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Blog: Synthetics: Not what you think

Posted by Ryan Yamka on
Blog: Synthetics: Not what you think | NOBL Foods

Many companies with tout the phrase, “if you read labels, you will pick our food.” But would you? Many companies only want you to focus on their top 5 ingredients but, what about the rest of the ingredients? Some panels can contain 70+ ingredients, and most pet owners never read past the first few. Have you ever stopped to consider what is necessary, what provides benefit, and what does not? For example, some foods contain a stable form of vitamin C known as L-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate just for high heat extrusion or retort. Interesting, considering neither dogs nor cats have a requirement for vitamin C! Some foods even use menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of Vitamin K activity) which is not even approved for dog or cat foods (only approved for poultry).

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could break down an ingredient label to determine why certain ingredients are added?

Many of us have heard that whole foods provide the nutrients necessary for dogs and cats, so you are probably wondering why a food may contain so many ingredients to be complete and balanced. Let’s dive deeper into how pet foods are formulated and why synthetics can play an important role in making a complete and balanced pet food.


The making of kibble involves high heat extrusion with cook temperatures ranging from 176 to 392°F (80 to 200°C). The perceived benefits of high heat extrusion include complete cooking of ingredients for destruction of pathogenic bacteria, denaturing of anti-nutritional factors and palatability (i.e. Mallaird reaction compounds). The problem with extrusion is that certain nutrients are easily degraded and form indigestible compounds from these high temperatures. As a result, it is essential to replace or supplement these nutrients with synthetics for a food to be complete and balanced.

The vitamins most sensitive to high heat extrusion are vitamin A (and beta-carotene), vitamin E, thiamin (B1), niacin (B3), pyridoxine (B6) and folic acid (B9), (Crane et al., 2010; Riaz et al., 2009). This considered, many companies will formulate with the following synthetic vitamins (chemical forms) to compensate for these vitamin losses during processing:


Chemical Forms of Vitamins Commonly Used in Pet Foods

Vitamin A

Vitamin A Supplement and beta-carotene

Vitamin E

Vitamin E Supplement, Vitamin E Adsorbate and Dl-Alpha Tocopherol Acetate

Thiamin (B1)

Thiamin Hydrochloride and Thiamin Mononitrate

Niacin (B3)

Niacin Supplement and Nicotinic Acid

Pyridoxine (B6)

Pyridoxine Hydrochloride

Folic Acid (B9)

Folic Acid



In addition to processing conditions, the ingredient composition of the food can also impact the concentration and bioavailability of other trace nutrients like minerals and amino acids. In general, foods high in meat content are considered to contain more bioavailable sources of minerals than plant-derived foods. Further, these organic forms of minerals in meat are often more or as available than synthetic mineral supplements, while the minerals in plants are typically less available. This applies to trace minerals iron, zinc, copper, and selenium (Wedekind et al., 2010). As a result, many high plant containing foods will formulate with synthetic and/or supplemental minerals to make up the difference as shown below:


Synthetic and Supplemental Minerals Commonly Used in Pet Foods


Ferrous Sulfate, Iron amino acid complex, Iron proteinate, Iron methionine complex, Iron Gluconate, Iron biglycinate


Zinc Oxide, Zinc Sulfate, Zinc amino acid complex, Zinc proteinate, Zinc methionine complex, Zinc Gluconate and Zinc biglycinate


Copper Sulfate, Copper amino acid complex, Copper proteinate, Copper methionine complex, Copper Gluconate, Copper biglycinate


Sodium Selenite, Selenium Yeast, Selenomethionine



Processing conditions and ingredients can both have an impact on the amino acid content of the food and bioavailability. In general, plants are not considered an ideal source of protein because they may contain one or more limiting amino acids. A limiting amino acid is found in short supply in a given food and therefore does not meet a body’s requirement for that amino acid. In other words, limiting amino acids need to be supplemented or use a complementary protein source to make up for the deficit. For grains, the limiting amino acid is lysine. For legumes, the limiting amino acid is methionine. As a result, companies formulating with plant proteins will try to use complementary protein sources to balance the formulas to meet the essential amino acid requirements of dogs and cats versus adding synthetic amino acids.

If a formula cannot be balanced successfully and cost-effectively using the complementary protein concept, formulators will use synthetic crystalline amino acids to balance the food. These synthetic amino acids include and are not limited to: L-arginine, L-Lysine, L-Lysine Monohydrochloride, DL-methionine, L-Threonine, L-Tryptophan, Leucine, L-Cysteine and L-Tyrosine. Additionally, you may see formulas with added L-carnitine or taurine given the recent dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) scare.


In short, it depends on the overall quality and type of food. If it is well formulated and synthetics are responsibly used to balance out nutrient deficiencies as a result of extrusion, then no. Too often pet owners hear the term ‘synthetic’ and automatically assume that synthetic nutrients are bad. However, this isn’t necessarily the case especially if a synthetic nutrient is making up for the loss or lack of an organic one. You should avoid synthetics when they are used in large amounts to make up for the gross imbalance of ingredients used. For example, one should question when a food contains multiple sources of a supplement supplying the same minerals (ex. utilizing both zinc oxide and zinc proteinate)


Brewers Rice, Chicken By-Product Meal, Wheat, Barley, Natural Flavors, Dried Plain Beet Pulp, Chicken Fat, Salt, Fish Oil, Calcium Carbonate, Monocalcium Phosphate, Potassium Chloride, Psyllium Seed Husk, Sodium Silico Aluminate, Fructooligosaccharides, Hydrolyzed Yeast, Taurine, Vitamins [Dl-Alpha Tocopherol Acetate (Source Of Vitamin E), L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (Source Of Vitamin C), Biotin, D-Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin A Acetate, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Niacin Supplement, Folic Acid, Thiamine Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Vitamin B12 Supplement, Riboflavin Supplement, Vitamin D3 Supplement], Dl-Methionine, Choline Chloride, L-Lysine, Marigold Extract (Tagetes Erecta L.), Trace Minerals [Zinc Proteinate, Zinc Oxide, Ferrous Sulfate, Manganese Proteinate, Manganous Oxide, Copper Sulfate, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite, Copper Proteinate], Rosemary Extract, Preserved With Mixed Tocopherols And Citric Acid


Wedekind et al. 2010.  Micronutrients: Minerals and Vitamins. In: Small Animal Clinical Nutrition 5th Edition. Mark Morris Institute.  Topeka, KS. P107 – 148.

Crane et al., 2010.  Commercial Pet Foods.  In: Small Animal Clinical Nutrition 5th Edition. Mark Morris Institute.  Topeka, KS. P 157-190.

Riaz et al., 2009.  Stability of Vitamins During Extrusion.   Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 49: 361-368.

National Research Council (NRC). 2006.  Vitamins.  In: Nutrient Requirements of Dogs and Cats.  National Academies Press.  Washington DC.  P. 193-245

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  • Rudy on

    I am really impressed together with your writing abilities as well as with the structure in your blog.

    Is that this a paid subject matter or did you customize
    it yourself? Either way stay up the nice quality writing, it’s rare to peer a great weblog like
    this one nowadays..
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  • Kathy Hynes on

    Worth reading. Being an ER nurse, I know what chemicals as well as nutritional supplements can and cannot do. I try to feed the dogs the quality I want for myself enjoy the info.

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