Your Animal's Health
Food Not Fit for a Pet
Which commercial pet food do I recommend? That's the one question I am asked most frequently in my practice. My standard answer is "none." But let me clarify. There is no government agency setting quality standards and guidelines, so there are no assurances of quality in pet food.
I am certain at some time you have noticed a change in your dog after feeding him or her different batches of the same brand of pet food. Your pet may have diarrhea, increased flatulence, a dull hair coat, intermittent vomiting, or may scratch more often. These are the most common symptoms I have observed over the years, and they are all associated with commercial pet foods.
In 1981 while Martin Zucker and I wrote the first of my two books, How to Have a Healthier Dog, we discovered the full extent of the negative effects of commercial pet foods of that time. Much more recently, San Francisco Chronicle staff writer John Eckhouse went even further with a two-part exposé entitled "Pet-Food Labels Baffle Consumers," and (a good candidate for a horror movie title) "How Dogs and Cats Get Recycled Into Pet Food."
In the second article, published on February 19, 1990, Mr. Eckhouse, an investigative reporter, writes: "Each year, millions of dead American dogs and cats are processed along with billions of pounds of other animal materials by companies known as renderers. The finished products -- tallow and meat meals -- serve as raw materials for thousands of items that include cosmetics and pet food." There were the usual denials by pet food executives. Yet federal and state agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration and medical groups such as the American Veterinary Medical Association and the California Veterinary Medical Association, confirm that pets, on a routine basis, are rendered after they die in animal shelters or are disposed of by health authorities, and the end product frequently finds its way into pet food.
Government health officials, scientists, and pet food executives say such open criticism of commercial pet food is unfounded. James Morris, a professor at the School of Veterinary Medicine at Davis, California, says, "Any products not fit for human consumption are very well sterilized, so nothing can be transmitted to the animal. And to say products are unwholesome because we Americans don't like to eat them is incorrect. There's nothing wrong with eating spleen, which we don't do, but some Arabs [do]." In my opinion, it is obvious that individuals who make such statements know nothing of the meat and rendering industries.
Hold on to your hats -- I am going to take you on a bumpy ride through the meat-packing industry. For seven years I was a veterinary meat inspector for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the State of California -- in carrying out this office I had to wade through blood, water, pus, and fecal matter; inhale the fetid stench from the killing floor; and listen to the death cries of the animals being slaughtered.
Prior to World War II, most slaughterhouses were all-inclusive; that is, the livestock was slaughtered and processed into fresh meat in one location. There was a section for smoking meats, a section for processing meats into sausages, and a section for rendering. During the years after World War II, the meat industry became more specialized. A slaughterhouse just slaughtered and dressed the carcasses; the making of sausages was done in a separate facility; and the rendering of slaughter waste also became a separate specialty -- and no longer within the jurisdiction of government meat inspectors.
Now that the rendering companies are entities unto their own they can service many slaughterhouses, plus process any other animal remains that can be rendered. But first, to prevent the condemned meat from being rerouted and used for human consumption, government regulations require that the meat must be "denatured" before it is removed from the slaughterhouse. The denatured carcasses and other waste can then be transported to the rendering facility.
In my time as a veterinary meat inspector, we denatured with carbolic acid (phenol, a potentially corrosive disinfectant) and/or creosote (used to preserve wood or as a disinfectant). Phenol is derived from the distillation of coal tar, creosote from the distillation of wood. Both substances are very toxic. Creosote was used for many years as a preservative for wood power poles. Its effect on the environment proved to be so negative that it is no longer used for that purpose. According to federal meat inspection regulations, fuel oil, kerosene, crude carbolic acid, and citronella (an insect repellent made from lemon grass) are the approved denaturing materials.
The condemned livestock carcasses treated with these toxic chemicals can then become meat and bone meal for the pet food industry. Worse yet, since rendering facilities are not government-controlled, any animal carcasses can be rendered, including those of cats and dogs. Eckhouse quotes Eileen Layne of the California Veterinary Medical Association: "When you read pet-food labels and it says meat or bone meal, that's what it is -- cooked and converted animals, including some dogs and cats."
Some of these dead pets -- those who were euthanized by veterinarians -- already have sodium pentobarbital in their bodies before being treated with the denaturing substances. In veterinary offices most cats and dogs are put to sleep with this chemical. According to Eckhouse, veterinarians at the University of Minnesota warned that the sodium pentobarbital used to put pets to sleep "survived rendering without undergoing degradation," but they concluded that the residue amount would be too small to cause problems if the carcasses of euthanized pets were mixed with other raw materials during a day's production run. No mention was made of the cumulative effects on a cat or dog from ingesting this small amount daily for years. Thus far we have come across the denaturing chemicals and the sodium pentobarbital, and I have only just begun.
In the finished rendered product, a fat stabilizer is introduced to prevent rancidity. The common chemicals used are BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytolulene), both known to cause liver and kidney dysfunction. Some European countries prohibit the use and importation of these preservatives. Another fat stabilizer often used is Ethoxyquin, suspected of being a cancer-causing agent. Propylene glycol, first cousin to ethylene glycol (antifreeze), is found in many semimoist dog foods. It causes the destruction of red blood cells.
Lead also shows up frequently in pet foods, even if they are made from livestock meat and bone meal, simply as a result of our environment. A paper from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, titled "Lead in Animal Foods," had two frightening conclusions. First, a 9-pound cat is ingesting more lead daily than what is considered potentially toxic for children. Second, since some commercially prepared pet and laboratory animal foods routinely contain lead, feeding these preparations to laboratory animals could add a significant, uncontrolled variable to experiments and may lead to uncertain experimental results (James G. Fox, et al., Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Vol. 1, 1976).
You are providing a chemical feast to your pet when you feed it the meat and bone meal in pet foods. In the absence of any government inspection programs or any rules and regulations on standards and origins of the ingredients in these foods, my recommendation would be to feed your pets only food that you would eat, such as scraps from the table or from the butcher.
Any veterinary nutritionist, government health official, or scientist who says feeding the aforementioned chemicals daily to our pets will not have a deleterious effect on them is living in a fool's paradise. Just look at the track record of government health officials and scientists over the years. Remember DDT? It took the life of a young boy before it was banned. Thalidomide? It was almost approved for use in America before it was found to cause severe deformities in unborn babies. The use of DES to fatten food-producing animals posed no threat to human life, said the health officials and scientists; but they were wrong. Even today, the government has given its approval to a feline leukemia vaccine which is not giving protection against the virus. In some instances, it is actually causing feline leukemia.
I have been practicing small animal medicine for more than 30 years. Every day I have seen the casualties of the propaganda by the pet food industry. Yet the professors in the teaching institutions of veterinary medicine generally support an industry that has little regard for the quality of health in our companion animals. The question has never been whether or not pets are contracting diseases from pet food, but rather, what is the status of our pets' health when they are fed a steady diet of toxic chemicals?
One last word of caution, not for pets this time but for their owners: meat and bone meal from sources not fit for human consumption has found its way into poultry feed. This means that the animal products rendered under questionable conditions are being fed to birds that may wind up on your table. Remember this when you are eating your next piece of chicken or turkey. I have to add, however, that the bone meal sold as a calcium supplement is from carcasses graded for human consumption; it is not from condemned animals.
This article was originally published in Let's Live magazine.