Powdered cellulose, also known as powdered plant fiber or wood pulp, is a filler used in some pet foods. It’s added to dry dog food and cat food to help bulk up the product, but it has no nutritional value. So the question is, should I care about seeing powdered cellulose in dog food?
What Is Powdered Cellulose?
Cellulose is found in many plant materials and comes from the ground. It acts as an alternative to fiber-rich ingredients like fruits and vegetables.
Powdered cellulose is a tasteless, odorless, and non-allergenic substance with no nutritional value for dogs. It is typically derived from wood pulp, such as paper or cotton, baking the wood down and removing water to create a dehydrated powder. It is often used in dog food because it’s cheap and provides a large amount of bulk.
The counterargument to this is that powdered cellulose is a good source of insoluble fiber, and it is, still, they should be getting that fiber content from actual food that makes up the dog food, not additives.
The FDA has approved powdered cellulose as safe for human and animal foods, but this does not mean it is healthy or good for your pet!
Is powdered cellulose safe for dogs?
Powdered cellulose is a synthetically derived carbohydrate added to dog food for its low price and bulking qualities. Powdered cellulose also provides no nutritional value to the dog.
Cellulose is an affordable substitute for fiber in your dog’s diet as it is durable, non-toxic, water-soluble, and safe for human consumption.
Is it safe for dogs? Yes, it’s safe.
Is it good for dogs? There’s no real nutritional upside to it.
Is it bad for dogs? No, it’s not bad for them.
Powdered cellulose provides no nutritional value for dogs, only filler to make the food go further. Powdered cellulose is indigestible by dogs, as is other fiber, so it moves through the digestive tract pretty much intact.
As with humans (although to a lesser extent), fiber helps ensure healthy digestion for your dog. It is essential, but your dog should be getting its fiber from fruits and veggies in the dog food, not wood pulp.
Powdered cellulose is not a required part of a balanced diet and should be avoided by all dogs.
In the long run, it’s better for your dog’s health to avoid foods with this filler and opt for ones with more natural ingredients, such as whole meats, vegetables, and grains.
When in doubt about the ingredients on a dog food label, remember that if it sounds weird, it probably is – especially if there are multiple words you can’t pronounce on the ingredient list. Dogs are carnivores, so real meat protein is best for them; avoid foods with carbohydrate fillers like powdered cellulose.
Ideally, you want to feed your pup high-quality wet or dry food that doesn’t contain any artificial ingredients (including powdered cellulose).
Powdered cellulose nutrition
There are no actual nutrition facts for powdered cellulose like you would see on food packaging because, in the end, there is none. It’s only fiber. Raw fiber with no value other than to make dog food (and people’s food, too!) stick together more easily with the convenient side effect of adding bulk to the food.
Is powdered cellulose a positive addition To dog food?
Powdered cellulose added to dog food is not intended to provide nutrients such as protein, vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids.
Powdered cellulose is only there for the filler.
The truth about powdered cellulose
Since we’ve dug in this far, let’s take a closer look at how powdered cellulose is used in places other than dog food. This will give you additional insights into why it is most likely not something you want to see on your dog food label.
Other places you’ll find powdered cellulose:
- Lots of human food such as pizza, bread, ice cream, cheese, various sauces, cereal bars, etc.
- Dog and cat food and other pet foods, as well
- Fishing bait
- Cosmetics – for its anti-caking and anti-absorbency benefits
- Pharmaceuticals – for its “filling” properties, helping medicines to fill out a capsule (and stick together)
I think we were going pretty good with the first two bullet points. Powdered cellulose is used in food – it also makes sense to see it in dog food.
But fish bait?
Cosmetics and pills?
That’s a bit of a stretch for something me or my dog are ingesting as food.
I understand the reasons behind it, but if the intent is to substitute healthy fruit and veggies (high in fiber) with a cheap alternative (powdered cellulose), I will always opt for the fruits/veggies approach.
The fruits and veggie approach ensures you gain some food value from the ingredients, whereas, with powdered cellulose, there is none.
What should I look for on the dog food label?
As the cost of the “normal” ingredients rises, companies find cheaper ingredients to take their place. This is where powdered cellulose comes in. It is a great binding agent and provides extra bulk for dog food.
To find out how much powdered cellulose is in your pet’s food, check out the ingredients list on the packaging. Ingredients are listed by weight, so the ingredients higher on the list are used more often in the product.
Choosing pet food products with ingredients you recognize and can pronounce is best. If you can’t pronounce it, chances are it’s not good for your dog!
Dog food with less filler is likely more expensive because the manufacturer needs to put in extra effort and use higher-quality ingredients.
Bear in mind that cellulose will appear in dog foods labeled as “Natural” or “Organic” since it is really nothing more than tree bark (sawdust?). But that doesn’t mean it should be in your dog’s food.
You are looking for “cellulose” or anything that resembles this or has it as a part of the name. You’ll also see it as “Carboxymyethl cellulose,” “Cellulose gum,” “Microcrystalline cellulose (MCC),” or other terms. These are the “mystery fibers,” and there’s no telling where they came from. I’d prefer to understand the fiber source. Providing this in the ingredient list enables the manufacturer NOT to disclose the actual source of the ingredient itself.
Instead, you may see something like “tomato pomace, “pea fiber,” or “beet pulp.”
These are common ingredients used by many dog food companies to ensure they use known ingredients rather than a mysterious “cellulose” that cannot be tracked back to a specific type of food.
Here are a few ingredient lists from some well-known dog foods to give you an idea of what you may see:
I’d much rather see “dried plain beet pulp” on the ingredient list, as I know where that comes from.
As always, there are two sides to this argument. Beets and peas indicate farm-grown items are added, so the question of pesticides used comes into play. Gets murky fast, and I don’t have an answer for that other than to do your research.
Is powdered cellulose safe to eat?
Powdered cellulose is a natural fiber derived from plants that can be used as a dietary fiber supplement for dogs. It is considered safe. This product also does not provide any nutrients like protein and vitamins found in other additives usually added to pet food.
Is powdered cellulose a positive addition to dog food?
My opinion – I have to say no.
It’s not unsafe or unhealthy but does not provide nutritional benefits.
- The Wall Street Journal
- Food Additives
- Science Direct
Aug 2021 – first published