Do you remember when in March, 2007, thousands of pets died from kidney failure after eating tainted wet cat and dog food . . . and the ensuing giant recalls of pet food? Several major companies recalled more than 5300 pet food products, resulting in extensive media coverage and much public outrage.
Initially, the culprit was contaminated wheat gluten from a single Chinese company, and recalls were made of pet foods containing the wheat gluten from companies in North America, Europe and South Africa. One month after the initial recall, contaminated rice protein from a different source in China was identified as causing kidney failure in pets in the United States. Contaminated corn gluten also caused kidney failure in pets in South Africa. As a result of investigating the 2007 pet food recalls, a broader investigation of the contamination of vegetable proteins in China ensued. It revealed that several Chinese companies sold products labeled wheat gluten, rice protein or corn gluten that were actually contaminated wheat flour, raising concerns about the safety of the human food supply.
Five years later, the problem continues. On Memorial Day, May 28, 2012, a beautiful healthy eight-year-old German Shepherd named Heidi died from eating just two chicken jerky dog treats from China. Her owner was devastated. Since then reports about other dogs becoming sick and dying from eating chicken jerky dog treats from China have also surfaced.
On October 5, 2012, during a routine sampling inspection, FDA investigators found Salmonella bacteria in Nature’s Deli Chicken Jerky DogTreats at Kasel Associated Industries of Denver, CO. Once notified of the results, the company responsibly recalled and ceased distribution of its product.
Then in 2007, the FDA has received approximately 2,200 reports of pet illnesses related to jerky treats. The majority involve chicken jerky (treats, tenders, and strips), but others include duck, sweet potato, and treats in which chicken or duck jerky is wrapped around dried fruits, sweet potatoes, or yams. Over the past 18 months, the reports have contained information on 360 canine deaths and one feline death. There does not appear to be a geographic pattern to the case reports, which have been from all 50 states and six Canadian provinces.
While the recent salmonella incident doesn’t seem to be related to the tainted pet food from China, the reports all raise questions about the safety of the food we give our beloved pets. An even bigger concern was brought up recently by Food & Water Watch: “The FDA regulates the import of pet food and processed human food, but they have done very little to stop contaminated food from China from being sold in the U.S. Right now there are more than 60 human food products that are banned from being imported from China because of unsafe substances, including milk products contaminated with melamine. New food safety rules that passed more than a year ago haven’t been implemented yet, so there may be other contaminated food ending up in your [home]”.
So how is the food from the People’s Republic of China contaminated? It’s called “protein adulteration” — compounds such as melamine, cyanuric acid, ammeline, and ammelide are added to food and feed ingredients. These inexpensive substances inflate the apparent protein content of products, enabling them to pass for more expensive, concentrated proteins.
The worst culprit has been melamine. An organic compound, melamine is often combined with formaldehyde to produce melamine foam, a polymeric cleaning product, and melamine resin, a plastic that is highly stable, durable, fire resistant, and heat tolerant. End products include formica countertops, floor tiles, dry erase boards, flame resistant fabrics, glue, sound proofing, and the ever-famous Melmac tableware. We all appreciate these products, but I certainly don’t want their components in my food!
Some sources indicate melamine alone does not seem to be toxic to animals or humans except possibly in very high concentrations. However, melamine contamination of pet food was implicated as the cause of the deaths of thousands of pets in 2007, and the combination of melamine and cyanuric acid has been implicated in kidney failure in pets and people. There are also reports that cyanuric acid may be independently and widely used as an adulterant in China, which has heightened concerns for both pet and human health.
How do you make sure your pet’s food is healthy?
- Only buy brands you trust, and carefully read the ingredients on the label.
- When trying a new brand, initially feed your pet only a small amount — if there’s a problem, your pet has had limited exposure to it. If all seems well, feed your pet a mixture that’s ¼ the new food and ¾ the old food for a few days. Then feed your pet a mixture of ½ the new food and ½ the old food for a few days, and then ¾ new food and ¼ old food for a few days. After 10 days, your pet should be ready for the new food.
- Most of the recalls have been wet pet foods and jerky treats, so you might want to stick to dry food until these problems are resolved.
- Always keep the original bag of pet food in case of a recall, or if you suspect you’ve purchased a bad batch.
- Check the Pet Food Recall Products List of the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), the division of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that regulates the manufacture and distribution of food additives and drugs that will be given to animals, including animals from which human foods are derived. The list at www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/newpetfoodrecalls/ contains links to more information about all pet food recalled since March of 2007. . . 1107 entries as of April 30, 2012! Yikes! However, it’s a bit misleading because once listed, each of the recalled products remains listed, even if there are no new recalls associated with that product.
- Report any problems with pet food to the FDA through their Safety Reporting Portal, www.safetyreporting.hhs.gov or call your state’s FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinators.
- For dog lovers, sign up to get regular notifications of dog food recalls from Dog Food Scoop, www.dogfoodscoop.com/dog-food-recall-list.html, an organization that “sniffs out” dog food. In addition to recalls, they compare and rate dog foods.
Get your pet to a vet immediately if there is any sign of poisoning,, which usually includes
- Lethargy (severe fatigue, sluggishness or stupor)
- Gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea or vomiting … especially if there’s blood and/or mucus in the vomit or diarrhea.
Other common signs that can suggest kidney distress or failure include
- Severe thirst
- Frequent urination
- Increased urine
Some pets will exhibit only decreased appetite, fever and abdominal pain. Some pets infected with salmonella can appear healthy, but be carriers and infect other animals or humans.
If your pet has consumed a recalled product, act quickly. Don’t take any chances with the life of your beloved companion!
Dr. Victoria A. Gardner, aka Dr. Vickie, has a B.A. in Education with majors in Psychology, Sociology and Music; a Masters in Counseling; and a Doctorate in Spiritual Psychology and Wholistic Healing. A former professional dog breeder, she also has 40+ years’ experience in Psychology, Special Education, Grief/Trauma/PTSD Counseling, and Wholistic Healing.