As a species, we are naturally drawn to the gruesome, the frightening, and the macabre.
We pay good money to see slasher movies and ride death-defying roller-coasters.
And so it should come as no surprise to find that folks love to speculate about whether... maybe... dead dogs and cats are being ground up for kibbled dog food.
Here's the short answer....
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration web site addresses the issue directly if folks will actually take the time to read.
Good God man, where's the fun in that? Next you'll be telling us there's no Sasquatch, no Chupacabra and no alien autopsies -- and Lord knows we've all seen the videos of those things!
But there are no videos of dead dogs and cats being turned into dog food. None.
And while there is a trace amount of pentobarbital residue in kibbled dog food, it does not seem to be a health concern, and it has a perfectly simple source explanation: Beef Cattle.
But don't take my word for it. Here's what the FDA has to say about the pentobarbital found in dog food and where it does NOT come from:
The low levels of exposure to sodium pentobarbital (pentobarbital) that dogs might receive through food is unlikely to cause them any adverse health effects, Food and Drug Administration scientists concluded after conducting a risk assessment.
During the 1990s, FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) received reports from veterinarians that pentobarbital, an anesthetizing agent used for dogs and other animals, seemed to be losing its effectiveness in dogs. Based on these reports, CVM officials decided to investigate a plausible theory that the dogs were exposed to pentobarbital through dog food, and that this exposure was making them less responsive to pentobarbital when it was used as a drug.
The investigation consisted of two parts. First, CVM had to determine if dog food could contain residues of the drug. Second, if residues were found, the Center had to determine what risk, if any, the residues posed to dogs.
In conjunction with this investigation, the Center wanted to determine if pet food contained rendered remains of dogs and cats.
How pentobarbital can get into dog food
Because in addition to producing anesthesia, pentobarbital is routinely used to euthanize animals, the most likely way it could get into dog food would be in rendered animal products.
Rendered products come from a process that converts animal tissues to feed ingredients. Pentobarbital seems to be able to survive the rendering process. If animals are euthanized with pentobarbital and subsequently rendered, pentobarbital could be present in the rendered feed ingredients.
In order to determine if pentobarbital residues were present in animal feeds, CVM developed a sophisticated process to detect and quantify minute levels – down to 2 parts per billion of pentobarbital in dry dog food. To confirm that the methods they developed worked properly, CVM scientists used the methods to analyze dry commercial dog foods purchased from retail outlets near to their Laurel, MD, laboratories. The scientists purchased dog food as part of two surveys, one in 1998 and the second in 2000. They found some samples contained pentobarbital (see the attached tables).
Dogs, cats not found in dog food
Because pentobarbital is used to euthanize dogs and cats at animal shelters, finding pentobarbital in rendered feed ingredients could suggest that the pets were rendered and used in pet food.
CVM scientists, as part of their investigation, developed a test to detect dog and cat DNA in the protein of the dog food. All samples from the most recent dog food survey (2000) that tested positive for pentobarbital, as well as a subset of samples that tested negative, were examined for the presence of remains derived from dogs or cats. The results demonstrated a complete absence of material that would have been derived from euthanized dogs or cats. The sensitivity of this method is 0.005% on a weight/weight basis; that is, the method can detect a minimum of 5 pounds of rendered remains in 50 tons of finished feed. Presently, it is assumed that the pentobarbital residues are entering pet foods from euthanized, rendered cattle or even horses.
Finding levels of pentobarbital residues in dog food
Upon finding pentobarbital residues in dog food, the researchers undertook an assessment of the risk dogs might face. Dogs were given known quantities of pentobarbital for eight weeks to determine if consumption of small amounts of pentobarbital resulted in any physiological changes that could indicate potential effects on health. In short, the scientists wanted to find the level of pentobarbital dogs could be exposed to that would show no biological effects. The most sensitive indicator that pentobarbital had an effect is an increase in the production of certain enzymes collectively called cytochrome P450.
Virtually all animals produce enzymes as a normal response to metabolize naturally occurring and man-made chemicals in their environment. Barbituates, such as pentobarbital, are especially efficient at causing the liver to produce these enzymes. In dogs, the most sensitive biological response to pentobarbital is an increase in the production of cytochrome P450 enzymes, which is why the scientists chose that as the best indicator of biological effect. If a low level of pentobarbital did not cause a dog to produce additional cytochrome P450 enzymes, then scientists could assume that the pentobarbital at that low level had no significant effect on the dog.
In CVM’s study, experimental animals were each dosed orally with either 50, 150, or 500 micrograms pentobarbital/day for eight weeks. The results were compared with control animals, which were not exposed to pentobarbital.
