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September 16, 2009 > Ohlone Humane Society: Everything you never wanted to know about "pet" food

Ohlone Humane Society: Everything you never wanted to know about "pet" food

By Nancy Lyon

Just about everyone is hurting financially during these lean times. One of the hardest things to do when money is short is to know where you can safely cut back on expenses and yet not endanger the well-being of family members - and that includes the non-human members.

Recently, a number of our Special Assistance clients have asked what they should feed their animals since they have lost their jobs or had to take a pay cut. That's not an easy one to answer because it really depends on a lot of factors such as the animal's health, age, and activity level. I make no pretense at being a vet or expert in these matters... so where do you go for answers? The Internet, of course, and an information overdose.

What turned up was pretty fascinating and scary. Just as with humans, there is some pretty tasty but potentially dangerous critter junk food. Over time, poor nutrition starts causing health problems and costly vet bills; a poor saving in the long run especially if you're an animal companion depending on your people to make food choices that keep you healthy.

After delving through the huge number of links devoted to keeping our "pets" healthy, I came across a pretty informative website called by Susan Thixton. I recommend reading the information posted there as it pulls no punches and pushes no product.

Brands you thought you could trust can carry ingredients that are not harmful. Yet some intentionally mislead by including ingredients that might not be listed on the pet food label, yet it could be in the food.

Here are some of the basics:

Additives: According to Dr. Jean Hofve, DVM and holistic vet, just about every commercial dog and cat food includes coloring agents, texturizers, drying agents and more. Even some of the vegetables in canned foods aren't real; carrots chunks and peas may just be colored wheat gluten.

Commercial pet foods, especially the less expensive ones, are colored with chemicals to make them more eye-appealing. This is because meat by-products from the slaughterhouse floor are parts condemned for human consumption but are used in many pet foods. They are doused with harmless purple dye to prevent them showing up on human tables. This is why the meat particles are bleached then re-colored to make them look "desirable."

Preservatives: To help prevent contamination, questionable chemicals additives and preservatives are often used. Among them are BHA, BHT, propyl gallate, and ethoxyquin. Ethoxyquin use is required for imported fish meal commonly used in dog and cat food but often not listed on the label. It is banned from nearly all human food products due to its cancer-causing properties.

According to Dr. Hofve, there are more expensive preservatives and many manufacturers have switched to safer ones such as Vitamin E (tocopherol), but ethoxyquin is still used in many pet foods even prescription diets. There is a natural substitute (NaturOx) but it is expensive and few companies use it.

Contamination: Most of us who have companion animals know about the contaminated wheat gluten and rice protein from China that in 2007 that made many thousands of animals ill and killed thousands more. And that's not the end of it... ingredients in pet foods can contain residue from pesticides, antibiotics and molds. Meat used from diseased or injured "downer animals" that can't be used for human consumption may contain drugs, including antibiotics and barbiturates such as pentobarbital used for euthanasia; some of these are known to pass unchanged through all the processing to create a finished pet food. Their cumulative effects are not known but of concern.

Recalls of food are becoming more common with contaminates ranging from plastics included to increase protein content, to toxic sewer sludge used in some states to fertilize crops. According to, and a really shocking statistic, is that crops banned for human consumption because of excessive pesticide residues can be used - without limitations - in foods intended for farmed animals and our animal companions. Think food chain! And we wonder why so many are developing cancers and other health problems.

After reading all of this it was pretty difficult to know where to turn in order to find the safest foods available. Many say to do the nutritional research and make the food for your animal family . . . not a bad idea if you are so inclined and know what you are doing. Others say feed raw meat, and there may be some benefits from that, but then thoughts of salmonella and E-coli bacteria come to mind.

If you are like many of us who have little time to create our own pet food, then the best we can do is to buy food products from the higher end manufacturers that hopefully use better quality ingredients and hope that when there is another recall, and you can bet there will be, that it won't be your brand. The bottom line is even with the higher costs foods you need to be informed and carefully check the ingredients - you may be paying for great packaging and PR and not quality.

Prevention by being informed pays off in the long run.

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