We love our pets, and would do virtually anything to protect them from harm. Good owners are vigilant about having pets inoculated, neutering them at an early age, and making sure they get plenty of exercise. Yet few owners worry that their store-bought pet food could make their pets ill. It’s the job of owners to be their pets’ advocates and to stay on top of things. That includes keeping current with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, whose role it is to issue recalls that protect pets from contaminated and rotten pet food, as well as food that doesn’t meet quality standards. Their efforts could spell the difference between life and death for your pet.
Common recall triggers include metal pieces in the can, high bacteria count, incorrect levels of vitamins or minerals, and small amounts of pentobarbital, an animal euthanasia agent.
A good way to ensure your pet’s well-being is to buy pet food from veterinarians. Vets sell only the most reputable brands of food, as well as keeping current about pet food recalls. In addition, pet owners can do their own part by keeping apprised of the latest recalls by regularly checking the websites of the FDA and the American Veterinary Medical Association.
The FDA recalled eight different dog, cat and rabbit foods in the first quarter of 2017. Those recalls include:
- Dog treats contaminated with Salmonella bacteria
- Two dog foods containing thyroid hormone
- Three dog foods contaminated with pentobarbital
- Rabbit pellets with high levels of vitamin D
- Dog food with metal pieces
- Dog and cat food contaminated with Listeria bacteria
Vets use pentobarbital for the humane euthanasia of injured or sick animals. But that role is restricted to veterinarians, who are vigilant in their usage. Regulations prohibit food makers from incorporating the remains of chemically euthanized animals. One brand was detected having pentobarbital-tainted horsemeat from unregistered suppliers. As a result, one dog died and four others got sick by eating food contaminated by pentobarbital. Since then, the manufacturer has recalled the lots thought to harbor the contamination.
The recalls have generated a war of words between the manufacturer and the FDA. The manufacturer claims the bad meat came from a reputable supplier, but the FDA insists that each manufacturer is responsible for the health and safety of the ingredients they use in their products, and to detect unfit food before it reaches the marketplace. In this case, the bad meat was labeled as unfit for human consumption, contradicting the manufacturer’s claims that it sells only human-grade food. The case is still under investigation.
The vast majority of pet food cans are completely safe. Yet every year, cases develop in which canned food has been contaminated by bacterial growth. The normal procedure is for the manufacturer to cook the canned food at high temperatures to kill all pathogens. However, if the canned food contains poisonous ingredients or shards of metal, cooking will not make it safe. High temperatures can destroy nutrients if not done correctly. Many pet foods are packed in plastic or paper pouches, which cannot be heated to the same temperatures as metal cans.
Raw foods are more susceptible to airborne contamination from pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and molds. The infectious bacteria Listeria and Salmonella have been identified in recent food poisoning cases. Infection can be the result of diseased animals or improper food handling. If the foods aren’t sealed properly in their containers, bacteria can get in and cause contamination. Fresh, frozen or freeze-dried foods are not superheated, so it’s easier for contamination to occur. The AVMA discourages feeding your pets diets of raw foods.
Symptoms of Food Poisoning
Food poisoning might cause your pet to vomit or develop diarrhea. Dogs have strong stomach enzymes that destroy most pathogens, but drugs like pentobarbital can survive their trip through a dog’s gut and inflict serious or fatal damage. If your pet develops symptoms that persist for more than a day, immediately bring it to your veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment. In addition, never feed your pet food that looks or smells questionable to you. If in doubt, throw it out.
Your vet has the tools and knowledge to identify possible cases of food poisoning, but it’s important to seek treatment early enough to avoid permanent damage to your pet. As a general rule, it’s safest to buy your pet food directly from your veterinarian and to follow the feeding directions he or she provides.