Is Your Dog or Cat’s Dry Pet Food Safe?

For as many years as I have been feeding raw, vets have been telling me the same thing – “Raw dog food is dangerous – commercial kibble is the only safe food for your pet”. A vet at the University of Guelph once insisted on sticking a dying French Bulldog rescue puppy into immediate isolation, because I mentioned having fed it some (commercially prepared under ISO conditions, from human grade ingredients) raw turkey dog food. One of my first vets essentially fired me from his clinic as a patient – told me to collect my pet’s records, and find a new vet – because I insisted on feeding raw.

I’m not the only dog owner with stories like these, and for almost as long as I’ve been hearing them, I’ve been fighting back with the same argument – that raw dog food is safe when prepared properly, from human grade ingredients, and that we face a greater risk from dry pet food, not least because people become complacent about its safety. People who would never dream of leaving a dish of raw meat on the floor for hours will leave a bowl of dry kibble sitting out for days, in hot summer weather. People who bleach every bowl, utensil and surface that their raw meat touches will hand scoop kibble out of a bag. And why wouldn’t you? You’ve been told for years (decades!) that dry pet food is safe. It’s inspected! Approved! Tested! It’s the safe way to feed your dogs and cats – and this in spite of the fact that not a year (or month) seems to go by without a recall, or a story of pets sickening and even dying from eating dry kibble dog and cat food.

Susan Thixton at the excellent Truth About Pet Food blog has been tireless in her fight against this complacency, and her search for the actual truth about just how safe commercial pet food is.  Last year, Susan crowdfunded for an exhaustive project intended to hire outside, independent laboratories to test popular commercial pet food brands for dangerous levels of mycotoxins and bacteria, and mineral content levels above AAFCO guideline levels considered safe. The results of that testing are now in, and it’s not pretty. 8 out of 8 pet foods tested contained mycotoxins ( a serious risk to your dog or cat’s health, even at low levels). Six tested pet foods had dangerously high mineral content levels. Eleven pet foods tested had alarmingly high levels of food borne bacteria, bacteria that are not just a risk to cats and dogs, but to the people who handle their food. The infographic below shows the results of these tests, and full results are available via the Truth About Pets page.

These tests are not exhaustive – there are literally thousands of more foods on the market, far too many for an independent analysis. But consider this – all of the brands tested were nationally sold, heavily advertised, and in many cases strenuously vet endorsed (in fact, one was a “Prescription” diet, available only via veterinarians, and sold specifically for pets with specific health conditions. How scary is that?). If these foods,  owned by large corporations with deep pockets, have such disturbing numbers of issues, then they can only be regarded as the proverbial ‘canary in the coal mine’ – outliers of what is really going on in the food we feed our pets.

How safe is your dog or cat's pet food? Popular pet foods contain dangerous bacteria.

Via Truth About Pet Food –

Read the rest of the testing on the Truth About Pet Food blog.

dead animal carcasses at rendering plant

AAFCO Admits Rendered Pets in Pet Food

UPDATED  03-20-2014: article link via Dr. Patty Khuly on barbiturate trace levels in pets, due to rendered pets and animals in the pet food supply chain.

When I first wrote an article years ago stating that some pet food companies were using the rendered remains of euthanized pets in their food (under the ingredient designation “meat and bone meal”), I got some pretty nasty email from people telling me I was either insane, or a liar.

For those who were still on the fence, here’s a just released video of AAFCO’s president finally admitting, on camera, that it’s allowable (and, in fact, fairly common practice) for rendered pets to end up in pet food.

AAFCO, by the way, is short for The Association of American Feed Control Officials, and is the regulatory body that sets guidelines for pet food and pet food ingredients in the USA. They could quite easily ban the use of rendered pets as acceptable for inclusion in pet food – but they don’t, because pet food companies value the cheap protein count that comes from rendered meat and bone meal.

What else can be rendered and made into “meat and bone meal”? Euthanized pets, road kill, expired grocery store meat (including the packaging), kill floor detritus, dead stock… etc.

