of chicken meal remains unchanged, it’s now magically the first-ranked ingredient.

Don’t Overvalue
the First Ingredient

If you’ve ever been told to only look for dog foods where meat is the first ingredient, please remember the deceptive power of ingredient splitting.

Being able to divide a dominant ingredient into smaller portions permits any pet food company to trick you into believing there’s more meat in a product than there actually is.

So, the next time you see a meat item as the first ingredient on the list — don’t be too impressed.

Or you could become the next victim of the pet food industry’s ability to re-order its ingredients list to suit its marketing strategy.

Be sure to check our ratings and reviews for an unbiased opinion regarding the actual meat content of your pet’s food.

  • Anna Smaya

    You can’t deny if the ingredients list only one grain type or if it lists many grain types that combined still make a larger portion of grain in a food than a meat, it IS misleading. Not trying to say the company is being ‘evil’, but when we are taught the ingredients are listed from most to least and see the desired (meat) ingredient listed first verses an undesired (grain) listed first, the average Joe consumer will buy the first one.

  • Ines Aponte Duchesne

    Hi, I have been trying to find out the quality analysis for the brand Simply Right Exceed Dry Food, Salmon and Pea recipe, but only found the chicken and lamb recipies. Is there a good analysis for that recipe? Thanks.

  • bittyflea

    Disagree with the comment that this article is “educating people” when it is clearly biased, as Melody says. Look at all the negative terminology: “The Pet Food Industry’s Little Secret”, “best kept secrets”, “divide a dominant ingredient into smaller portions permits any pet food manufacturer to trick you”, “don’t be too impressed.” etc. All of the above could have been worded different to contain the same information but without the anti-pet-food-industry slant. This isn’t reporting of facts, this is a biased opinion based piece of writing that could be called an editorial, but it is not educational, it is geared towards raising an emotional response in the reader so he or she will agree with the writer’s view-point.

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  • Jaime Gonzales

    This is why I feed my dog My Perfect Pet Food. They are 100% transparent on their ingredients without all the fancy names!

  • BryanV21

    Kind of misleading, so allow me to clarify…

    Blue Buffalo does not prevent seizures, it’s that type of food that’s doing the trick. That type of food could come from a number of different manufacturers.

    BTW, not saying you meant to mislead, just wanted to clarify for others.

  • BryanV21

    That’s exactly what this article is doing… educating people on how to properly read ingredient lists. It’s not accusing the pet food industry of a giant conspiracy.

  • Divenany

    This is why I use Blue Buffalo. . . and it keeps my dog from having seizures.  My vet told me about it.

  • Storm’s Mom

    To clarify, Orijen sources 80% of its protein from meat sources, it doesn’t have 80% protein total for the food. Total protein is 42% on a dry matter basis, 80% of which is from meat.

  • guest

    Have u ever tried Orijon, its no grain 80% protein 20% fruit and veggies, but no grain ( rice, corn ect )

  • greytaunt

    Have you considered switching to a raw diet?

  • EvesHumanMom

    Avoderm grain-free?  Natural Balance limited ingredients?

  • Rebecca


    Why don’t you try the Honest Kitchen Preference. It is grain free, has different veggies and you add your own meat. Dry processed food isn’t good for dogs. It lacks enzymes. The raw meat and veggies are full of those enzymes. Dogs would live a lot longer if they were fed foods with enzymes instead of the dry processed foods.  I don’t just feed the H.K. food. I have 10 dogs and only 3 are small dogs.  I have to feed dry food, but mine get the H.K. Preference 2-3 times a week and they get raw meaty bones from the local slaughterhouse. 

  • Hound Dog Mom

    Hi Lynn –

    My suggestions would be:
    -Nature’s Variety Limited Ingredient Turkey
    -Nature’s Variety Limited Ingredient Lamb
    -The Great Life Rx Grain-Free Duck
    -The Great Life Rx Grain-Free Bison
    -Addiction Salmon Bleu
    -Addiction Viva La Venison

  • Lynn

    Thanks for the replies.  I am having such a hard time finding a quality kibble for my one dog that was diagnosed with Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis back in February.  Her tummy is sensitive so she needs to be on a single protein food.  Grain free and protein 30% or under.  Right now she is not liking much of any kibble.  I have tried Acana, Fromm, Pure Vita, Dog Lovers Gold….and there have been more.  Any suggestions from anyone? 

  • Rebecca

    I use Honest Kitchen Preference food. It is dried veggies and you add your own meat.

  • BryanV21

    It looks to me like that is indeed an example of ingredient splitting. Blue Buffalo, in my opinion, isn’t a premium food anyway, so it’s not a surprise to see this. Not that it’s a poor food, as I still think turkey is the main ingredient, although non-meat still makes up the majority of it (like any kibble, to be honest, as most kibble doesn’t get above like 35% meat).

