Those of us who are pet owners love our pets a lot. In fact, most are like me and treat their pets like their kids, with great love, attention and care. And most of us are deeply involved in the feeding and care of our pets, from the flea meds we use on them to the food we feed them and the last thing we want is to poison or sicken our beloved critters. So this post is about just that, the foods you may be buying without thought or with just blind faith that may also be dangerous.
I am sure none of you have forgotten the pet food scare of two years ago where a lot of animals died from eating pet food made with a wheat gluten that had been treated with melamine. Melamine, a chemical used in fertilizers, is commonly added to food in China because it boosts the protein levels of the food and allows the manufacturer to charge more for it. They have no animal welfare laws in China and they still feed this stuff to their own pets, who have no protections and mostly live short lives, unfixed, hardly cared for, sick with any one of many common diseases. They have also had several recent scares with children being sick or dieing from melamine exposure in baby formulas. Here in America we may not be the most alert guard at the gate and our own regulatory laws are way too lax but we, at least, stop serving up poison once we recognize it as such.
My guess is you think the problem has stopped and there is nothing to fear in the foods you feed your pets. Well, I can admit that you probably won’t see any melamine any time soon, but there are plenty of other evil agents you must keep a wary eye open for. These are not all poisonous ingredients, some of them are just downright gross and unhealthy. Like dog or cat hair? Or bone from decomposing carcasses? How about human pain killers? Oh, yes. Be prepared to be surprised.
Luckily for all of us pet lovers, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that all ingredients be listed on pet food labels. However, just reading the labels would not have helped any of us during the melamine poisoning disaster. For one thing, none of us would have recognized melamine for what it was. For another, it would not have been listed as melamine but as “wheat gluten” or “rice protein”, all false but common misnomers perpetrated by the Chinese.
I have put together a list of common ingredients you will find in dog and cat food that your pet should not be eating. Look for very low amounts of this stuff or the absence of them on the label before you buy. If these items are among the very first few ingredients, do not buy the food. There are a great number of dog and cat foods that are made with better ingredients and that do not use these types of fillers. Although they cost a few dollars more, it’s a good idea to pass on the chew toy or the hair brush or the new doggie bed and spend the dollars on good food, don’t you?
1. Salt is often added to pet food to cover up the smell of rancid meat. It is very common for pet food makers to add animal renderings to the canned foods, which can include fat, bone and skin from any number of animals. Most of these renderings are rancid by the time they are processed and salt is used to cover the repulsive odors. Although this alone won’t kill your pet, the salt eventually will. Just like in humans, salt can cause kidney and heart disease as well as high blood pressure in animals. Kidney failure is the number one killer of cats in this country and there is speculation that the high amount of salt in cheap canned foods is a culprit.
2. The pet food industry often adds was is called 4D ingredients. The euphemism “4D” is applied to dead, diseased, disabled or dieing animals, which are often included in the slaughter for use in pet foods. Your pet would not eat diseased or dead animals in the wild; cats and dogs are not scavengers and must eat warm, freshly killed prey. Also, who is keeping track of what diseases these slaughtered animals had? Would you want to feed your pet the meat of an animal that had mad cow or HIV? Disabled animals are not that much of a concern to me because predators will often take advantage of physically handicapped animals and kill them to eat. But what disabled these animals in the first place? If it is disease, we are back to the same concerns.
3. When the labels list stuff like “meat”, “bone”, “liver”, “chicken” or other singular items like this then it means that these singular items have been added to the food. This is a desirable list to find at the head of the ingredients list. However, unfortunately, most of us find the following words: “Animal By Products” or “By Product Meal”. This is not clean, simple meat, the kind of meat you would like to feed your pet. It is composed of necks, intestines, snouts, organs, undeveloped eggs and fetuses, bones and feet parts.
By definition, by-product meal consists of the ground portions of beef, pork, or poultry that is also not the clean meat. By-product meal can be composed of necks, intestines, intestines, snouts, organs, undeveloped eggs, bone, and feet. Keep your eye out for “meat and bone” on the can which can also include decomposing tissue, fat, gristle, guts and small bones ground up as well as non nutritious items like feathers, birds feet, beaks, hooves, claws, just about everything they can sweep up from the slaughterhouse floor and drop into the grinder. In the wild, your pet would remove feathers and fur from their prey and leave the nails, claws, beaks, hooves, snouts, anal canal and neck bones behind. So consider once again what is natural and healthy for your dog or cat and think about it when you’re buying their food. There is nothing worse than putting down your adorable pet years earlier than you had planned.
