Are Euthanized Pets Really in Commercial Dog Food?

Are Euthanized Pets Really in Commercial Dog Food?

A big question among many dog owners when they begin to research dog food ingredients is whether or not euthanized dogs and cats end up in pet food. The thought is disgusting to most people, as loving pet owners want to make sure they are only feeding their pets good quality foods; this does not include euthanized pets. While some sources are adamant that deceased pets are not in dog and cat food, others are just as passionate in their belief that some pet foods do contain such unsavory ingredients.

In this article, we will look at why some people believe that unspecific terms, such as meat meal, lead owners to believe that dogs and cats may be present in a pet food. We will also look at pentobarbital and why it is concerning if present in pet food.

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If you want to give your dog the best commercial food possible, be sure to read the ingredient label, as many foods can have ambiguous meanings.

Who Determines what Ingredients on the Pet Food Label Mean?

First off, it is important to know who is responsible for setting standards for pet foods. Several different organizations have a hand in the world of pet food.

  • Definitions:
    • The job of defining pet food ingredients primarily rests in the hands of the AAFCO (Associations of American Feed Control Officials). On their website, the AAFCO states that the “AAFCO is a private non-profit corporation featuring a process for defining ingredients used in animal feed and pet food…”(https://www.aafco.org/Portals/0/SiteContent/Announcements/2019_AAFCO_The_People_behind_Animal_Feed_and_Pet_Food_082919.pdf?v20190926) While the AAFCO performs this task, it does not regulate pet food. Pet food manufacturers either choose to follow AAFCO guidelines or they choose not to (I have never come across a pet food that didn’t choose to follow their guidelines).
  • Regulations:
    • The agencies responsible for the regulation of pet foods are the FDA and local and state agencies. With this being said, the FDA’s website acknowledges that the “FDA and local and state agencies all play a role in regulating pet food and participate in the AAFCO”( https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/fdas-regulation-pet-food). Both organizations have separate rolls, but both work together to help determine the safety of pet foods for pets and the owners handling the pet food.
  • The speaker for the companies:
    • Another player to be aware of in the world of pet foods is The Pet Food Institute (PFI). On the about section of their website, the PFI states that they are the voice of pet food makers, as has been the case for about 60 years.

So, the AAFCO defines pet food ingredients, the FDA regulates pet foods, and the PFI is the voice of pet food manufacturers.

What Ingredients are in Question?

Obviously, no pet food on the market lists dog and cat on its ingredient panel. Pet food manufacturers want owners to believe that they make their foods with only the best ingredients (and many manufacturers really do use quality ingredients). Yet, there are many ingredients present in pet foods that are extremely vague in there meaning. Terms such as meat and bone meal, animal by-product meal, meat meal, and meat by-products are all items that appear on many pet food labels, and are all items that can mean a range of things. Directly from the AAFCO’s website (https://www.aafco.org/Consumers/What-is-in-Pet-Food), hear is the definition of the above mentioned ingredients:

  • Meat is the clean flesh derived from slaughtered mammals and is limited to that part of the striate muscle which is skeletal or that part which is found in the tongue, in the diaphragm, in the heart or in the esophagus; with or without the accompanying and overlying fat and portions of the skin, sinew, nerve, and blood vessels which normally accompany the flesh. It shall be suitable for animal food. If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto.”
  • Meat by-products is the non-rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially de-fatted low temperature fatty tissue, and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth and hoofs. It shall be suitable for use in animal feed. If it bears a name descriptive of its kind, it must correspond thereto.”
  • Meat Meal is the rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of any added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. It shall not contain extraneous materials not provided for by this definition. …. {the definition goes on to include the required mineral specifications and required nutrient guarantees}….. If the product bears a name descriptive of its kind, composition or origin it must correspond thereto.”
  • Animal By-Product Meal is the rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of any added hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. It shall not contain extraneous materials not provided for by this definition. This ingredient definition is intended to cover those individual rendered animal tissues that cannot meet the criteria as set forth elsewhere in this section. This ingredient is not intended to be used to label a mixture of animal tissue products.”
  • Meat and Bone Meal is the rendered product from mammal tissues, including bone, exclusive of any added blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices. It shall not contain extraneous materials not provided for by this definition. …. {the definition goes on to include the required mineral specifications and required nutrient guarantees}….. If the product bears a name descriptive of its kind, composition or origin it must correspond thereto.”

Some have made the argument that terms such as meat meal, animal by-product meal, and meat and bone meal do not specify what type of animals are part of the rendering process (if confused on what rendering means, don’t worry, we talk about that below). The terms meat and meat by-products specify that the animals used are slaughtered mammals, which would rule out euthanized pets, but meat meal, animal by-product meal, and meat and bone meal do not specify that the animals used were slaughtered, leaving the possibility open that some animals that died by other means are part of the finished rendered product. The argument is that since the ingredient definitions are not specific enough, they could include dead dogs and cats in some cases.