    So overall it’s nothing to worry about, as this article is geared more towards controversial ingredients like corn being pushed lower down the ingredient list, to make it look like the food is more meat-based.

  • BennyandJoon

    The peas would follow ingredient splitting to try and hide how much peas are really in the food. The Deboned turkey and turkey meal are 2 different ingredients and have to be listed that way

  • Lynn

    Just bought a bag of Blue Buffalo Basics Grain free turkey and potato. Would the following be a form of ingredient splitting?
    Deboned Turkey, Turkey Meal, Potatoes, Pea Starch, Peas, Pea Fiber,  
    I was concerned about the pea ingredients. 

  • Kenneth Frazier

    I checked with and decided to feed my boy Blue Buffalo Widerness , The Salmon .. Grain Free … Looks like MOST of the brands that you get at the supermarket are NOT fit to take home … 

  • BBBoxerMom

    Awesome! I’m so glad to know my fur babies are getting the good stuff! Thanks for your reviews!!

  • Mike Sagman

    Hi Mrjaybu,

    There are many brands that use “Ultra” in their names.

    Try using the search box located at the top of the upper left column on every page . Then, enter the word “ultra” to get a list of all the foods reviewed here that include that term in their names.

    Hope this helps.

  • Rskuhn

     Mrjaybu – Which Ultra are you interested in?  Nutro Ultra or Natural Balance Ultra?   They are both reviewed on this website. 

  • Sheila

    Another great job of educating people. Thanks, Mike.

  • Mrjaybu

    Ultra dog foods are not on your list…why?

  • Kathy93

    I am so thankful for “The Dog Food Advisor”! They’ve enabled me to better feed a VERY important member of my family!

  • Alice Marino


  • Beetlejuice

    Meat Meal is highly concentrated meat that is dehydrated, containing 5%
    moisture and 70% protein. Meat is wet, containing 70% water and only 12%
    protein. Meat Meal contains a lot of protein where as just meat doesn’t.

  • Kate

    “Chicken meal” is the same as “chicken,” but with the water removed.  It is actually far more concentrated protein per unit weight than “chicken.”  

  • Brenda

    So what the heck does one do?? Guess have to make your own dog food and that would end the worry.

  • Suz

    This is exactly why I make food for my dogs. Also, how is “chicken meal” actually meat? It should say chicken, beef, or whatever meat. When I make my dog food with fresh, human grade and organic ingredients, I know EXACTLY what they are getting. They have been healthier and have had better weight control since they no longer eat commercial food.

  • Julina

    Given everything I know about the human food industry, I shouldn’t be surprised by the pet food industry’s dishonest practices. Thanks for thi article.

  • Colette

    Wow, what an eye opener for sure. I am finding your articles very informative and glad I found your site! Thanks Mike! Now I know I am paying way more than I probably should be for my dog’s kibble…just when I thought I was paying for the protein…Canidae All Life Stage Formula.

  • Michelle

    Hi guys, i forgot to mention that i am using Kirkland’s chicken/rice formula.The bulk of the ingredients are: chicken,chicken meal,whole brown rice,cracked pearled barley,and chicken fat.It is a little light in meat, but with the money i save,i can afford all the human grade meat/eggs that i add to the kibble,which has much better nutrients than ANY kibble.

  • Gordon

    Hi Mike – Well it shows you’ve been doing dog nutrition research a lot longer that I have. It just goes to show, just how many aspects of the overall subject of nutrition in general, there are.

  • Mike Sagman

    Hi Gordon and Michelle… There are many more ways to accomplish this same effect. And most kibble manufacturers do this every day. For example, instead of listing 3 different kinds of rice, you could accomplish the same affect by listing 3 different cereal grains… wheat, corn and rice. This would move a smaller meat-based ingredient from position #4 all the way up to position #1. That’s why I place so much emphasis on the protein and fat percentages published in the Guaranteed Analysis panel. That plus looking for plant-based protein boosters can reveal a lot about a product’s real meat content.

  • Gordon

    Hi Michelle – You posted your comment at exactly the same minute I did. Why don’t you try BARF raw food or similar grade? Read all the comments under BARF to getter a better understanding of such dog foods.

  • Gordon

    Hmmm, ingredients splitting even occurs in some processed human foods. I agree with lisa. This is a great article.

  • Michelle

    Hi Mike, great article! This is one of the reasons that I add protein to my dogs diet. They love scrambled eggs,sardines,tuna,turkey,beef. The first three are really cheap,but excellent forms of protein, and i know for sure that they are human grade because i buy them at my local Aldi’s supermarket.I use them as a topper for kibble.Real food provides 100% better nutrition than ANY extruded dry nugget.

  • lisa

    Great article! Thanks for the eye-opener.

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