Pet Foods’ Insidious Consequences – Part 1


Presentation to: Staff & Students
Faculty of Veterinary Science
Massey University
Palmerston North, New Zealand
9 September, 1993Please visit Tom’s Web Site

Table of Contents


A recurring theme is that both content and form of the pro-pet food argument is flawed, making invalid conclusions the rule. The euphemistic use of the term ‘pet food’ is deplored and the cynical manipulation of the rules of logic, mass psychology, politics and economics is described. Insidious environmental consequences are listed. Veterinary science is seen to be corrupted due to an uncritical appraisal by those responsible for animal health care.

The state of health is dependent upon the correct balance of quantity, quality and frequency of chemical and physical requirements provided by food intake. Examples of failure are provided with the emphasis being placed on periodontal disease. Recent case surveys and research findings are presented on Foul Mouth AIDS, Feline Eosinophilic Disease Complex, Plasma Cell Pododermatitis and FLUTD.

The limitation of the clinical diagnostic pathways are shown to perpetuate the insidious process. A ‘Cybernetic Hypothesis of Periodontal Disease’ provides an evolutionary, ecological perspective casting the modern feeding practices in a grim light. Arising out of this dark and corrupted phase a renaissance is predicted providing beneficial insight into health and disease.


Unrecognized, and therefore undefined, problems have the potential to be the most sinister. This paper is intended as an introduction to the insidious consequences of the processed pet food industry. It should dispel the propaganda myth proclaimed in the TV advertising and replace it with a strong revulsion.

Given the assiduous way that the monster spreads it tentacles one could be forgiven for subscribing to a conspiracy theory. It is more likely that cultural conditioning and the coincidence of economic and environmental factors have facilitated the growth. Now in a dominant position, the industry enjoys super profits which are then directed to maintenance of its grip on the market.

There does remain a whiff of conspiracy when one considers that 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. Recent experience has confirmed that rather than admit failure of function the profession would rather deny it has missed the obvious.

The Australian Veterinary Association, for example, has adopted an aggressive stance. The Association was in receipt of direct and indirect sponsorship from two large multinational pet food companies. This occasioned bitter criticism of the implied conflict of interest. Rather than limit or stabilize their involvement the AVA has recently entered a sponsorship agreement with a third American multinational pet food corporation.

Despite the controversy, some highly placed veterinarians are prepared to support the pet food industry. Dr Jill Maddison, of Sydney University is President of the Australian Small Animal Veterinary Association and Conveyor of the AVA Adverse Drug Reaction Sub-committee. She states:

‘My affiliation with the pet food industry commenced on July 1, 1993 when I became part-time consultant to Friskies Pet Care…..If I did not believe that good quality commercial pet foods had advanced the health of companion animals enormously in the past decades I would not have accepted this consultancy’.

It is my belief that the profession’s political mismanagement and acquiescence is matched by a naive scientific methodology.

‘We have followed the reductionist paradigm to absurdity; such that we are all specialists in a specialist world knowing more and more about less and less until we know everything about nothing. Narcissists every one, we are dazzled by our own ‘brilliance’ and ultimately blinded by the so-called ‘science’ which appears to open up the innermost secrets of the natural world. We worship at the holy shrines of ‘scientific’ excellence. We honor and serve the high priests, each one having an awe-inspiring grasp of some demanding inaccessible truths concerning the orthodox wisdom. But en masse we suffered one immense fatal flaw: bereft of humility we forgot the subject, we lost the plot.

Never is this more so than in the area of small animal dietetics. Boffins in innumerable labs separated by great distance and time work on hypotheses, generate theories and derive ‘unquestioned fact’. The measurers and recorders produce miles of tables confirming their point of view on esoteric topics and readily justify the vast array of assumptions they care to make on all other parameters known and unknown.’

(Lonsdale, 1993)

Our way out of the mire is via a holistic assessment. Alas, our communication methods depend upon compartmentalization of the topic into bite-sized chunks. It is with deference, that I ask you the reader, to reassemble the whole in order to create and recreate the infinite interconnectivity of the component parts.

