Dog Eat Dog - The Grisly Truth

There 's a retail boom going on in in North America. While consumer spending is down in many areas, savvy companies have learned that there is very little the doting owner can deny their pet. The result is a virtual explosion of products, toys and pet foods. In fact, one of the most profitable items on the shelf at your local grocer's is not steak - it's dog food.

Today's better educated owners are growing increasingly picky about what they feed their pet, and manufacturers have been quick to respond with a wide range of foods geared towards this market. Phrases such as "balanced" , "complete" and "all natural" clutter the labels of cans that a few short years ago were more likely to say "Tasty" - or the old stand by "Dogs Love It".

But how much more do we really know about what we're feeding our dogs? The language employed on labels is less than clear - and the reasons for this may be more sinister than you think. Most of the major dog food companies are divisions of giant food conglomerates - conglomerates that produce tons of offal and by products from the manufacture of human foods every day. Using this material that would otherwise be garbage may be good business sense, but is it good for your pet?

In the last few years, articles have quietly appeared that illustrate a more disturbing aspect of these cost cutting measures. They paint a picture of a billion dollar industry that is almost entirely self policing, and willing to go to almost any lengths to increase bottom line profits.

It's the worst moment in every pet owner's life - that final, painful trip to the vet's with your treasured companion. You make the difficult decision to let your vet dispose of your beloved pet's remains, confident that he'll ensure the disposal is handled in a sensitive matter. In actuality, many vet clinics now use a pick up service to collect the bodies of euthanised animals, and what can happen to these pets from the time they are picked is nothing short of shocking.

"Dogs and cats euthanised at clinics, pounds and shelters are sold to rendering plants, rendered with other material and sold to the pet food industry. One small rendering plant in Quebec was rendering 10 tons (11 tons) of dogs and cats per week from Ontario. The Ministry of Agriculture in Quebec, where a number of these plants are located, advised me that "The fur is not removed from dogs and cats" and that "Dead animals are cooked together with viscera, bones and fats in 115 C (236 F) for twenty minutes." One large pet food company in the U.S., with extensive research facilities, used rendered dogs and cats in their food for years and when the information came to light "claimed no knowledge of it." - ~Anna Martin.

Difficult as it may be to believe, millions of these dead American dogs and cats are processed each year at plants across North America. Eileen Layne of the California Veterinary Medical Association states "When you read pet-food labels and it says meat meal or bone meal, that's what it is - cooked and converted animals, including dogs and cats."

Road kill, slaughter house rejects, animals that die on their way to meat packing plants - all are acceptable ingredients for pet food under the "4D" rule - diseased, disabled, dead and dying. Steroids, growth hormones and chemicals used to treat cattle for infestations - including insecticide patches - again end up mixed into the final product. Meat from grocery stores past it's final due date is also added to the mix, as are the Styrofoam trays and plastic wrap they were packed in.

The addition of euthanised pets goes beyond morally repugnant - it also introduces a host of chemicals not listed on pet food labels. At the rendering plant, time cannot be spared to remove even the green plastic bags the pets came wrapped in, let alone the insecticide laden flea and tick collars they were wearing. Even the very chemicals used to put these pets to death also find their way into the final product. "Facts of Sodium Pentobarbital in Rendered Products", a University of Minnesota research paper, stated that sodium pentobarbital, the barbiturate which is most commonly used to euthanize small animals,"survived rendering without undergoing degradation." When ingested, sodium pentobarbital has been shown to cause liver and kidney damage and renal failure. The pet food companies claim these chemicals are found in such low doses as to be harmless, but make no mention of what the cumulative effects of years of ingesting them may be.

Before the meat even arrived at the rendering plants, it has already been saturated with chemicals. To comply with government regulations, all meat rejected by slaughter houses must be "denatured" - a procedure designed to make it unpalatable to humans, thus ensuring it cannot be resold as human grade meat.

In Canada, the chemical used to "denature" is Birkolene b. In Natural Pet Magazine, Anna Martin writes "According to the Department of Agriculture, Animal Plant and Health, the composition of this chemical cannot be disclosed." In the US, there are a variety of other methods that can be used:

"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. "    ~Dr Wendell Belfield, DVM

The chemical cocktail does not end there, either. To prevent rancidity, a fat stabilizer is added to the finished product. Dr. Belfield writes "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.

Most vets agree that food allergies and toxic conditions are on the rise in modern day pets. When asked, many blame such possible causes as "environmental pollution" and "the stress of living in cities". It's an unfortunate fact that at many North American Veterinary schools, pet nutrition is touched on only briefly, usually during lectures that are presented by the major pet food companies. In a lecture to the New Zealand School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Tom Lonsdale DVM said "the problem is in the main unrecognized and undefined by the veterinary profession. Veterinarians gain legitimacy and privileges as guardians of the public welfare in respect to animal health. The profession has failed badly in its duties." Little wonder that so many vets remain painfully unaware of the possible toxins our pets ingest every day, not from their environment, but from the very food we shop so diligently for.

Learning to decipher labels is a good beginning for those of us who wish to discover just what exactly we are feeding our pets. Any dog food that lists "Meat Meal", "Bone Meal" or "Meat By Products" might in fact have been made from suspect sources. The generic term "Meat" allows the pet food companies to use any animal source as an ingredient, as opposed to more specific terms that clearly state the animal source - i.e.; "Chicken Meal" or "Beef By Products" . Even the foods that do state the meat source do not spell out for you that these meat sources could still fall under the 4D rule - that is, animals that were rejected as being unfit for human consumption. The reasons for rejection are many, but can include pest infestation, disease, cancerous tumors, mould, infection and a host of other highly unsavory conditions. In the wild, most dogs will naturally shy away from eating contaminated meat, which perhaps explains the dizzying array of flavor and scent additives most commercial foods contain.

The very labels that are supposed to let us know just what is in the food we feed are open to an amazing amount of artistic license, thanks to AAFCO's regulations. A consumer who buys a food named "Johnny's Dog Delite with Lamb and Rice" may very well assume that "Lamb and Rice" are the primary ingredients of this food - after all, it seems to clearly say just that on the label. In actuality, the addition of "With" to the label means the manufacturers are only required to include lamb and rice as 3% of the total food ingredients. If this food was labeled "Johnny's Lamb and Rice Dog Food", AAFCO would require the Lamb and Rice combined to comprise 95% of the total ingredients (excluding water used for processing)- a very big difference for such a small word.

The wide spread use of Lamb and Rice in so many foods has caused some canine dermatologists to worry. "It's not meant to be eaten by the average dog" states Dr. Maxwell, DVM. "It was meant to be introduced as an alternative protein, but if dogs are eating it every day it is now worthless to us for use as an alternative food. Owners of allergic pets will have to go to exotic protein/carbohydrate combinations like Ostrich and Millet, or Duck and Potato. It's expensive and unnecessary. Leave the lamb and rice alone unless your pet has been diagnosed with food allergies." Old time breeders comment on the number of food allergies they see in dogs today - conditions that were almost unheard of in the days when dogs ate mainly human food with a little puppy biscuit or cereal mixed in.

The views and opinions expressed on this web site are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of, the staff, and/or any/all contributors to this site.