Ethical considerations aside (and they are numerous, in my opinion), rendered pets (and horses) bring something else along with them – trace amounts of the chemicals used to kill them.

This is no minor matter – the Veterinary Industry takes this risk seriously enough to have studied barbiturate levels in pet foods, and to have assessed them as a risk to pets who consume them. Trace barbiturates consumed by pets create a tolerance level which has decreased overall effectiveness of barbiturates, making dosing pets increasingly difficult for veterinarians. Additionally, the chemicals used in euthanasia are, obviously, deadly.

Dr. Patty Khuly has an excellent article on this topic here –

As I’ve been saying for years — It really, really DOES pay to read the label.

H/T to the ever awesome Yesbiscuit for the video link

Raw Green Tripe for Dogs – Stinky Magic!

Raw Green Tripe for Dogs

Raw Green Tripe, Whole & Ground. Image from Bold Raw – Available at Pet Outfitters

Of all the raw food diet ingredients I can suggest for dogs, few things compare to raw green tripe. Tripe is so beneficial, and for so many different conditions, that I usually refer to it simply as “stinky magic”.

Tripe is the stomach of any ruminant animal – sheep, cattle, bison, deer, camels, alpacas, llamas, etcetera. Tripe for human consumption has been washed, cleaned, trimmed, boiled and bleached. It is devoid of the nutritional benefits contained by green tripe, but safe for human consumption. For dogs, we’re looking for “green” tripe – that is, tripe that has not been boiled or bleached, although it usually has received a rudimentary hosing down. It generally retains at least some of the stomach contents, which in grass fed animals will naturally be green, hence the term “green tripe”.

Tripe from corn finished beef is sometimes substituted, especially when used in commercially prepared tripe products. The stomach’s digestive actions will generally have broken down the corn’s amino acids to the point that they will not cause issues for most dogs, but for dogs with confirmed corn or gluten sensitivity owners would do better to stay with tripe taken exclusively from grass fed animals. Doing so is increasingly difficult, however, since more farmers are finishing even lamb on grain mixtures. It’s best to inquire if the raw green tripe you are purchasing comes from exclusively grass fed animals.

Laboratory analysis of green tripe shows that it has an almost perfect ratio of calcium to phosphorus, at 1:1. Balancing calcium and phosphorus levels at an approximate ratio of 1.5:1 is essential for a balanced raw dog food diet  (although tripe alone does not provide sufficient quantities of calcium or phosphorus for complete canine nutrition). Tripe also contains linoleic and linolenic acids, the essential fatty acids beneficial to skin, coat and cellular function and regeneration. Sufficient quantities of EFAs have been shown aid in blocking tumor formation in animals, and to regenerate damaged tissue. For dogs with leaky gut syndrome, tissue regeneration is crucial.

Since tripe essentially the stomach of animal that digest fibrous matter, it makes complete sense that tripe is loaded with beneficial digestive enzymes and lactic acid bacteria. Lactobacillus Acidophilus, as it is also known, is the beneficial bacteria found in most probiotics. Tripe is also slightly acidic, which is beneficial for animals who have digestive difficulties.

Raw green tripe from grass fed animals comes with an added bonus – some of the partially digested stomach contents from its last meal. It’s not uncommon to see bits of grassy matter in your raw tripe, and it this grass is what gives us the “Green” in raw green tripe. The semi digested stomach contents are a source of natural prebiotics, defined as:

“a selectively fermented ingredient that allows specific changes, both in the composition and/or activity in the gastrointestinal microflora that confers benefits upon host well-being and health”

Grazing animals such as sheep routinely tear plants up by the roots, digesting the rich plant based inulin essential to prebiotic function. The grassy stomach contents in raw green tripe are then partially fermented by the actions of the stomach, and bathed in a rich gastric soup of digestive enzymes and Lactobacillus Acidophilus. Few commercial probiotics can emulate the effectiveness of a serving of fresh, grass fed raw green tripe.

