The Dog’s Dinner

The most important decision we make for our pets’ health is what we feed them. If you watch the news or frequent social media, it seems every week there is a new pet food recall. No brand is exempt. Even top-quality foods can receive a tainted ingredient from a supplier, or there could be an error in processing, or something can happen while a shipment is being transported or stored which allows heat or moisture to cause food to spoil.

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The latest story involves several brands of foods manufactured by companies owned by Smucker’s, including Ol’ Roy, Kibbes & Bits, and Gravy Train. Testing has found pentobarbital in the products…the drug used to euthanize animals. While the levels aren’t high enough to be lethal, it’s not permitted in any amount, for obvious reasons.

There are cries of “how is this getting into our pets’ food in the first place?” If you feed these brands, and if you’ve ever looked at the labels, you shouldn’t be surprised. This is less about “OMG, there’s a toxic chemical in Fluffy’s num-nums” and more about “I bought the cheapest food on the market which is made of crap ingredients.”

Manufacturers will screech with indignation if you suggest they use protein sources contaminated with high levels of antibiotics, steroids, or delicious, delicious pentobarbital. Sure, technically, they don’t knowingly buy euthanized kittens in a back alley and toss them in the processing vats. “No, we absolutely do not use euthanized animals in our food. That would be very, very wrong. Must be the supplier. We had no idea.” (Yes, they did.) This is plausible deniability.

So, how does it get in there? I remember years ago, a local rendering plant had a broken boiler. It took a long time to repair, and bodies of animals awaiting processing were piling up outside the building. Photos clearly showed livestock and roadkill–and even the carcasses of domestic animals.

High quality foods use proteins from facilities designed to process animals in clean, safe conditions, and in some cases, even meeting human-grade food processing standards. An ingredient list would show beef, chicken, lamb, turkey, or other named, single-source items on the label, and if you ask, they should be able to tell you the specific source.

Let’s look at the ingredients in Ol’ Roy dog food.

Ol Roy Ingredients

There are so many barf-worthy ingredients, I barely know where to begin, but let’s look at the proteins first.

Meat and bone meal is the second ingredient. Okay, Roy, define “meat.” Any time you see this, or the fifth ingredient here, “animal fat,” or “animal by-product meal,” that’s a huge red flag. Those non-specific proteins are exactly the sort that come from these rendering and processing plants, where animals of all sorts are tossed in the vat and boiled, extruded, dried, and shipped off to substandard food manufacturers.

Think about what kinds of animals would end up in those facilities. Quality food producers, whether for humans or pets, harvest healthy animals and process them in sanitary conditions. In a rendering plant, producing these generic protein sources, you’ll find what’s known as the 4 Ds–Dead, Dying, Diseased, or Disabled. Awesome, right?

You don’t euthanize healthy animals. For pentobarbital to be in pet food, you don’t have to think very hard to realize a dying or diseased animal, which needed to be “put out of its misery,” is in that bag or can. Is that what you want to feed your animal companion?

“Natural flavor” is usually some sort of blood slurry, from any and every animal being processed. Yummy!

This food also contains BHA as a preservative. The primary use for this chemical is as a preservative in makeup and moisturizers, as well as in low-quality food. It is a suspected endocrine disruptor and possible carcinogen.

Ground yellow corn is the first ingredient. Hey, it’s cheap, so they can make a low-cost food. There’s also corn gluten meal (when you need even more corn and only have odds and ends left) and brewer’s rice. Brewer’s rice sounds good, right? Nope. It’s the tiny milled fragments left over when whole grain rice is processed. Basically, it’s the sweepings off the floor.

I’m not anti-kibble. It’s an economical, convenient option for most pet-owners. I feed my dogs half grain-free kibble and half raw food, and have for years.

Why grain-free? Dogs and cats are not built to digest or metabolize grain-based carbohydrates. Rather than being utilized to build a healthy body, most of it ends up on the other end of the pooper-scooper. If a wild canine gets grain, it’s typically from the digestive tract of a prey animal, and already partially digested. If a coyote invades your farm, it’s going to eat your chickens or goats, not graze in your corn or wheat field.

Grains are also a key source of allergens in pets. If Snoopy has chronic itchy skin, hot spots, anal gland problems, or ear infections, it very well might be a food allergy, and the source is much more likely to be a grain than a protein. So I don’t feed my dogs any grains, ever, not even in treats.

Ol’ Roy also has chemical color additives, added salt, soy (another allergy trigger for many dogs) and so many things I can’t pronounce that it boggles the mind. If you’re feeding this, your dog is better off if you simply feed him your leftovers, excluding things that are harmful to dogs, such as onions.

I get it. Quality pet food is expensive. Not everyone can afford $70 a bag. I’ve found Earthborn Holistic is an economical, good-quality, grain-free brand, and there are many more from which to choose these days. It’s an investment in your pet’s health. Spending a little more for food will save you a lot more in veterinary expenses down the road.

Sadly, in most cases, you have to do the homework. Veterinarians are given very little education on pet nutrition in school, and what they do receive is sponsored by large pet food manufacturers. Unless your vet has taken the initiative to educate themselves, they don’t know much more than the average pet owner about pet food.

We all have specific needs, a budget, and time constraints. But don’t look at the bouncy puppies on the pet food commercials, or look at the AAFCO certification on the bag (which means absolutely nothing beyond your dog won’t starve to death), or blindly accept what your vet tells you to feed. Learn to read labels. Learn what the ingredients mean. Subscribe to Whole Dog Journal.

It’s unfortunate, but the burden of deciding what to feed your pets rests solely on your shoulders. You (probably) wouldn’t feed your child a diet of nothing but generic mac and cheese and bologna, because while they wouldn’t starve to death, they certainly wouldn’t be very healthy, so don’t feed the animal equivalent to your pet.

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