As an interesting aside, the PFI talks about the definitions of pet foods on their website. When talking about AAFCO ingredient definitions, the PFI states “The AAFCO approves strict ingredient definitions, which are then published in the AAFCO Official Publication (OP). These definitions can be highly specific!” (https://www.petfoodinstitute.org/the-whole-bowl/a-to-z-of-pet-food-ingredients/) I think it is interesting that they specify and emphasize how specific definitions for pet food ingredients can be, but they don’t put the same emphasis on how completely vague others are.

What is Rendering and What do Rendering Plants have to do with Pet Food?

If you are unfamiliar with the term rendering, here is a definition from North Dakota State University’s website: “Rendering is the process of converting animal carcasses to pathogen-free, useful byproducts such a feed protein. In the process of rendering, the carcasses are exposed to high temperatures (about 130 C or 265 F) using pressurized steam to ensure destruction of most pathogens.”

Anytime an “meal” is listed on an ingredient panel, it means that the said ingredient was the product of rendering. This isn’t necessarily bad, as long as the meal is specified, such as chicken or beef meal. It is concerning when the rendered products are not specific.

While rendering is a way to create a concentrated protein source, the rendering process is also used to get rid of slaughterhouse waste products, animals unfit for human consumptions, and dogs and cats euthanized by animal shelters. In her book Food Pets Die For: Shocking Facts about Pet Food, Ann Martin talks in depth about the whole process. In her investigation of what goes into pet food, she found that the possibility exists that euthanized dogs and cats may end up in pet food. All the details contained in her book are beyond the scope of this post, but I would recommend the book for those interested in what really goes into pet food (just don’t follow the recipes at the end of the book, they will NOT provide balanced nutrition for your dog).

Pentobarbital: Does it Suggest that Euthanized Dogs and Cats are in Pet Food?

As many pet parents know, pet foods are often recalled for a variety of reasons. One of the reasons pet foods are sometimes recalled is because of pentobarbital being present in products (Example: In 2018 the FDA recalled pet foods produced by the J.M. Smucker Company. Smucker produces several pet food products, including Gravy Train and Skippy. (https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/news-events/fda-alerts-pet-owners-about-potential-pentobarbital-contamination-canned-dog-food-manufactured-jm).) Pentobarbital is a drug used to euthanize animals. While horses and cattle are sometimes euthanized with this drug, many take the high levels that are sometimes found in pet foods as evidence that dogs and cats, which are very often euthanized with pentobarbital, are ending up in pet food.

It must be stated that anytime pentobarbital is detected in pet food, the FDA pulls the affected product from the market. The drug is not affected by rendering or other production steps in the making of pet food (https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/questions-answers-contaminants-pet-food), and being that the drug is used to euthanize animals, you can imagine that it is not an inert substance. Even though the FDA recognizes that food containing pentobarbital must be pulled from the market, it is concerning that the drug ends up in pet food in the first place, and that there may be instances when the FDA doesn’t catch contaminated batches.

Has the FDA Investigated the Possibility of Dead Pets being in Pet Food?

In 2002, the FDA released a report on research that the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) conducted to look into pentobarbital being present in dog food. The researches also investigated whether or not the amount of pentobarbital present in the food could be dangerous to dogs that consume the food. When checked for traces of pentobarbital, the researches did find that the some of the foods did have the drug, yet the CVM also determined that adverse effects of the low doses shouldn’t pose a problem.

Tests were also done that supposedly could detect dog and cat DNA in the foods as well: these tests showed no dog or cat DNA present. Interestingly, I have read some question how DNA of dogs or cats would be detectable after the extreme heat and processing that pet food goes through.

Referenced study: https://www.fda.gov/about-fda/cvm-foia-electronic-reading-room/food-and-drug-administrationcenter-veterinary-medicine-report-risk-pentobarbital-dog-food

Final Thoughts:

Personally, I am not completely sure whether I believe that dog foods contain the contents of deceased pets. Still, I only feed foods that use specifically listed ingredients, such as chicken, beef, pork or lamb. Also, I buy from companies that I trust and avoid companies that have bad track records (i.e. Evangers, any cheap, low quality products such as Pedigree, Ol’Roy, etc.). While the FDA found the levels of pentobarbital that can be present in pet food to be unlikely to cause adverse effects, I would rather my dog not eat any of the stuff. Thus, it is important to keep up to date on recalls so pet owners are aware of reported contamination, and it is equally important to feed reputable brands that choose quality ingredients for their foods.

References:

https://www.aafco.org/Portals/0/SiteContent/Announcements/2019_AAFCO_The_People_behind_Animal_Feed_and_Pet_Food_082919.pdf?v20190926

https://petfood.aafco.org/

https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/fdas-regulation-pet-food

https://www.petfoodinstitute.org/

https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/environment-natural-resources/animal-carcass-disposal-options-rendering-incineration-burial-composting

Food Pets Die For: Shocking Facts about Pet Food by Ann N. Martin

https://www.fda.gov/animal-veterinary/animal-health-literacy/questions-answers-contaminants-pet-food

https://www.fda.gov/about-fda/cvm-foia-electronic-reading-room/food-and-drug-administrationcenter-veterinary-medicine-report-risk-pentobarbital-dog-food

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