What is the maillard reaction and why is it bad for your dog?

Written by Dr Andrew Miller MRCVSDr Andrew Miller MRCVS is an expert veterinary working in the field for over 10 years after graduating from Bristol University. Andy fact checks and writes for Pure Pet Food while also working as a full time veterinarian. - Our editorial process

What is the maillard reaction?

The Maillard Reaction is a series of chemical reactions that happen when reducing sugars (like lactose) and amino acids are exposed to extreme heat. For example, when food is being baked. These reactions are the process which browns food during cooking and gives it flavour. Imagine the charred bits on a barbeque.

It is the reaction behind many of the tasty treats we humans love, from fried bacon, golden biscuits, to roasted coffee. But for our furry friends, the occasional treat is fine, but food that has gone through this chemical reaction is not ideal for regular consumption.

Why is the maillard reaction bad for your dog?

There are a few reasons why food that has undergone the Maillard Reaction is problematic for your pup.

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The main reasons are the changes to the amino acids in the food and the creation of carcinogens (a substance that promotes the formation of cancer) and other nasty byproducts.

Why the effect on amino acids is bad for your dog

One problem with the Maillard Reaction is that it destroys amino acids.

Out of the 20 amino acids, there are ten which a dog's body is unable to produce itself. These are known as essential amino acids, and your dog needs to get them all from their diet in adequate quantities to remain healthy and to be able to create proteins. These acids are not stored in the body and are constantly metabolised, so they must be replenished from their food.

Proteins built by amino acids are used for maintaining and repairing the body's cells, producing hormones, and maintaining the immune system. When your dog doesn't have all the necessary amino acids, the proteins can't be created, and their body can't sustain itself properly.

The Maillard Reaction effectively destroys amino acids in the food, rendering them useless.

This means that when your dog is eating highly-processed dog biscuits, they are literally unable to absorb all the essential amino acids that they need to live.

The Maillard Reaction can also create links between different protein chains which then makes the food less digestible. In other words, fewer nutrients can be absorbed from the food.

These effects both seriously reduce the nutritional value of the food.

Carcinogens and cancer risks associated with the maillard reaction

Sadly, the rate of cancer in dogs has never been higher, and worse still, it's increasing. Several factors can cause cancer in dogs from their breed to their age, but diet is the most significant influence affecting a dog's risk of developing cancer.

Not only is what you feed your dog important in terms of nutrients, but you also need to carefully consider what processes are used in making their food.

Byproducts from the chemical reactions that take place when dry dog food (brown biscuits/kibble) is baked or extruded can pose carcinogenic risks to dogs. The Maillard Reaction is known to create a carcinogen called Acrylamide.

It's so serious the food standard agency is working to reduce the amount of Acrylamide in our own human food. It is a risk to humans but has been proven to be a more significant risk to our pets.

Highly processed dog food, like dry dog food/brown biscuits/kibble, undergoes the Maillard Reaction due to the intense pressure from extrusion and high heat from baking. Therefore, dry dog food carries an increased level of chemicals like Acrylamide. Regular ingestion of Acrylamide then increases your pet's risk of developing cancer, thus shortening your dog's life.

The links between a dog's diet and cancer

The risks of cancer are so closely linked with diet, there have been numerous studies into the effect of diet on a dog's lifespan, and the control of existing cancer. All of which involve replacing some - or all - of a dry dog food (brown biscuits/kibble) diet with fresh food.

Firstly, it's been found that simply supplementing a dog's dry food with certain fresh vegetables could prevent and slow TCC (a kind of bladder cancer) in Scottish Terriers. This is significant because the bladder is the most commonly affected organ by cancer in canines, and TCC is the most common form of bladder cancer. Plus, Scottish Terriers are some 20 times more likely to develop bladder cancer than other breeds. If supplementing three meals a week with fresh ingredients could reduce the risk of cancer, then imagine the difference if their diet was based on fresh ingredients.

You don't need to imagine. Simply ditching the dry dog food in favour of fresh, natural food without harmful processing is all you have to do to improve your pup's wellbeing and protect them from future health problems.

Other reasons to ditch the dry dog biscuit

Carcinogens aren't the only dangerous byproduct from the Maillard Reaction though. These processed foods are also linked with the development of other health problems, including diabetes and renal failure.

Another nasty byproduct found in highly processed food is "advance glycation end products" or AGEs. AGEs are created when protein or fat are exposed to sugar and combines with it.

Another nasty byproduct found in highly processed food is "advance glycation end products" or AGEs. AGEs are created when protein or fat are exposed to sugar and combines with it.

Naturally, dogs will accumulate AGEs as they age having eaten more and more food that has been cooked at high temperatures. High levels of AGEs cause all kinds of problems, but it is most commonly linked with diabetes.

To avoid these harmful chemicals and ensure your pup is getting all the nutrients they need, you should swap to a healthy alternative. Pure Pet Food is made from fresh, human-grade ingredients so your furry friend will always get the nourishment they need without the nasties. Pure is gently air dried, warm enough to kill any harmful pathogens, but not so hot that it decreases the nutritional value of the food. (So no Maillard Reaction!)