4. I am familiar with Tetra Sodium Pyrophosphate (TSP) and I’m sure you are, too. In fact, I have done some cleaning with it. It is commonly used in detergents to help remove calcium, saliva and magnesium from clothes where they have been stained or for rust removal from surfaces . It is not wanted in the water supply, however, because it causes eutrophication of water, which, in turn promotes algae growth. This is a current problem with people using detergents loaded with the stuff and then the wash water ends up in the local water resources and promotes algae growth in areas where it is unwanted. Regardless, TSP does have common uses in foodstuffs, both human and animal.
Even though it is known to cause nausea and diarrhea in people, it is often added to chicken nuggets, marshmallows, pudding, crab meat, imitation crab, canned tuna, and soy-based meat alternatives, as a buffering agent, an emulsifier, and a thickening agent. It is often used as a dough conditioner in meat alternatives sold to vegans. It is the active ingredient in Bakewell, a substitute for baking powder’s acid component that was marketed during shortages in World War II. It is also often still used in some common baking powders. In pet foods, it is used as an emulsifier of animal fats. But is it safe? This is up to you to decide since the regulatory agencies meant to overlook our own food is mostly asleep on the job. It is up to you whether you would want your pet to eat this. Look for it on the labels, where it is clearly listed.
5. This is the real kicker. Human painkillers? Doesn’t that seem ridiculous? Yet, according to the ASPCA, acetaminophen has been found in some brands of pet food! Do you realize that aspirin and acetaminophen poisoning is leading cause of sickness and death in cats? I mean, seriously here. But the ASPCA has reported that this has been found in some brands of pet food. A Texas Laboratory, investigating claims of melamine and cyanuric acid poisoning in pet foods found, quite by accident, dangerous levels of acetaminophen as well. By the way, cyanuric acid, which was also found, along with melamine, is a toxic chemical that is used in pool chlorination. Now, take a moment and let that sink in. They were finding THIS STUFF in the food you feed your pets.
Acetaminophen is known to cause swelling of the face and paws, depression, weakness, and difficulty breathing in cats and yet it is found in the food they eat? There was a big alert on this in 2007 but it was mainly overlooked by the media because of the bigger issues surrounding melamine and mad cow. But without action on the part of the government, there is very little to guarantee this is no longer happening. In fact, the amounts that were found in dog food were extremely high and considered dangerous even to the dogs, who can usually tolerate quite a bit of this drug.
Data has shown that if an average-sized cat ingests as little as one extra-strength acetaminophen pain-reliever caplet and is not treated in time, the cat can suffer fatal consequences including a condition called ‘methemoglobinemia,’ which affects the ability of blood cells to deliver oxygen to vital organs, or even liver damage. This issue is huge for me because I have 4 cats and I love them so much I could not imagine my life without them. So what to do?
First of all, keep your eye out for the early signs. The most common effects of acetaminophen poisoning in cats include swelling of the face and paws, depression, weakness and difficulty in breathing. They can also get a condition called ‘cyanosis,’ which is literally when their gums and tongue start turning a muddy color due to the lack of oxygen. And, second, be careful of the types of foods you buy. Although you won’t see acetaminophen listed as an ingredient on labels, the foods that have been found to be culprits so far have been cheaper, off brand labels. We are all aware of the Menu Foods recalls and most of their foods can be considered suspect for this as well, especially the Special Kitty canned foods, where acetaminophen was also found. A particular brand also named by pet owners who had pets die was Pet Pride.
You must have the understanding that the recalls done in 2007 were highly publicized but only partly so. The part they did tell you was that the Chinese loaded the wheat gluten with melamine and this was the culprit. The other half of the story that they did not tell you was that the same foods were also heavily tainted with acetaminophen, which ended up in the food processing on THIS end, in the USA, and some of the deaths were actually due to that.