What is in Your Pet’s Food?

The pictures of meat and vegetables on pet food labels make us think we are providing our dogs and cats with wholesome fresh ingredients.  But what is really in that package?

Is it a meat-based food?

When meat is listed as the first ingredient we probably assume it is a meat-based food.  However, ingredients are listed by weight and fresh meat can be 75% water which makes it the heaviest ingredient.  Purina Beneful lists beef, whole grain corn, barley, rice and whole grain wheat as the first five ingredients.  Because of the water content of the beef, there is actually much more grain than meat in this product.  And if the meat is not identified by species (such as chicken, beef, lamb) it can be from a variety of sources and vary in each production run.

Where does the meat come from?

Although the picture on the package may be a choice piece of meat we would choose for our own meal, the meat in pet food can be unfit for human consumption.  It may include road kill and dead, dying, diseased and disabled animals, known as 4-D meat.  Read about it here.

Euthanasia drug in pet food

Pentobarbital, a drug used to euthanize animals, has been found in pet food. In 2002 the FDA analyzed dry commercial dog food purchased from retail outlets near their Laurel, MD laboratories and found detectable levels of pentobarbital in some of the samples.  In 2017 there was a recall of Evanger’s and Against the Grain canned dog food containing pentobarbital that sickened dogs and resulted in one death.  Read about it here.

Rendered products

The definition of rendering from the National Rendering Association website is, “the cooking and drying of animal coproducts that remain after removing the meat people eat.”  Rendered products in pet food can include the contents from restaurant grease traps, spoiled products from grocery stores, dead animals picked up from farms, animals from zoos, and roadkill.

Aflatoxins and mycotoxins

Aflatoxin is a byproduct of a mold that grows in dry conditions and is found most often in corn, cottonseed, ground nuts and tree nuts.  An article from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) states that mycotoxins contaminate cereal grains worldwide, and their presence in pet food has been a potential health threat to companion animals and has caused several outbreaks of food poisoning in dogs.  The effects of aflatoxins are severe and can lead to death.  An article by Dave Gallup in the Environmental Reporter states,Severe adverse health effects due to ingestion of moldy food are well documented in both humans and animals. Aflatoxin, one of the most well-known fungal toxins in the IAQ community, has been classified as a type 1 carcinogen and is probably the most potent liver carcinogen for humans. In the 1960’s, over 100,000 turkeys were killed in England due to aflatoxin contaminated peanuts.”

In 2015 a class action lawsuit was filed against Nestle Purina Petcare Company alleging that its Beneful dog food includes toxic substances which are capable of killing dogs.  In an article published in Toxipedia, Maria Mergel states, “Mycotoxins are secondary metabolites that are produced by microfungi. Mycotoxins are prevalent in grains; therefore, it is not surprising that they could end up in grain-rich dog food, like Purina’s Beneful.”

And yet, in spite of the well documented risk of mycotoxins to humans and animals, the FDA has established a maximum tolerable amount of aflatoxin in pet food. 

Dogs and cats need fresh food to thrive

It is time to reevaluate the feeding of our beloved pets.  The commercial pet food industry has done an outstanding job of convincing us that we are incapable of preparing a nutritious homemade meal for them.  We have been conditioned to think that food must come from a bag or can and never varied.  But why not just feed them real food?  We do it for ourselves and our families.


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