• Hahnbee Choi, Cert. CN

What's Really In A Milkbone?

Updated: Jan 6

The infamous jam brand Smuckers makes another infamous dog treat... Milk Bones! But what is a jam company doing in the pet food industry?

Smuckers also makes other products and a handful of pet foods & treats, including but not limited to Milkbones.

Milk Bones claim that their treats "clean teeth and freshens breath, [provides] 12 Vitamins and Minerals, [and are] wholesome and tasty. But rather than just taking Milbone's word for it, let's look at what counts: the ingredients.

The first 2 ingredients in these popular treats are "ground whole wheat, [and] wheat flour."

Dogs are facultative carnivores and do not have a biological need for high glycemic carbohydrates in their diet. Kibbles & many treats are loaded with carbs, starches, and sugars that are high on the glycemic index scale because they need these substances to bind the food together and boost protein content without animal sources saving money.

Using sugars as a primary fuel source (glycolysis) feeds metabolic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and obesity. With over 50% of the modern canine population being obese, more high glycemic carbs are not needed in pet foods.

Carbohydrates are a long chain of glucose. When a starchy carb is consumed, it is broken down into glucose, which the body uses for fuel. When the body uses glucose, insulin is released to move the blood sugars (glucose) into the cells to use as energy.

Insulin is found in canines and humans. It is the only hormone that lowers blood pressure (BP) while 8 raises it. Dog's bodies (and humans) are equipped to raise BP when glucose is scared rather than lower when there is an abundance. This is because canines are not programmed to hunt for starches as a fuel source.

Meat meal is the rendered product from mammalian tissues, exclusive of any added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure stomach, and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. There are, unfortunately, not rules or regulations on how the"meat and bone" are obtained. This means that there is no way to know the type of animal(s), quality, or if the meat had been denatured before processing.

When a company states "meat meal" on the label versus "beef meal" or "chicken meal," it gives them the power not to be specific about what particular meats are being added. More often than not, the vaguer the protein is (in this case, no specificity at all), the worse quality it is. Not to say that the meat companies use can never be decent quality... but since large corporations are all about saving money, the animal parts may be sourced from:

  • 4D animals

  • Expired grocery meats

  • Dead zoo animals

  • Roadkill

Meat is marked to be used in the pet industry by denaturing the meat, which marks it "Inedible For Human Consumption." There are several ways to denature meat, from sprinkling charcoal to adding denaturing agents such as crude carbolic acids, cresylic disinfectant, green No.3 food coloring, blue No. 1 & 2, and "other proprietary substances" approved by the FDA. These ingredients are not required to be put on the label as the supplier added it, NOT the treat manufacturer. This is a similar problem with fish meal and artificial antioxidants, which bring us to our next ingredients.

The actual "milk" in a Milkbone thankfully comes from milk. But the benefits of dairy for canines are washed away with the manufacturing process and heat. If the milk Smucker receives is not already pasteurized, the step of cooking the treat definitely will. Pasteurization is a process of heating to kill all bacteria, good or bad. This was supposed to be a temporary solution for less hygienic farms to produce clean milk but shortly became a band-aid to cover poor quality milk. As mass milk production increased, more and more pasteurization was needed to increase profits, and eventually, the public implied that pasteurized milk was safer than raw. It’s often that milk is advertised as a “great source of calcium,” but milk loses around 66% of nutrients when pasteurized (due to carrier proteins) and more when ultra-pasteurized. The milk added into this formula is just more of a marketing ingredient for "MILK Bones" and a binding agent.

Moving onto the 5th ingredient, beef fat. More specifically, "Beef Fat preserved with BHA/BHT."

AAFCO defines animal fat as "obtained from the tissues of mammals, and/or poultry in the commercial process of rendering."

This means that the fat used is extracted from the same intense heat and processing as a meat meal. The high temperatures and pressure add to the oxidation and rancidity of the fat.

Rancid fats have been studied ever since the 1800s. Scientists are constantly looking for ways to attempt to slow oxidation. A common way to do this is the use of artificial antioxidants.

Lipid (fat) oxidation happens through a chain reaction. Fats are several carbon atoms liked together. Initiation is the event that begins the chain reaction by removing an electron from a carbon in the fat. Exposure to oxygen increases the rancidity, aka being stored in air-penetrable bags for months and months.

