Petco Takes the Lead on Banning Artificial Ingredients in Pet Food

by Gabrielle Khalife
Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Policy Name: Petco Nutrition Standards for Dog and Cat Food


United States, Mexico and Puerto Rico

Population:  327M (Worldometers 2018); 131M (Worldometers 2018); 3.6M (Worldometers 2018)


On November 13, 2018, Petco announced that it will no longer be selling pet food and treats with artificial colors, flavors or preservatives, thus becoming the first and only major retailer of pet food to take a stand against artificial ingredients. The US pet store chain will begin removing products that don’t meet its new standards for nutrition in January 2019 and will complete the process by May 2019. Petco states that this change reflects one of the top concerns pet owners have—nutrition.

Progress to date:

According to research conducted by Edelman Intelligence in October 2018, of the 1,300 pet owners surveyed, 87 percent said that food made without artificial ingredients is important to their pet’s health and well-being. Almost all pet owners (95 percent) who responded to the survey said they believed that diet and nutrition was essential to their pets’ overall health and wellness. However, 56 percent said finding healthy products for their pets was confusing, while 47 percent indicated that finding healthy products was difficult.

In addition to removing substandard products from its shelves in 2019, Petco will also launch the Pet Wellness Institute, a coalition of experts — including veterinarians, nutritionists and academic researchers — in the field of  “pet health and wellness” to help the company offer better information, education and services on a wide variety of topics including but not limited to nutrition.

Program/Policy Initiated: January 1, 2019

Food policy category: Diet and Nutrition

Program goals:

  • Short-term: improving health and wellness for the pets we love
  • Long-term: becoming the most trusted source for pet wellness

How it works: According to guidelines provided by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Petco defines artificial colors, flavors and preservatives as:

  • Color from artificial sources: any dye, pigment, or other substance that can impart color to a food that is not derived from a natural source
  • Artificial flavor: any substance, the function of which is to impart flavor, which is not derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products
  • Artificial preservative: chemical substances added to or sprayed on the outside of food to retard spoilage, deterioration, discoloration, or contamination by bacteria and other disease organisms. Does not include preservatives that are derivatives of natural compounds

From Benzaldehyde and FD&C Red No. 3 to methyl anthranilate and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), Petco will stop selling food or treats with artificial colors, flavors or preservatives online or in store by May 2019. See a full list of more than 40 banned ingredients.

Petco is working with some pet food manufacturers to reformulate products in an effort to help them meet these new ingredient standards. According to Nick Konat, Co-Chief Merchandising Officer for Petco, “In cases where an existing brand is unable to update some or all of their products to meet our criteria by May of 2019, we will not carry either specific products or the brand entirely and we’ll help pet parents affected by such a change to safely transition to a new food or brand we believe is healthier for their pet.”

Why it is important:

It’s simple — quality food, devoid of unnecessary, potentially harmful chemicals, leads to healthier and happier pets. Petco has taken the lead in guiding consumers who may not be aware of what ingredients to look for, and is also working closely with pet food producers to reformulate products in order to meet higher quality nutritional standards. Petco’s initiative ensures that our beloved furry friends will receive the proper nutrition they deserve to ensure long and healthy lives.

According to Petco CEO, Ron Coughlin, “Some may question whether this makes good business sense, but putting pets’ health first has always been the right thing to do for Petco.” While natural pet products are a small subset of the US pet market, it is one that is rapidly growing. According to data from Nielsen, the market share for natural pet products has doubled to 6.5 percent between 2013 and 2017. Further, sales of pet food without GMOs have jumped 29 percent within the last year, and sales of pet food without artificial preservatives or colors has increased by 4 percent. Given the increased consumer demand for healthier pet products, putting health first may in fact be good for business.

Evaluation: Petco is responsible for examining products to see if they comply with the new nutrition standards and engaging experts and pet food manufacturers. Products that do not comply will either need to evolve or find a new home.

Learn more:

Point of Contact:



T: 1-(858) 909-4665



T: 1-(888) 824-7257

Similar practices:

According to a 2015 report by the Cornucopia Institute — a public interest group that researches and investigates agricultural and food issues — “the pet food industry is failing its customers as a provider of nutritious, wholesome food for our dogs and cats. As a whole, it could be viewed as a waste disposal vehicle for human food manufacturers, exhibiting disregard for the health of its customers. Cheap substitutes and false health claims seem to be the norm. And, unlike humans, who may vary their diets with each meal, dogs and cats are typically fed the same food on a continuous basis, meal after meal, every day for a lifetime. Cumulative exposure to controversial ingredients becomes even more worrisome.” According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), pet food labels may include “an unqualified claim, either directly or indirectly” and there’s no requirement mandating that this this type of claim to be backed by scientific data, reported Dogs Naturally Magazine. Because of the overall lack of standards, Petco is taking the lead in combating the poor nutrition currently provided by the pet food industry.


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