Over the next few weeks we will go in depth into the issues of what’s in commercial dog foods, specifically relating it to pet food contamination in the past, present, and future. We will discuss the contaminants, why they occur, their effects, and what is being done to prevent them. We will also discuss how to use a dog food label to evaluate the foods and the companies that make them. This will help you to make the best choice for your dog’s nutrition, while minimizing the possibilities of feeding a contaminated food.
What’s In Your Dog’s Food?
What are you feeding your dog? If you’ve already made the commitment to feed your dog homemade dog food, then you know the answer to this question. If you haven’t yet started cooking for your dog, then the answer is a very complicated one. From the quality and balance of ingredients to the presence of contaminants, both accidental and intended, what goes into your dog’s food has a direct effect on their health and quality of life. There is a lot of truth to the saying, “you are what you eat”. This goes for our dogs as well.
While evaluating the ingredients in your dog’s food is one of the most important decisions you can make related to your dog’s heath, sometimes it’s what’s not on the label that can have the biggest impact.
Contamination: A Brief History
In the past two years there have been dog food and treat recalls, of many products, from a virtual who’s who of well known pet food companies. These include Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Science Diet, Purina, Pedigree, Eukanuba, Iams, Natura, Nutrisca, OC, Bravo, Nylabone, Pro-Pet, J.J. Fuds and many more. While some of these are ongoing today, the history of pet food contamination can give us insight into the widespread problems within the $20 billion pet food industry.
Before 2007, except for a few lightly publicized events, the idea of pet food contamination, recalls, and the related dangers were very limited in scope. Almost every occurrence of pet food contamination had been related to the by-products of the manufacturing process. Not only the manufacturing process of the foods themselves, but many of the ingredients that make up the final product. These included heavy metals and the biggest culprit, Dioxin, and it’s related toxins, PCBs. These are classified as Class 1 “known human carcinogens”. Along with being known as a cancer causing agent, they have also been linked to developmental delays in humans. Since our dog’s bodies are very similar to ours, almost any compound that has these effects on humans, is a similar threat to dogs. Dioxins accumulate in the body, so even very small amounts in foods can cause a much larger problem over time.
In early 2007 there was an alarmingly high number of reports of sickness and deaths related to kidney failure. This sparked subsequent international recalls of more than 5,300 pet food products. After extensive testing it was found that melamine and cyanuric acid, chemicals used to make plastic, had been intentionally added to pet food ingredients in China. These chemicals were added to artificially increase the value of these ingredients by making them appear to have a higher protein content than they actually had. After extensive testing, these chemicals were found in well over 100 different brands of pet foods and treats. However, when these foods were consumed and the two chemicals were combined inside the body, the resulting chemical reaction caused crystal formation inside the animal’s kidneys. This caused permanent damage to the kidneys, leading to kidney failure and the eventual death of a very large number of dogs.
To make the incident even worse, it was eventually discovered that in 2004, over 6,000 dogs developed kidney disease from the consumption of these same 2 chemicals that were found in dog foods in Asia. Unfortunately, that event didn’t get sufficient media coverage to prevent the catastrophic event that occurred 3 years later.
More recently in 2013, a Salmonella outbreak at a manufacturing facility in South Carolina eventually caused a massive recall of 30,000 tons of dry dog and cat food. This recall was not only sparked by the dangers and illnesses that it caused to pets, but also to humans. After handling the contaminated foods while feeding it to their pets, there were 47 people in 20 different states and 2 in Canada that contracted the disease.
Salmonella is currently the most common reported contaminant in commercial dog foods. In it’s mildest forms, it causes nausea and diarrhea. When diagnosed, people are usually hospitalized for treatment. While typically not a deadly disease, it can develop into a much more serious condition, if prolonged, due to dehydration and it’s toxic effects.
The only way to totally avoid these contamination issues is to avoid commercial dog food products altogether. Alternatively, if feeding a commercial diet, there are steps you can take to decrease the known contamination risks. Either way will allow you to increase the quality of your dog’s nutrition as well. By feeding a homemade dog food you can also eliminate many of the unhealthy and potentially dangerous ingredients that are actually listed on the dog food labels.
Dr. Eddy Collins, DVM
Next we will discuss current contamination issues, their effects, and what is being done to correct them.