Since the holistic approach is not usually taught or practiced, here are a few tips which may be of help. Firstly, make sure to have fun. There are no columns of meaningless figures in this approach nor disembodied dry facts. Dr Guilford assures me that the Massey objective is to create thinkers in veterinary science not parrots of the orthodox view. That being so go easy on yourself for you will not be able to think of everything simultaneously and neither should you for you need a time base over which to observe the unfolding three-dimensional developments. (No static, dead images here) Ideas are not the world, they only reflect it, so avoid getting carried away with holism at the expense of reductionism and vice versa. In other words preserve reciprocity, letting each compliment the other.


The term ‘pet food’ implies something wholesome and nutritious providing nutrients for pets. The only legitimate way for the establishment of the meaning is to look at the diet selected by ‘pets’ in the natural state. Beware the vested interests who quickly jump in to condemn this approach as unrealistic.

They say that domestic animals are not natural and that there are no wild counterparts providing a model. In this they are quite wrong. In Australia Canis familiaris dingo has been providing a perfect model for 4,000 years. Felis catus has been a colonist since the early days of white settlement and exists in self-sustaining populations.

Many authors make the point that predator populations vary according to the abundance or otherwise of the prey. This appears trivial but in fact should be seen as a vital aspect of the interaction between a population and its food. In other words, we can in part describe and define a food as that ingesta which shows direct correlation with, and facilitates the increase in, population numbers. This represents a move away from the concept of the individual animal as the unit for study and identifies the population as the viable unit over time. The relevance of environmental needs must be factored in to ensure sustainability.

Wolf population dynamics and prey relationships were studied in North Eastern Alberta (Fuller and Keith, 1980). The moose kill rate averaged about one moose per 4.7 days with an estimated prey consumption rate of between 0.12 and 0.15kg prey/kg wolf/day. They observed that wolf population densities increased where the animals had access to human refuse tips and that wolves in poor condition e.g. broken teeth/mange were able to subsist under these conditions.

The wolves of Isle Royale National Park in the northern part of Lake Superior make for an interesting study of a single wolf pack in equilibrium with its main prey species – the moose. Shortage of food during the period when young are being reared appears to be the factor responsible for the high mortality which in turn maintains wolf and moose equilibrium. (Ewer 1973)

The dingo is believed to be descended from the Indian Plains Wolf and is genetically indistinguishable from the domestic dog. The summary of the paper by Newsome et al states:

‘In stomach contents of 530 dingoes (Canis familiaris dingo) in south-east Australia, 89.3% of feed, by occurrence, was large and medium-sized marsupials (Wallabia, Macropus, Pseudocherirus and Trichosurus). Of 26 dingoes with sheep or cattle remains in the stomach, 11 had eaten it as carrion, judging from the presence of maggots, and 5 of those had obtained it from carcasses used as bait for the traps. There was 4% of feral pig, 0.3% of horse and 7.8% of rabbit which are all regarded as pests. There were 26 species of prey altogether. Of the 25 other species caught in the traps, over 20 were protected wildlife.’

Whitehouse commenting on the populations of dingoes in Western Australia remarked that they appeared to be opportunistic feeders preferring wild animals to domestic stock even though they were equally available. Where rabbits occurred they were a large part of the diet and it was thought that dingo numbers varied with the rabbit population. (Whitehouse, 1977)

Coman and Brunner studied the food habits of the feral house cat in Victoria. Grass and small twigs occurred for 1.4% by volume of the ingesta with 88% being chiefly rabbits (Coman and Brunner, 1972) Feral cats in Sweden were shown to consume about 294 gm’s a day of rabbit. (Liberg, 1984) It is noticeable that the survey animals did not contain bovine spleen or lungs to any great degree. The papers do not report if crops were grown in the vicinity, however vegetable matter was in low level and no mention made of soy, wheat, rice etc. Dr D S Kronfeld asks, ‘Have you ever seen a dog attack a wheat field?’ We have seen that the manufacturers exercise considerable license in what they now call food suitable as a ‘complete and balanced diet’.

Friskies R Go-Cat R
Whole Grain Cereals: Corn and wheat
Cereal By-product: Derived from Soya bean and corn.
Chicken and Chicken By-products
Beef, Liver and Meat By-products: Derived from Beef and/or mutton
Fish and Fish By-products: Derived from sardines, pilchards and tuna
Vitamins: A, D3, E, B12, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Pyridoxine, Niacin, Calcium, D-Pantothenate, Folic Acid, Choline Chloride and Biotin.
Minerals: Calcium Carbonate, Ferrous Sulphate, Manganese Sulphate, Cupric Oxide, Zinc Sulphate, Cobalt Carbonate, Phosphoric Acid, Potassium Iodide, Sodium Chloride, Calcium Chloride and Dicalcium Phosphate.
Others: Yeast, Potassium Sorbate, Dextrose Monohydrate, Amino Acids (Taurine, Glycine), Antioxidants and Food Colours.
Pal Meaty Bites
Whole grain cereal, meat and meat by-products derived from beef, mutton, chicken Cereal by-products. Iodised salt, vegetable oil, vitamins and minerals, food colouring, preservatives and anti oxidants.


