Read the ingredients. If you see the words "meat and meat by-products," there's a good chance that the meat came from a rendering plant. Rendering is a largely unregulated industry. Lots of critters end up at the rendering plant -- zoo animals, road kill, and animals "put down" by veterinarians.
Yes, it really is a dog-eat-dog world.
The euthanized animals come to the rendering plant in little green plastic bags. There, they are pushed into a stainless steel pit with a giant grinder at the bottom. Everything is tossed in: The deceased family pet, his collar, his dog tag, the flea collar, the green plastic wrapper, and the styrofoam that encased the plastic. It all gets ground to tiny bits, then cooked for an hour. The results are demoisturized into a powder and offered for sale as pet food ingredients.
If the main ingredient in any one batch of goop is fish, then the whole batch is labeled "fish." If the main ingredient is cow, the result is labeled "beef." Yes, the product will be called "beef" even though the rendering plant meat contains dead dogs.
If we were to bulldoze into the pit, say 25% of lamb parts, mix with 20% beef, 20% chicken, say 15% dogs or cats, and say a mixture of 20% of various road kill animal carcasses, we can say that the dominant ingredient of this run is lamb. (For this example we will ignore the % of plastic, metal, Styrofoam, insecticide, etc. - all too small to affect the labeling process).Now think for a moment: How does the vet put down dogs and cats? Sodium pentobarbital. Rendering does not kill the drug. It stays in the food cycle. Which brings us to the really chilling aspect of our tale: Meat from the rendering plant is also fed to chickens and cattle, which are fed to -- us.
As long as the rendering plant does not misrepresent the % of protein or fat or calcium, etc, they are legitimately entitled to sell the run to your favorite pet food manufacturer as "lamb".
Hey, it's all part of the circle of life.
"Premium" pet food labels often insist that their meats are human-quality. Yet even the pricier dog foods may not be safe.
Mycotoxins, potentially deadly fungal toxins that multiply in moldy grains, have been found in pet foods in recent years. In 1995, Nature's Recipe recalled tons of their dog food after dogs became ill from eating it. The food was found to contain vomitoxin, a mycotoxin.Nutro is a well-respected pet food manufacturer -- and their product isn't cheap. We're not talking about the kind of kibble that costs ten bucks for a 20 pound bag. Yet last year, the Pet Food Safety Alliance found a problem:
Zinc levels came back 2100 parts per million (ppm), about 38 times the daily recommended dose of 175 mg. per day of zinc, an essential trace element for plants and animals in small quantities. The European Union sets a level of 250 ppm in animal foods.What to do?
Dr. Stephen Hansen, a veterinary toxicologist and senior vice-president of Animal Health for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) tells Consumer Affairs, “That zinc level jumps off the page. It is awfully high and does concern us. It’s certainly gotten our attention.”
PFPSA founder, Don Earl, believes this is a deadly level of zinc. “I consider it highly unlikely that any cat exposed to this food would survive much over a week.”
One answer is to make your own food. If the above data doesn't persuade you, consider the price factor.
It's hard to find a premium dog or cat food that costs less than a dollar a pound. Even the most respected manufacturers will use labeling tricks to give the impression that chicken, lamb or some other meat is the primary ingredient, even though such is usually not the case. (One trick is to list separately different types of rice, or different components of rice; if toted up cumulatively, the grain would be the primary ingredient.) Some expensive brands will nevertheless use corn, the most common ingredient of the lowest-grade pet foods. We're not talking about human-grade corn: Pets get a corn slurry made from cobs and husks and other parts inedible to humans. This slurry is not good for dogs and cats.
(Cats are carnivores and have no business eating corn.)
Now consider the cost of human-grade meats. Shop around: I've found ground turkey (a terrific ingredient for pet food) on sale for as little as one dollar per pound. Jack mackerel goes for a similar price. Canned mackerel may not be pleasant to cook up in a stew, but your dog will love it, and the fish oil is very healthy.
You can extend the meat or fish by cooking it with rice or oatmeal in a (roughly) 50/50 meat-to-grain ratio. You may want to toss in some veggies. For example, if you don't like to eat broccoli stalks, chop them up fine and stir them in with the ground turkey.
Don't give your dog lots of grease, skin, gristle or ultra-fatty meat. In other words, don't fill your pooch's bowl with the bits of stewing beef that you find unchewable. A small amount of fat is okay, but too much can cause pacreatitis.
In 2008, the oldest dog in the U.K. -- a labrador mix named Bella -- died at the age of 29. Her diet: "shredded chicken, fish, boiled liver and best tinned stewing steak, mackerel and sardines."
Notice the absence of store-bought kibble on that list.