Several significant pentobarbital-associated effects were identified in this study:
1. Dogs that received 150 and 500 micrograms pentobarbital once daily for eight weeks had statistically higher liver weights (relative to their bodyweights) than the animals in the control groups. Increased liver weights are associated with the increased production by the liver of cytochrome P450 enzymes;
2. An analysis showed that the activity of at least three liver enzymes was statistically greater than that of the controls at doses of approximately 200 micrograms pentobarbital per day or greater.
But researchers found no statistical differences in relative liver weight or liver enzyme activity between the group receiving 50 micrograms pentobarbital per day and the controls. Based on the data from this study, CVM scientists were able to determine that the no-observable-effect level – which is the highest dose at which no effects of treatment were found – for pentobarbital was 50 micrograms of pentobarbital per day.
Adverse health effects unlikely
For the purposes of CVM’s assessment the scientists assumed that at most, dogs would be exposed to no more than 4 micrograms/kilogram body weight/day based on the highest level of pentobarbital found in the survey of dog foods. In reality, dogs are not likely to consume that much. The high number was based on the assumption that the smallest dogs would eat dog food containing the greatest amount of pentobarbital detected in the survey of commercial pet foods-- 32 parts per billion.
However, to get to the exposure level of 50 micrograms of pentobarbital per day, which is the highest level at which no biological response was seen, a dog would have to consume between 5 to 10 micrograms of pentobarbital per kilogram of body weight. But the most any dog would consume, based on the survey results, was 4 micrograms pentobarbital per kilogram of body weight per day.
It should be emphasized that induction of cytochrome P450 enzymes is a normal response to many substances that are naturally found in foods. It is not an indication of harm, but was selected as the most sensitive indicator to detect any biological effect due to pentobarbital.
Thus, the results of the assessment led CVM to conclude that it is highly unlikely a dog consuming dry dog food will experience any adverse effects from exposures to the low levels of pentobarbital found in CVM’s dog food surveys.
What do all those words mean?
- There is NO EVIDENCE of any dead dogs or cats in dog food.
No evidence. None. Zero. Empty set. The testing showed nothing at a level of 0.004 percent or 5 pounds of rendered remains spread over 100,000 pounds of dog food.
- The pentobarbital in dog food is less than is needed to trigger even the smallest and most sensitive of naturally occurring enzyme reactions in a dog. This is important, as toxicity of any substance is always about dosage. In our own world, we are surrounded by poisons, from alcohol in our counter-top fruit, to toxic metals in our cooking ware, to toxins coming from car exhaust and settling on our lawns (to say nothing about what comes out of the hose-end of the garden sprayer). Even water is toxic in the wrong dose. Dosage is everything.
- The pentobarbital in dog and cat food has an obvious source -- beef cattle. Cattle and horses are often dosed with pentobarbital for standing veterinary examinations. Though sick animals recently dosed with pentobarbital are not supposed to make in into the food chain, they do at times. And that's not just the dog food chain, by the way -- that's probably the human food chain as well. You see beef from downer cows has been routinely served to our children as fresh hamburger that may or may not be cooked all the way through.
What? Downer cows have been served to our school children? Yes indeed, and the Humane Society of the U.S. has put the whole story on video tape and filed a False Claims Act lawsuit, which the U.S. Department of Justice has joined as well.
Is there similar video tape of dead dogs and cats being rendered into dog food?
No there is is not.
In fact, the entire dead-dogs-turned-into-dog-food-story seems to have been sparked by a single 1995 story in the Baltimore City Paper (a free local newspaper more famous for its "personals" column than its reporting) which asserted -- but never proved -- that a local independent rendering plant was running two separate lines (one for slaughterhouse and butcher waste, and the other for roadkill and euthanized pets) and then mixing the fats at the end of the run.
But guess what?
When ABC television's 20/20 news program investigated, they found the story had no legs. It was not true so far as they could tell, and they had to pull the plug on the story that they had intended to take national.
Other reporters have chased the same story again and again over the years, but they too have come up with nothing despite the fact that everyone with an Ipod Nano now has a miniature camera and recording device capable of making a pile of cash for the right video tape.
It seems dead dogs and cats are simply NOT being made into dog food. They might be made into candles, industrial grease, floor wax, or chicken or hog feed, but not dog food.
Let me say it another way: We have more evidence of Sasquatch, chupacabras, the Loch Ness monster, and space aliens being autopsied at Area 51 than we do of dogs and cats being rendered into dog food.
Of course, a lot of people are not going to be swayed by the facts.