Raw green tripe is beneficial to dogs suffering from digestive problems, sensitive stomachs, food intolerance and even leaky gut syndrome. In non clinical trials, a regimen of six days of using raw green tripe as 25% of a raw fed dog’s diet have shown marked decreases in acid reflux and irritable bowel symptoms.

Another raw green tripe convert has been feeding her Great Dane a 25% raw green tripe diet for six months. Her dog, initially diagnosed with leaky gut syndrome, has shown an improvement in food tolerance, a decrease in vomiting and regurgitation, and a cessation of flare ups of periodic diarrhea. Additionally, she reports her dog no longer eats grass – or poop!

Lessened poop eating is one of the most interesting anecdotally reported benefits of feeding raw green tripe. Raw green tripe, when fed on a regular basis, seems to lessen the insatiable craving for poop eating (or coprophagia) that even the most ardent pet lovers find difficult to forgive . Groundbreaking research suggests that dogs who eat their own feces do so because their bodies lack the necessary amounts of digestive enzymes required to fully digest their food. Raw green tripe, with its abundance of natural digestive enzymes and lactic acid bacteria, allows dogs to utilize all of the food they eat, taking away their biological imperative to eat feces.

The rich taste and even richer smell of raw green tripe makes it a potent topper for picky dogs who turn down most foods, and it’s a concentrated source of nutrition for pregnant and nursing dogs, and dogs recovering from illness. Some cats enjoy the taste of green tripe, and tripe rich in stomach contents can satisfy the craving of both dogs and cats to eat grass.

These nutritious stomach contents are also the cause of one of green tripe’s most noticeable features – its smell. It’s an odor that can only be compared to the reek of an overflowing sewer on a hot summer day (only perhaps not quite as pleasant). Feeding raw green tripe is what separates the hardcore raw feeder from the dilettante, giving you added ‘street cred’ on any discussion groups you belong to. It’s one thing to say, “Oh, last night I ground up some turkey necks”, and another altogether to say, “Last night I hauled home six buckets of sheep stomachs, and chopped them up by hand in the driveway using a block and tackle and a sushi knife”.

Luckily for most of us, there are commercial sources of ground raw green tripe available in many areas. Stinky and slimy it may be, but raw green tripe can pay off with added health and vitality for your dogs.



Feathers being processed into feather meal for the pet food industry

Trash to Cash – Feather Meal and Pet Food Ingredients

The poultry industry in the USA is a high volume business. Annually, an estimated 8 billion broiler chickens are produced, resulting in almost 3 billion pounds of feathers. The resulting feathers could only be disposed of in two ways – sold cheaply to the large animal food industry or to fertilizer companies, or by paid disposal to landfills. A decrease in demand for animal by products as a large animal feed additive, and a rise in the cost of landfill usage fees combined to make lightweight feathers a heavy expense for the poultry industry. Lucky for them, there seems to be almost nothing that the pet food industry isn’t game to try as an ingredient.

Feather Meal, or “FM” as it is referred to in the industry, has long been used as a fertilizer. It has a high nitrogen content, and is also high in protein, but it is indigestible unless it is highly processed. There have been numerous attempts to use feather meal as a food additive for animals, but  published studies as long ago as the 1980’s determined Feather Meal to be of “Low Nutritional Value” as a feed ingredient.

Beginning as early as 2000, there were rumblings within the pet food industry about a great new ingredient that was lowering costs for pet food manufacturers who used chicken and poultry meals as the basis for their foods. A German manufacturer, Goldmehl, had patented a revolutionary new method of Feather Meal processing for the pet food industry. They promised that it increase “feces scoring” in feeding trials. Feces scoring refers to the stool quality of dogs fed a diet based on a specific feed ingredient. In the case of feather meal, inclusion of more than 9% FM by dry weight resulted in dogs with a feces score of “1” – industry shorthand for explosive, watery diarrhea. Goldmehl’s patented Feather Meal would allow manufacturers to include up to 14% Feather Meal, with ‘acceptable’ feces scores.

The use of feathers as a pet food ingredient remained an underground rumbling until 2013, when Keith Levy, the President of Royal Canin USA, admitted in an interview with Forbes Magazine that Royal Canin had spent ten years developing a food that used feather meal as its primary protein source.

We have a team in France that is traveling the world to find ingredients. In this case it’s feather meal. It’s not only nutritious but can also be made very palatable to dogs. Feathers are broken down to an amino acid level and don’t have much of a taste. Then we add palatizers for taste. In this case, we have to be very careful not to provoke an allergic reaction.

Levy later in the interview mentioned that Royal Canin also uses hydrolized soy protein as a pet food ingredient, and that Royal Canin is “currently researching worm meal as a potential protein source for some of our foods in China”. Levy illustrated the best example of the Pet Food industry’s theory of ‘garbage in, pet food out’ when he said –

By using alternative sources of protein, we’re using something that would otherwise end up in a landfill.

Some ingredients, however, end up in landfills (or in your garden, as fertilizer) because they simply shouldn’t be used as a food ingredient, no matter how ‘cost effective’ they are. Feather Meal is primarily composed of  insoluble keratin with high cystine content. Dogs suffering from a genetic condition called Cystinuria lack the ability to process cystine via the kidneys. Over time, cystine becomes concentrated in the urine, which leads to the formation of crystals – commonly referred to as kidney stones.

Owners of dogs afflicted with cystinuria, or of breeds prone to this condition or any other kidney related diseases, are advised to avoid foods containing feather meal. This means you’ll need to watch the labels for ingredients such as feather meal, poultry or chicken digest, and perhaps even poultry or chicken by products (I’m still awaiting confirmation from AAFCO on whether or not FM is now an allowable component in these last two ingredients).

FDA Report on Conditions at Diamond Pet Foods

Some rather unsettling details in the initial FDA inspection report on the inner workings of the Diamond Pet Food manufacturing facility in Gaston, South Carolina. For those who haven’t been keeping abreast on news, the recent pet food recalls for salmonella contamination have all be traced back to a single manufacturing plant, operated by Diamond Pet Foods, and producing a wide variety of private label, co packed dry dog, cat and small animal foods.

The Food and Drug Administration Report  detailed four key findings:


All reasonable precautions are not taken to ensure that production procedures do not contribute contamination from any source.
Specifically, no microbiological analysis is conducted or there is no assurance that incoming animal fat will not introduce pathogens into their production and cause contamination of finished product. Also, the firm’s current sampling procedure for animal digest does (sic) preclude potential for adulteration after sampling and during storage in warehouse. On 4/13/12, an employee was observed touching in-line fat filter and oil with bare hands.
Failure to provide hand washing and hand sanitizing facilities at each location in the plant where needed.
Specifically, there are no facilities for hand washing or hand sanitizing in the production areas where there is direct contact with exposed finished feed/food.
Failure to maintain equipment, containers and utensils used to convey, hold, and store food in a manner that protects against contamination.
Specifically, paddles in conveyor (South or Middle conveyor leading to the screeners going to packaging) were observed to have gouges and cuts, which exhibited feed residues. The damage to the paddles may allow for harborage areas for microorganisms and are difficult to clean and sanitize.
Failure to maintain equipment so as to facilitate cleaning of the equipment.
Specifically, firm utilizes cardboard, duct tape, and other non cleanable surfaces on equipment. These materials were observed to have residues adhering. The foam gaskets around access doors to the bucket elevators were observed in deteriorating condition and exhibited an accumulation of feed residues and dust.

All of this is disturbing enough (duct tape? really? At a plant making ‘gourmet’ holistic food, some of which retails at close to $90 per bag?), but the conclusions that blog noticed about this report are even more worrisome, namely that  “animal fat” and “animal digest”, per observation one of the FDA report above, are a rather worrisome note, considering that:

A) none of the foods made by Diamond list them on their ingredient labels


B) Animal Fat and Animal Digest are the two key ingredients linked to the inclusion of rendered, euthanized animals into pet food

Read the rest on the Truth About Pet Food blog.

If you weren’t worried before about whether or not your pet’s food was being co packed, this might give you the impetus to start worrying now.