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.

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.

Pet Food Recalls and All Natural, Holistic and Family Owned Labeling

As of yesterday, another pet food brand has been added to the recall list. The recall of Solid Gold brings the total number to 14, and a lot of people speculate that, with Diamond Pet Foods being the country’s largest co-packer of private label kibble, there are possibly more still to come.

The recall of Solid Gold has come as a surprise to a lot of people, because this is a company that has been at the forefront of the marketing of their food as “All Natural’, “Holistic” and “family owned” – the trifecta of buzz phrases guaranteed to make pet food consumers believe that these brands are immune from the recalls that seemingly plague “Big Business” owned brands. Even as brands like Canidae and Natural Balance are being pulled (two more foods sold as “All Natural”), I am still seeing people profess a belief that their preferred brand could never be recalled, because it’s “only made from natural ingredients”, or “it’s not a big company – it’s family owned, which means they care about their food”.

In light of the fact that I don’t seem able to convince most people to stop falling for claims like “all natural” and “holistic”, I thought instead we could try to clarify what these claims actually mean, as opposed to what people believe them to mean.

The words “all natural” convey to the average consumer an image of fresh, natural, whole food ingredients, as opposed to chemicals created in a laboratory. Fair enough, but the operative word here is ‘image’, as opposed to reality. After all,  Salmonella is technically ‘natural’ – it’s not cooked up in the lab, but is a naturally occurring, living organism. Rabies is ‘natural’, too, and so is botulism. The poison mushrooms that grow in the field near my house are “all natural”, too, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t kill my dogs if they ate them.

Marion Nestle does her typical wonderful job in breaking down exactly what AAFCO requires from pet food companies who label their foods as “all natural” –

Because the government has never bothered to define “natural” for human foods, this word essentially means anything the manufacturer says it does. For pet foods, however, the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) has an official definition:

Natural: A feed or ingredient derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources, either in its unprocessed state or having been subject to physical processing, heat processing, rendering, purification, extraction, hydrolysis, enzymolysis or fermentation, but not having been produced by or subject to a chemically synthetic process and not containing any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic except in amounts as may occur unavoidably in good manufacturing processes.

Got that? You can render or extrude a pet food to mush, but it’s “natural” if you haven’t added anything synthetic—unless you had to. AAFCO also says that “natural” must not mislead; if it appears on the label, every ingredient in the product must meet the definition. But even AAFCO knows this is impossible. Pet food companies typically buy vitamins, minerals and other additives from factories overseas, where, as we learned in last year’s pet food recalls, quality controls are sometimes nonexistent.


Read the rest here – it’s really wonderful, and also examines the phrases “organic” and “human grade”.

A claim of “all natural” is a convenient phrase for pet food companies to use on their labeling, because there is such a wide reaching scope of just what companies are allowed to designate as ‘natural’. A  writer for discovered this when doing research human foods which are labeled “all natural”, and yet which still contain MSG  –

I published an article about autolyzed yeast extract containing MSG, and I was contacted by the manufacturer of a popular veggie burger product who claimed that my article was incorrect, that their product didn’t contain MSG, and that they used nothing but all-natural ingredients. I replied by reading their PR person the list of ingredients printed right on their own box (which included autolyzed yeast extract), then I showed them documentation supporting the fact that autolyzed yeast extract always contains MSG, and that autolyzed yeast extract is used for only one purpose in manufactured foods: as a chemical taste enhancer. It has no other purpose in the realm of food science.

At this point the spokesperson for this veggie burger manufacturer admitted that, yes, their product did contain free glutamic acid, which is another way of saying MSG, but that it was from an all-natural source

Read the rest:

The same sort of mislabeling trickery is even more rampant in pet foods, where labeling laws are murky at best, and regulation shaky.

The phrase “holistic” when applied to pet food is even more meaningless. What it means, exactly is open for interpretation at the best of times, considering that the common definition is –

Characterized by comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.
Characterized by the treatment of the whole person, taking into account mental and social factors, rather than just the physical

In traditional medicine, this would mean including ingredients that play a specific role in balancing the “chi” of the being consuming them, or so some people say. You can’t really define a term that has no commonly accepted definition, and again, it’s a term that has no regulated meaning.

In the common vernacular of the kibble industry, “holistic” usually means someone told the marketing department “We have no idea what it means, but people seem to like it, so stick it on the bag someplace”.

Right now if you Google the phrase “Holistic Pet Food”, and you’ll the first page of results will include four of the currently recalled pet foods, including Solid Gold, Canidae and Eagle Pack.

Apparently ‘holistic’ doesn’t exclude there being salmonella in your food.

A personal pet peeve of mine is when consumers and companies tout ‘family owned’ as a sure fire badge of food quality. I don’t happen to have anything against small family businesses, but I’ve seen first hand in the pet food industry that, while bigger isn’t better, neither is smaller. A company needs enough capital behind it to progress beyond the ‘making it on our garage’ phase. Testing, research, nutritional analysis, safe and sanitary production facilities – these all cost a lot of money. A ‘small company’  that wants to succeed and has a demand for their product quickly grows into needing capital for this kind of purchase, which often leads to them selling out to an investment partnership that gives them the capital they need, at the price of now being answerable to a board that wants to see profits at all cost.

The second option is even worse, which is when “small family run” equals  “so small we don’t own our own plant”, which equals “co packed”, which more and more frequently equals “Diamond”.

Of course, if all you want to see in your pet food company is that they’re family owned, don’t forget that Mars Pedigree is still one of the largest ‘family owned‘ companies in the world.


UPDATED: Diamond Pet Food Recalls Expand to 14 Brands (and counting)

From the Honest Dog Blog comes the newest list of brands recalled for Salmonella contamination, as of Monday, May 7 2012:

The number of brands included in the rolling pet food recall related to salmonella contamination at a Diamond Pet Food manufacturing plant has now grown to 13. The updated list includes:

  • Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover’s Soul
  • Kirkland (C0stco brand)
  • Country Value
  • Diamond
  • Diamond Naturals
  • Premium Edge
  • Professional
  • 4Health
  • Taste of the Wild
  • Natural Balance
  • Wellness
  • Canidae
  • Apex
  • NEW! Solid Gold

Read the entire post for more details, including information on possible incorrect production codes and SKUs.

Read more