Rancid fats cause toxic consequences such as:

Fat is essential in any diet. Any fat can go rancid given the right environment and time. This doesn't mean you should stop feeding fat. It just means to be smarter about the quality of fat and storage.

But the generic, low-quality fat added into Milk Bones not only adds to the inflammation added by sugars, starches, and carbohydrates but also oxidizes and goes rancid before it even hits the shelves. Sitting on store shelves for several months or even years only adds to the fat's toxicity.

The BHA & BHT added are used as artificial antioxidants to slow down the oxidation process mentioned above. BHA & BHT are some of the most commonly used artificial antioxidants, along with Ethoxyquin and BHQ. All 4 of these have caused numerous health problems and are very controversial in the human side of nutrition, but people seem to turn a blind eye when added to pet foods. But, BHA and BHT are classified as human carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.

According to Dr. Wendell Belfield, DVM, practicing veterinarian for some 26 years, both BHA and BHT are known to cause liver and kidney dysfunction and are banned in some European countries. He adds that ethoxyquin is suspected of causing cancer and that propylene glycol (a pet food ingredient closely related to anti-freeze) causes the destruction of red blood cells.

The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) states that dry dog food should contain at least 0.3% sodium (salt) and cat foods to have at least 0.2% sodium. This is where the salt divide comes prominently. The salt divide means that any ingredient listed after "salt" makes up less than 1% of the food/treat. This is a more saturated topic when it comes to kibble, as brands will often state that the food is filled with cranberries and blueberries on the label and pictures when it makes up less than 1% of the food.

According to the FDA, "natural flavoring" consists of "The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional."

On the other hand, in the United Kingdom, "natural flavoring" is defined as "A flavoring substance which is obtained, by physical, enzymatic or microbiological processes, from the material of vegetable or animal origin which material is either raw or has been subjected to a process normally used in preparing food for human consumption and to no process other than one normally so used."

When the label says "natural flavors," there is no telling what exactly it is. The main purpose of adding in "natural flavors" is to make the snack more palatable and enhance the aroma. The most popular flavorings added are monosodium glutamate (MSG) and diacetyl. MSG has been linked to weight gain, headaches, flushing, chest pain, nausea, weakness, and more. In animal studies, injecting MSG into rats' brains caused them to become obese.

Diacetyl has been studied for several years to its connection to lung disease. This was a common chemical added to popcorn to give it its buttery flavor and aroma and is linked to severe and irreversible lung damage inhaled in large amounts. Popcorn factory workers that worked all day inhaling this chemical were diagnosed with Popcorn lung and unfortunately passed away. Popcorn lung is also a common problem in people who smoke e-cigarettes and vape.

"For half of the 30-odd years that diacetyl-exposed workers have developed disabling lung disease, obliterative bronchiolitis was unrecognized as an occupational risk."

More or less, the remaining ingredients in Milk Bones are synthetic vitamins and minerals except for "malted barley flour" and "BHA." The claim of providing "12 essential vitamins and minerals" is all derived from synthetics.

The FDA does not review dietary supplements; therefore, not only their effectiveness but their safety of them come to play. Although synthetics may contain one main vitamin or mineral, they tend to lack some things that natural sources don't, such as trace minerals. Trace minerals cannot be found in synthetic due to them being crafted in laboratories. Fabricating synthetics can be awesome for those who lack certain vitamins/minerals, but even too much of a good thing is bad. Not too long ago, Hill's Pet Food's huge recall was made due to toxic amounts of Vitamin D in dog food. Too many of these vital nutrients caused hundreds of dogs to die due to toxicity. Some food had over 70 times the recommended amount of Vitamin D.

It's still unclear how synthetic vitamins and minerals are absorbed and used in the body. Some synthetics may be more easily absorbed, while others may not be bioavailable at all. This causes deficiencies as well as toxicity in pets all over the world. When feeding real fresh foods, the vitamins themselves are not being fed. Still, the whole array of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and co-factors are being put into the body for optimal absorption and use. Without these extra compounds, it is implausible that synthetics would be used the same way in the body as their natural counterpart.

For example, studies show that natural vitamin E is absorbed twice as efficiently as synthetic vitamin E. The uncertainty and dangers of mixing so many synthetics with unknown risks to achieve "balance" cause infestation, such as the Hill's recall and many more.


While Milk Bones seems to be the poster boy for dog treats, there are much healthier options that are an easy swap. I hope you learned something new today & Always Keep Exploring!