Why let truth get in the way of a good story? Why let science derail the fear-inducing story-board which says ALL of our processed foods are bad, and that the FDA has NO IDEA what is in them.... and never mind if our food are actually safer today than at any time in U.S. or world history.
But hey, I am not trying to sway the minds of the folks who stand in long lines at the fair in order to pay good money to be scared.
Everyone needs a thrill, a hobby, and a cause.
I get it.
Carry on. If you want to worry about what is in kibble, be my guess.
But be advised that your dog is definitely eating its own shit.
And if you run your dog loose in forest, field or fen, it's also eating the occasional fox and raccoon crap, cat turd, cow pattie, pile of deer shit, and mouse dingle-berry as well.
If your dog spends any time outside on its own (even if it is just in your suburban back yard) it almost certainly eating a dead sparrow once in a while, and maybe a live lizard or snake. For sure it is eating the occasional live mouse or dead squirrel.
If you leave your food and water bowls outside on the patio or porch, your dog is certainly drinking a little rat pee, and has probably gobbled down a little possum snot as well.
And I have not even talked about what happens when your dog drinks out of the toilet bowl in your house, or licks its crotch, or sniffs the butt of the dog next door. Woooeeee!
You say you are worried about toxins in kibbled dog food?
OK. Worry away. I can't stop you.
But just for a second, you might think about the toxins you intentionally put in your own dog every month.
Your dog is probably on heartworm medicine, which is nothing more than an insecticide, and you are feeding this poison to your dog every month at a level that is it lethal to a living thing that only might be inside your dog.
And you are probably feeding this poison to your dog every month regardless of outside temperature and despite the fact that a monthly dosing of insecticide is not needed to control heartworm (once every two or three months will do the job).
On top of the insecticide you are putting inside your dog every month, there is the insecticide you are putting outside your dog every month because you cannot be bothered to use a flea comb -- the topical flea and tick medicine called Frontline or whatever other variation on a theme that you are using. This stuff is a powerful neurotoxin.
So you are dosing your dog, inside and out, every month, with powerful poisons designed to kill and which do kill every day.
But what you are worried about is a trace toxin that might be found in your dog's kibble?
I think that's a little amusing.
But, of course, I am not trying to tell you to change your area of concern.
Be strong and carry on.
That said, I am willing to bet I know what will kill your dog, and it's not likely to be bagged kibble!
You see, about 40% of all dogs are obese and obese dogs have shorter lives and often live for years with collapsing joints and other ailments as well. Dogs are obese because of their owners and nothing else.
Add to obesity the breed of dog you selected.
Do you have a Boston Terrier, a French Bulldog, a Pug, an English Bulldog or a Pekingese?
These dogs have chronic breathing problems, and are routinely beset with joint and spine problems, to say nothing of chronic skin diseases and eye problems.
You think these dogs are likely to die from kibbled dog food?
Not a chance.
These dogs are far more likely to die from the intentional deformity and defect that you yourself once found so amusing.
Of course, the flat-faced brachycephalic breeds are only a small slice of the canine parade of dysfunction.
We also have the dogs that are four-legged cancer bombs: the Scottish Terriers, the Bernese Mountain Dogs, the Flat-coated Retrievers, the Greyhounds, the Deerhounds, and the Golden Retrievers.
The cancers here are gene-based, and are exacerbated by inbreeding.
But do the owners of these breeds stand up and demand an open registry to perhaps reduce the incidence of cancer?
They do not.
Do the owners of these breeds tell every prospective puppy owner that there is a better than 50% chance that the little puppy they are about to buy will die from a heart-breaking cancer which, before it dies, will suck thousands of dollars from the poor rube's wallet?
And a similar silence is heard from the myriad other breeds wrecked by dyplasia, heart and liver disease.
Instead of a demand for AKC reform, we get a lot of hand-wringing about what might be in dog food, and what it might do to dogs.
Which is fine with me.
I get it.
There will always be folks standing in line to pay good money to see a slasher movie or ride the roller coaster.
There will always be people standing in line to pay money to see the freak show.
There will always be people willing to pay a lot of money for a Jaguar sports car, and never mind the crappy construction and enormous repair bills, or the fact that the owners will never drive the car more than 75 miles an hour.
Form and image over construction and function. I get it
As a species, we like to scare ourselves, and we like to amuse ourselves, but we hate to take responsibility for our own actions and much prefer to blame the great and mysterious THEM.
And so our dogs cannot be dying early and tragic deaths because we selected deformed, defective and diseased breeds and then overfeed and under-excercised them.
It must be the food. It must be the dog food companies.