For false (insidious) belief systems to gain currency one or both of two things must happen.

a. Arguments must be predicated on false assumptions which a rigorous application of deductive logic transmits to the bottom line producing a false conclusion.
An example being that:
Processed food may be considered to be the same as, or as good as, the natural diet. If all other things are equal then : Conclusion – the perfect state of health will prevail.
b. Either inadvertent or intentional sloppy application of the rules of logic enable true premises to give rise to false conclusions.
Eg. Animals need specific chemicals, there are specific chemicals in processed food: Conclusion – therefore animals obtain their specific chemicals.

Either false premises (content) or false deductive reasoning (form) characterizes this debate at every level. Opponents deny this on the grounds that experiments with standard controls have been conducted to show any discrepancies. Here lies the nub of the issue; to my knowledge with the exception of Pottenger (1946), in all nutritional and clinical trials involving small animals both the test sample and control group have been fed on processed food.


Where this is due to ignorance, education may help. If it can be shown that misinformation is presented with intent to deceive then regulatory/legal action will be required. This was the course of action required in respect of the ‘infant milk formula’ saga. At least the name of the powder implies that it is an artificial substitute formula but nonetheless the effect in third world countries was, and is, a disgrace as the following abstract from ‘The Greening of Medicine’ will portray.

“The gradual reinstatement of breast feeding like that of natural birth has resulted from a few pioneering individuals, the rise of consumer organizations and the gradual change in society’s perception so that, although ‘breast is best’ is now more widely accepted, the vested interests in controlling the economics of the product ensure that the battle continues. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the baby food industry and Third World nutritional needs. A public outcry and a series of lawsuits against Nestle’s widespread promotion of artificial feeding in Third World countries led to the establishment of a WHO/UNICEF code on the marketing of breast milk substitutes. In summary this code suggests that the following good practice should be observed. WHO/UNICEF Code

  1. No advertising of breast milk substitutes
  2. No free samples to mothers.
  3. No promotion of products through health care facilities.
  4. No company mother craft nurses to advise mothers.
  5. No gifts or personal samples to health workers.
  6. No words or pictures idealizing artificial feeding, including pictures of infants, on the labels of the products.
  7. Information to health workers should be scientific and factual.
  8. All information on artificial feeding, including the labels, should explain the benefits of breast-feeding and the costs and hazards associated with artificial feeding.
  9. Unsuitable products, such as sweetened condensed milk, should not be promoted for babies.

It is because the issue of breast feeding versus bottle involves such large profits that the medical and social factors have been marginalised by the economic and political ones.”

The code was officially authorized by the Australian Trades Practices Commission Ruling, Sept, 1992.


Psychology plays an integral part at all levels. Individually we surrender some of our freedoms on becoming members of a society. Straight away the influence of mass psychology takes over. Post-war Coca Colonization of the mind occurred such that it is now axiomatic that most ‘sophisticated caring people’ load their supermarket trolley with brightly packaged pet foods.

By control of the mass media a belief system can be manipulated almost at will. Mussolini and Hitler both worked this to their short-term advantage. The pet food industry uses its monopoly profits to cement its hold on the market. Bucking the system, blowing the whistle, call it what you will, it has always been difficult for the informed few to overcome entrenched belief systems. Even though the veterinary profession is aware of the litany of ills spilling out of the pet food bag it is paralyzed in the following way.

‘According to Chris Argyris, all organizations are prone to this because it flows from a natural human response that we practice from the time we leave the cradle. This is the response we have to particular problems, problems that we see as personally threatening. What we do, with increasing skill as we mature, is develop ways of by-passing the problem, then of covering up the by-pass and then covering up the cover-up……as a result, instead of being cleared up, the original flaw not only goes on festering, but its very existence becomes taboo – undiscussible, and so irremediable.’

Max Walsh, Sydney Morning Herald, 20 June, 1993

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