What’s In Your Dog’s Food?
Current Contamination Issues
The deadly pet food contamination that occurred in 2007 caused an increased awareness of the widespread problems that exist within the pet food industry. Because of the severity of this event, many dog owners sought out safe and healthier alternatives to commercial foods. Many made the decision to start cooking for their dogs instead of taking the chance that they could become victims of another deadly incident.
Fresh Is Best
By making homemade dog food, you gain complete control over what goes into their food and the quality of those ingredients. This allows you to completely eliminate the risks that your companion could be affected by exposure to potentially dangerous contaminants.
In doing so, you can also eliminate the harmful chemicals that are added to commercial foods to increase their shelf life or their taste. These chemicals are linked to many chronic health issues related to compromised immune system function, such as allergies, skin and coat problems, digestion disorders, and more.
All of this leads to the realization of the many health benefits that are gained by feeding fresh, human grade food. This means less trips to the vet and a longer and healthier life for your dog.
How Does Contamination Occur?
Prior to 2007, most contaminants ended up in dog foods because they were already present in some of the ingredients that were used in making the foods. This still occurs and is mainly due to manufacturers using cheaper ingredients that are deemed not fit for human consumption.
In 2007, the contaminants that caused the death of over 6500 dogs were intentionally added to pet foods to make them appear to have a higher protein content than they actually had. These foods could then be sold for a higher price and thus increase the manufacturer’s profit margins.
Most current contamination issues, for which foods are being recalled, occur for two main reasons. The contaminants are either already present in the meat that is used in raw food diets or they are in the chemicals that are added for flavoring, after the baking process.
The Dog Food Recall Process
In 2014, there was a recall of Pedigree dog food due to metal fragments that were found in the packages of food. Initially the recall was made for one specific lot of food. It was then later expanded to include other lots, as they too were found to contain metal fragments. This occurred over the course of 2 weeks while the product was still on the shelves, being purchased by dog owners, and fed to their dogs. While metal fragments are not a typical contaminant, the way this recall was handled is very typical.
A dog food recall, is by definition a recall, because the contaminant is found after the food has been available to the consumer and the potential exposure has already occurred. These products are recalled because there are very few controls in place to prevent and catch these problems before they reach the consumer and their pets.
Most recalls are initially for a specific product or specific batches of that product that have been found to be tainted. Then as they proceed in testing other batches and products, without warning the public, the recall is frequently expanded to include other products and batches that were not included in the original recall. These additional products are typically made using the same manufacturing processes, ingredients, and facilities. This exposes many more pets to the harmful substance responsible for the recall in the first place. In the case of Salmonella, this also exposes many humans to a very dangerous situation that could have easily been avoided.
Current Contamination Issues
With the exception of foods that contained high levels of antibiotics and some that contained insufficient levels of nutrients, all of the most recent pet food recalls have been due to foods being contaminated with the bacteria Salmonella. While this bacteria can adversely affect dogs, the most common reason for these recalls is the danger that it causes to people. These problems include diarrhea, nausea, and potential toxins accumulating in the bloodstream if left untreated. The Salmonella contamination and subsequent massive recall of over 30,000 tons of food in 2013, was because of widespread illnesses in people from handling the dog foods. There were very few reported cases of illness in dogs.
Salmonella is present in dog foods solely because of a lack of care in the manufacturing process. When dog food kibble is made, one of the final processes is baking. This is where the kibble is formed into it’s final shapes and sizes and then cooked to harden it into it’s final crunchy form. This process will typically kill Salmonella along with most other potentially harmful bacterial contaminants that may have been introduced during previous steps.
The problem occurs during the final step. These heavily processed foods do not have a naturally appealing taste, so liquid flavorings are added to give them a flavor that dogs will like. When a food is recalled, the source is usually traced back to flavorings that have been contaminated. When these final chemicals are sprayed onto the food to enhance their taste, Salmonella is reintroduced. Because the flavoring chemicals are liquid, there is now enough moisture content in the food to create a breeding ground in which the bacteria can easily multiply.
Feeding a raw food diet can be a healthy alternative for your dog, especially when compared to other commercial options. However, when a contaminant is present it can adversely affect the health of your dog and create a health risk to you.
Salmonella is known to be a naturally occurring bacteria in some meats. Cooking the meat, is necessary to kill off the bacteria, but this is obviously in direct conflict with the idea of feeding a raw food diet. If the raw foods are fed fresh, there is little danger to your dog. What compounds the issue are the long storage times that commercial foods typically must endure. While these diets are spending time on the shelf waiting to be purchased, the environment inside the packaging is ideal for the bacteria’s rapid growth. By the time the foods are being fed, the amount of bacteria present is sufficient to cause illness.
A very healthy and much safer alternative is adding raw or cooked, human grade meats to the foods you are preparing for your dog. This produces a very healthy and tasty food for your dog, thus eliminating the need for chemical flavorings and the possible introduction of contaminants. This also eliminates the long shelf life of commercial dog foods and the environment and time needed for the contaminants to multiply.
While the current issues related to Salmonella contamination are an important area to focus on, there is an even potentially more dangerous issue that is being found in commercial foods, but not yet triggering recalls.
Dr. Eddy Collins, DVM
Next we will focus on the “future” contaminants, the future of pet food recalls, and what this means for dog food safety.
What’s In Your Dog’s Food?