artificial food dyes and pet food

pet food image source:

pet food image source:

It seems these days that everything will kill us, and there's an argument against nearly every type of consumable, including pet food. We worry about fillers and protein content in our pets' food, and sometimes it can be overwhelming to have to think about one more thing. But we should.

Artificial food dyes are proven sources of health problems for both humans and animals, yet they are prevalent in processed foods. Why? They often make foods appear more appealing to the consumer. Processed foods are much different from the natural foods they are trying to mimic, so color is added to make the foods look more authentic or natural, or even more fun. But do dogs and cats care about the color of their food? I'm not a dog or cat, so I can't say for sure, but I'm guessing they don't.

Adding artificial dyes to pet food is purely for us, the pet owners, because we are the ones making the purchasing decisions. If a pet food claims to be healthy and contain real meat and vegetables, we might expect it to look like it contains meat and vegetables. Meat is red...vegetables are green. So let's add red and green to the kibble to make it look like it contains real ingredients.

The problem? Adding those colors likely has a negative impact on the health of the animal.

I am often asked "what should I feed my pet?" I always take the needs of the individual animal into consideration, and I recommend different things based on those needs. That being said, there are a few highly processed foods that contain artificial dyes that I wouldn't recommend to anyone. I hate to name names, but I'm naming names. One of the worst is Beneful. Let's check out why together. 



Beneful presents itself as a healthy pet food in every way. The name is awesome. It screams "beneficial" and "full of all that is good." Their sub-branding often uses the word "healthy." The packaging is great, too. The design is modern and fairly clean. The white background stands out among the competition and makes us feel like the food is clean and pure, and it gives us the feeling of trust. White is good. And then, just look at all of the real, healthy food pictured on the box. If they show all of those foods on the package, they must be in there, right? The image Beneful projects is nothing but positive, and it works. It sells.

Beneful makes all sorts of food and treats for both dogs and cats, but let's take a peek at Beneful's Healthy Fiesta dog food as an example. Here is the ingredient list, which I pulled from Beneful's Web site: 

Ground yellow corn, chicken by-product meal, corn gluten meal, whole wheat flour, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols (form of Vitamin E), chicken, soy flour, rice flour, water, propylene glycol, sugar, tricalcium phosphate, salt, phosphoric acid, animal digest, calcium phosphate, potassium chloride, dried carrots, sorbic acid (a preservative), dried tomatoes, avocado, calcium propionate (a preservative), choline chloride, L-Lysine monohydrochloride, Vitamin E supplement, zinc sulfate, Yellow 5, ferrous sulfate, Red 40, manganese sulfate, niacin, Blue 2, Vitamin A supplement, calcium carbonate, copper sulfate, Vitamin B-12 supplement, calcium pantothenate, Yellow 6, thiamine mononitrate, garlic oil, pyridoxine hydrochloride, riboflavin supplement, Vitamin D-3 supplement, menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of Vitamin K activity), calcium iodate, folic acid, biotin, sodium selenite.

So that I don't get too far off track, let's forget about the fact that the first ingredient is "ground yellow corn." Let's focus on the dyes (I've highlighted them in bold). We have Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 2, and Yellow 6. 

Yellow 5     Also known as tartrazine or E102, this dye requires a warning label in Europe. It is commonly found in processed foods we humans consume as well as pet food, it is thought to cause neurochemical and behavior effects, including hyperactivity, aggression, and insomnia. It is also linked to asthma, allergies, thyroid tumors, lymphomas, ADHD, and chromosomal damage. 

Red 40     Perhaps the most well-known artificial food dye because of it's prevalence and bad reputation, it is tainted with cancer-causing contaminants. You've probably heard a lot about it because it is linked to ADHD and hyperactivity in children.

Blue 2     Often contains cancer-causing contaminants and may contribute to abnormal cell development, especially in the brain. It is most closely linked to brain tumors. May also cause allergic reactions.

Yellow 6     Has been reported to cause allergies and is linked to hyperactivity in children. Some studies have shown that it has caused adrenal gland and kidney tumors in animals. It is also linked to skin issues, asthma, and chromosomal damage.

Beneful is definitely not the only pet food that contains artificial dyes. 

Whether these dyes are dangerous and how dangerous they are is the subject of scientific research and debate. What no one argues about is the fact that artificial food dyes provide no health benefit whatsoever. 

Very little research has been done about the direct affect of artificial dyes on our pets, but it is better understood than ever before that they aren't good for humans. Still, we consume them, and, still, we feed our pets food that contain them. Who benefits from shielding us from their dangers? The companies who produce these products consider the dyes a primary marketing tool in making their food more attractive to the consumer. They want to keep using them so they can sell more product.

Artificial dyes are of no benefit to our pets. So if Fido and Fluffy don't care what color their food is, aren't we better off reading the labels and choosing foods that don't contain artificial dyes? Our pets are at our mercy, so let's choose wisely for them.  

This graphic is a fantastic look at some of the most common dyes used both in our food and our pets' food: