Mycotoxins and Pet Food – Avoid Plant Protein Heavy Kibble

In case you’re not yet scared enough of pet food, here’s a fun article about mycotoxins in pet food, featuring Dr. Trevor Smith, University of Guelph Animal and Poultry Science Professor, and world leader in the field of research into mycotoxin contamination in animal feed.

“A shift in pet food ingredients is on,” says Animal and Poultry Science professor Trevor Smith, who, after 35 years of mycotoxin research at Guelph, is a world leader in the field. “Instead of worrying about bacteria spoilage or disease contamination, like we have in the past, we now have to focus on removing mycotoxins.”

Why are mycotoxins suddenly an issue, you ask? Because they come from NON meat/fish/poultry ingredients, ingredients like vegetable cereals, corn, wheat and rice – cheap fillers that allow manufacturers to pump up protein levels, at a fraction of that cost of ‘real’ proteins.

The ingredient that should raise the most alarms, according to Dr. Smith, is the innocuous sounding rice bran. “That’s the ingredient that’s often contaminated,” he says. FYI, search results on Dog Food Advisor show several pet foods with rice bran high on their list of ingredients, but any dog food with significantly high levels of plant based protein should be avoided (this list of one or two star rated foods is a good starting point for brands to avoid).

Mycotoxins are dangerous to animals, and can result in  “loss of appetite, sleepiness, lack of co-ordination, immune system suppression and vomiting”. Of note to breeders is that mycotoxins have also been shown to impair growth and reproduction, although the bulk of research so far has been on ruminant animals (citation).  It’s important to note that mycotoxins are dangerous not only via ingestion, but also via exposure from handling or inhalation, putting the people who handle mycotoxin contaminated pet food at risk even if they do not ingest it themselves.

How do we avoid exposing our pets to excessive risk of mycotoxins? By feeding a diet that is heavy on animal, poultry or fish based protein sources, and NOT plant based. Raw diets, whether home made or commercial, are ideal for this, but so are quality freeze dried diets, dehydrated diets, or animal protein based kibble diets such as Orijen.

Oh, and I’d like to hope that this will give the people who insist that vegan diets are safe for pets food for thought – although I’m not holding my breath (but I would be if I was feeding that food – remember, mycotoxins can be inhaled!).

Read the full University of Guelph article here.

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.

Pug Eats paper

Feed Pumpkin (Not Paper) To Pets on a Diet

Does your dog or cat eat a weight loss or weight management pet food? For people, we assume that a diet formula food has less fat and less sugar, and most of us believe that this is also how our pet’s special diet food is made lower in calories. That’s not the case, however.  Read the ingredients list on a bag of diet kibble, and you’ll probably find an ingredient called ‘cellulose’ fairly high up on the list.

Have you ever  wondered what cellulose is?

‘There are various forms of powdered cellulose available from trees like pine and beech to bamboo and cotton. By and large, the cellulose used in petfood applications is derived from pine trees. The ingredient starts its journey in the pulping mills, the same mills used to produce paper. The pulp is made into long continuous sheets and rolled just like paper stock going to the local newspaper. However, cellulose intended for food and feed is ground through specially-designed hammer mills, then sized to certain particle lengths in giant “ball-mills.”

From here it is packaged in bags and bulk sacks for distribution to the respective markets.’

– From Petfood Industry Magazine

Cellulose is quite simply powdered and shredded paper fibre. Bulking up the fibre in food allows us to feed our pet’s the same volume of food, while also giving them less calories.  In Hairball Formula cat food, cellulose fibre binds with hair, making it move more effectively through the gut.

We can achieve the same results as cellulose when feeding cats and dogs by adding pureed pumpkin to their food. Pumpkin adds fibre to the diet in the same way that cellulose does, but instead of a nutritionally void filler, we’re also providing Vitamin E, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Potassium, along with omega-6 oils.  Pumpkin also is also rich in antioxidants, and is a potent anti inflammatory. Dogs  (and even some cats) enjoy pumpkin’s rich taste and texture. When feeding pumpkin to pets, you can make your own puree from fresh pumpkins, or else use a pet specific canned supplement or pure, unsweetened puree from the grocery store (not canned pie filling).

The only downside of using pumpkin instead of cellulose is that your dog will no longer smell woodsy, like a pine tree air freshener.

Here ‘s a recipe for making your own pet friendly pumpkin puree at home. It freezes easily, and costs pennies per portion, and you can also use it in recipes for the two legged people in your life. As a general rule, 3 pounds of fresh pumpkin will yield about 3 cups of mashed and cooked pumpkin.

Microwave Pumpkin Puree:

1. Rinse the pumpkin under cool water to rid the skin of any residual dirt and dry well with a clean towel.
2. Cut the pumpkin in half. Remove the seeds and stringy fibers with a metal spoon or ice cream scoop. Save the seeds for toasting, if you like, and discard the innards.
3. Cut halved pieces into three or four smaller pieces.
4. Fill glass microwave safe bowl 1/3 of the way full of water. Arrange pieces in bowl, skin side up. Cover with plastic wrap, and microwave on high until paring knife glides easily through flesh, 14 to 18 minutes, turning pieces over halfway through.
5. When tender, remove the pumpkin halves from the microwave and place on a flat surface to cool.
6. Once cool enough to handle, but not cold, scoop out the pumpkin flesh.
7. Puree the pumpkin in a food processor, in a food mill, with a hand held blender or by hand.
8. Pumpkin flesh holds a lot of moisture. Line a sieve or fine mesh colander with paper towel or a coffee filter and set over a deep bowl. Let drain for about 2 hours and stir occasionally.

To Freeze:

Once the puree has cooled entirely and drained for two hours, place in freezer containers or ice cube trays. Leave room at the top (headspace) of the containers or individual ice cube compartments. Label, date and freeze the puree for future use.


Image of unrepentent paper eating Pug from


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).