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Ingredient Splitting — Deceptive Dog Food Labeling Trick

Mike Sagman  Andrew Dickens


Mike Sagman
Mike Sagman

Mike Sagman


Dr Mike Sagman is the creator of the Dog Food Advisor. He founded the website in 2008, after his unquestioning trust in commercial dog food led to the tragic death of his dog Penny.

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Andrew Dickens
Andrew Dickens

Andrew Dickens


Andrew Dickens is an award-winning writer, editor and broadcaster with 20 years in journalism. He’s created compelling content on film and television, travel, food and drink, physical and mental health, business, sport, technology and politics. And, of course, dog food.

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Updated: April 30, 2024

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Reading Dog Food Label with Ingredient Splitting
Checking the label for ingredient splitting

Ingredient splitting is one of the pet food industry’s most misleading marketing practices.

Of course…

Dog food companies deny any wrongdoing. They claim they’re simply following Federal labeling guidelines.

Yet perceptive shoppers cry foul.

They insist ingredient splitting is a deliberate attempt by pet food companies to mislead consumers… and a deceptive trick designed to make an ingredients list look more attractive to potential buyers.


What Is Ingredient Splitting?

Ingredient splitting is the creative practice of dividing a more abundant (inferior) ingredient into smaller portions of similar items.

It’s a sneaky way to artificially boost a more desirable item (like meat) to a higher spot on the ingredients list… while lowering the ranking of a less desirable item (like rice or corn).

And it’s all completely legal.

Here’s How It Works

Let’s say you have a dog food in which corn and rice are the main ingredients in the recipe.


Because grains are less appealing to a dog food shopper than meat, designers are compelled to lower the positions of non-meat items on the ingredients list.

Keep in mind…

Pet food manufacturers are required by law to arrange each item on every ingredients list in order of its precooking weight.

Check out this example…

Notice that corn and rice rank #1 and #2… before ingredient splitting.


What happens if we “split” the first two items on the list into smaller portions of similar ingredients?

With that goal in mind…

Let’s divide corn into smaller amounts of corn meal and corn flour… and let’s split the rice into smaller portions of brown and white rice.

And like magic

Even though the amount of chicken meal remains unchanged, it’s now been raised to the first position on the ingredients list.

Avoid ‘The First Ingredient’ Trick

Can you see how a dog food company could use ingredient splitting to mislead shoppers?

Here’s a real life example.

Have you ever noticed a dog food package boasting, “meat is the first ingredient”?

Like this…

Chicken is the number one ingredient
What does “#1 ingredient” really mean?

It’s easy for a pet food shopper to misunderstand this claim.

For example…

Do the words, “Chicken is the #1 ingredient” mean chicken is the most plentiful ingredient in the recipe?

Or do they mean that the food’s designer was able to successfully use ingredient splitting to manipulate the order of the list?


Do they mean chicken is the first ingredient because the recipe actually contains a generous amount of chicken meal?

The Bottom Line

Ingredient splitting is neither goodor bad.

Unless a company chooses to use ingredient splitting to mislead consumers.

Bottom line…

Don’t place excessive value on claims that meat is the first ingredient. Keep in mind, ingredients can be manipulated to change their order.

Which is why…

The first 5 ingredients in any recipe tend to provide a much more accurate picture of a pet food’s actual content.

What to Look for?

When searching for ingredient splitting, follow these suggestions:

  1. Ingredients matter. Begin every dog food evaluation with the label. After all, how could any food be magically better than the ingredients that were used to make it?
  2. Don’t overvalue the first ingredient. Ignore scammy claims. Instead, consider the healthiest and most plentiful components at the top of the recipe.
  3. Study the first 5 ingredients to determine the most abundant items in any dog food formula
  4. Look for evidence of ingredient splitting. Be skeptical when you find multiple versions of similar ingredients clustered together near the top of the list. For example, if you find white rice, brown rice and rice flour included in the first 5 items of a recipe, you can be fairly certain the main ingredient in the food is not meat.

Our Best Advice

If you’d like to save time, consider visiting one of our “Best Dog Food” pages below. We’ve already assessed over 5700 recipes to uncover these top-rated dog and puppy foods.

Top Recommendations

The following brands have been selected by The Dog Food Advisor based on our rating criteria… which includes consideration of ingredient splitting.

Final word

The Dog Food Advisor does not accept money, gifts, samples or other incentives in exchange for special consideration in preparing our reviews.

However, we do receive a referral fee from online retailers (like Chewy or Amazon) and from sellers of perishable pet food when readers click over to their websites from ours. This helps cover the cost of operation of our free blog. Thanks for your support.

For more information, please visit our Disclaimer and Disclosure page.

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