What’s In Your Dog’s Food? (Part 3)

What’s In Your Dog’s Food?
The Future of Pet Food Recalls
Almost all of the current pet food contamination issues involve Salmonella. While it does cause problems in dogs, the biggest health risk is not typically to the dog, but to their humans. This is a focal point for current dog food recalls, and rightfully so. When simply handling a commercial dog food or treat while feeding your dog, can make you and your dog sick, that indicates a big problem.
The Ignored Toxins
An even bigger problem is that there are also several other contaminants being found in dog foods, but not yet triggering recalls. These contaminants, while currently being overlooked, are potentially a much greater danger to your dog’s health.
Mycotoxins are the biggest of these dangers, and the latest major health concern related to the ingredients in commercial dog foods. Mycotoxins are naturally occurring toxins that are produced by fungi or mold. Several of these are known to cause disease, including Aflatoxin, Vomitoxin, Fumonisin, Zearalenone, and Ochratoxin. Their effects include convulsions, tremors, bloody diarrhea, liver and kidney issues, and a reduced immune response.
All of these can be found as contaminants in cereal crops, such as corn, wheat, barley, and oats, all of which are very common dog food ingredients. Some of these, when ingested in sufficient amounts, can cause acute disease. However, a bigger concern is the wide range of longer term problems that can occur due to constant exposure and their accumulation in your dog’s system.
As early as 2007, researchers were finding that mycotoxin contamination in pet foods posed a serious health threat to pets. The biggest threat occurs when multiple types of mycotoxins exists in a dog food. Multiple mycotoxins can appear in both the finished foods and in the individual ingredients that make up those foods. A single grain such as corn or wheat may contain multiple mycotoxins. When these different types of toxins are combined and interact with each other inside of the food, their toxic effect is multiplied.
These along with what the FDA calls “Qualifying Pathogens”, are increasingly being found in commercial foods. Qualifying Pathogens are various, high risk, antibiotic resistant bacteria that, according to the FDA, “pose a serious threat to public health”.
There is also another type of bacteria that has been, and continues to be, present in many dog foods. It is formed as a direct result of the spoiling, or putrefaction, of meats. All of this is further evidence of the lack of acceptable standards that continue to remain within the pet food industry.
A First Step
Despite the history of contamination issues and the widespread problems that they have caused to pets, it wasn’t until recently that official steps were taken to address these issues.
These steps, while they may benefit the animal population, were not taken after the horrible disease and deaths that were caused by the 2007 intentional contamination with melamine and cyanuric acid. They were only enacted after the increasing presence of Salmonella was being found in pet foods and only after it was causing illness in people.
In late 2013, for the first time, the FDA proposed a new rule that was aimed at keeping animals and people safe. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) aims to require pet food manufacturers to design procedures to prevent food borne illness. This was the first time it was proposed that pet food manufacturing facilities implement policies to address basic issues, such as sanitation. The effect has been more pet food recalls, but almost all of them for Salmonella.
Dissatisfied Customers
In the U.S. alone, pet food is a more than $20 billion industry and pet food consumers pay around $1 billion in taxes on the sale of pet food each year. Some pet food consumers don’t feel that they are getting their money’s worth. With all of the continuing problems with contamination, they have not been satisfied by either the government agency, their enforcement of the new act, or with the results.
The laws are in place to protect both pets and people, but they are not being enforced to the extent that they are preventing many of the contamination issues. This lack of action along with a rapidly declining trust in the pet food industry and the agencies designated to regulate it, has led consumers to take action themselves.
Consumers Take Action
Early in 2015, the results of two separate studies were released, one conducted in Italy and the other in the United States. Both were independently funded by consumers.
The Italian study was conducted on 48 commercial foods broken into 2 categories, 24 low and standard priced products and 24 premium and super premium products. Of the 48 products tested all but one food contained at least 2 types of mycotoxins. More than 50% of the foods were contaminated by 3 different mycotoxins, 25% contained 4 different types, and one premium product was found to be contaminated by all five categories of mycotoxins that were evaluated.
The U.S. study was the first ever consumer-funded pet food study and was conducted on 12 of the most popular and widely-purchased brands in the U.S. and Canada. Some of the well-known brands included Royal Canin, Hill’s Prescription Diet, Beneful, Cesar, Fresh Pet, and Ol’Roy.
One of these foods was found to contain mycotoxins at levels that were over three times the level labeled as “High Risk”. Another contained almost three times the legal limit of calcium allowed in an adult dog food, while also containing high levels of mycotoxins. Other foods were found to contain numerous bacteria including some that are labeled, by the FDA, as “Qualifying Pathogens”.
Nine of the foods contained one or more bacteria that are linked to the putrefaction of meat, as defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. This means that these manufacturers were using rancid meats from dead, dying, disabled or diseased animals and relying on cooking and processing to destroy any pathogens in the final pet food product.
None of these foods have yet been recalled.
With all of the uncertainty that surrounds the question, “What’s in your dog’s food?” the only way to truly know is to start cooking for your dog. This allows you complete control over what is and isn’t going into your dog’s body and will directly impact their health. If that’s not possible for you at this point, there are some steps that you can take to evaluate what you are feeding your dog and help you to pick a healthier option. There are also some other ways that you can try and reduce the risk of you and/or your dog falling victim to a contaminated food.
Dr. Eddy Collins, DVM
Next we will look at how to evaluate dog foods using their labels. This will also include ways to assess the manufacturer, with the goal of minimizing contamination risks.

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