How Pet Food is Made
Pet food for dogs and cats comes in a variety of forms. As a pet owner you’re likely familiar with the most common types, wet and dry foods, which are typically nutritionally complete and have all the nutrients your pet needs in properly balanced proportions. These days, raw foods and baked foods -- also typically nutritionally complete -- are becoming popular too.
Every pet food manufacturer has its own recipes and processes, but the core of the food production process is the same across the board. Pet food manufacturers are required to adhere to strict safety standards and regulations at the same time as providing quality ingredients and a precise balance of nutrients. Let’s take a closer look at how pet food is made.
Wet food comes in a can, pouch, or tray and is made by mixing the ingredients together and cooking them within the container. The food is cooked at high temperatures and sealed so it remains sterile within the container for the duration of the shelf life. Wet food has a much higher moisture content than dry food (around 70 to 80 percent).
The process for making wet food begins with grinding the protein sources, which are mostly animal derivatives or by-products (parts of the animal excluded from the human food industry, such as liver, kidney, meals, etc.). Protein sources may also include ingredients legally defined as meat, such as muscle meat.
The protein sources arrive at the factory in a fresh or frozen state and are prepared for mixing; then a gravy mix of oils, vitamins, minerals, grains, or vegetables are added in. Water is also added to facilitate processing and give the food its final form and texture. Once the ingredients for a specific recipe are mixed, they enter the can, pouch, or tray and are cooked and sealed.
Dry food contains much of the same ingredients as wet food, but instead of adding in a gravy mixture and sealing the product in a container, the mixture is pulverized into a dough, which is then baked or extruded (kibble).
The process for making dry food begins with the protein sources being dried to create a dry meal. Other ingredients, like dried grains and vegetables, are milled or ground prior to mixing, and then oils, fats, vitamins, and minerals are added. Liquid is added as needed to help form the mixture into a dough. When dry food is cooked it loses much of its moisture, typically ending up with only 10 to 12 percent.
The dough enters a machine known as an extruder, which cooks the dough under high pressure. At the end of the extruder, the dough is cut into kibble form and the kibbles are dried in an oven to remove excess moisture. (Reducing the moisture content is an important step in maintaining the freshness of dry food and preventing spoilage.)
After drying and cooling, kibbles are coated with a mix of flavors (to enhance the taste), vitamins and minerals (to increase nutrition), and preservatives (to prevent spoilage).
For baked food, the dough is rolled out and cut into shapes. Then it is baked in an oven -- much like dog biscuits. Baked foods are cooked at lower pressures than extruded foods, which is thought to preserve more nutrients.
Note: When dry food is fed, your pet will need more fresh drinking water than average, but water should be available to all pets no matter what type of food they eat.
Raw food is uncooked, minimally-processed food that contains a high degree of nutrients and enzymes due to its lack of being cooked. It is most often available in frozen or freeze-dried form and is made safe for consumption through freeze-drying or High-Pressure Processing (HPP).
Raw food doesn’t go through the denaturation process that traditional dry food goes through and is considered, by some, to be more easily digested than kibble and other cooked foods. It’s formulated with fresh cuts of high-quality meat and organs from human-grade, USDA-regulated plants. Since food from these plants must pass human consumption standards, this is a higher bar than is held for many other pet foods.
A Nutritionally Complete Diet
No matter what kind of pet food you choose to go with, what matters most is that your pet is getting a complete, well-balanced diet with high-quality food along with plenty of fresh water. Just like people, different pets do better with different types of food and ingredients, so be sure to try out a variety of options to find out what seems to make your furry friend feel the best.
The Global Alliance of Pet Food Associations (GAPFA):
Pet Food Institute: