"Shocking" Pet Food Tests Hint at Widespread Problems

We need better regulation of the pet food industry. Not later. Not soon… Now.

This is an excerpt from the full report, which is available here (PDF).

Independent testing of a dozen popular pet food brands, the results of which were made public on January 4, has turned up a number of red flags.

The consumer watchdog group that initiated the tests says the results vindicate its belief that safety problems are rampant and unchecked in the commercial pet food industry.

All of the few foods that were analyzed for mycotoxins contained at least traces of the toxic substances. In addition, some of the tested foods had possibly dangerous bacteria. Finally, the tests turned up excessive amounts of certain minerals, such as calcium and sulfur, in many of the sample pet foods.

The laboratory analysis was limited to a single representative product from a few different brands, so it would be inappropriate to draw any sweeping conclusions based on the data. The Association for Truth in Pet Food (ATPF), which released the data, stressed that the findings are presented merely “for informational purposes.”

Think of them as “a snapshot in time,” said Susan Thixton, founder of ATPF. “This is just one batch.”

Even so, the results of the study — which was commissioned by ATPF and crowdfunded by concerned people with pets — serve as a much needed wake-up call. The biggest takeaway, according to the consumer group, is that more stringent regulation of pet food manufacturers is desperately needed — sooner rather than later.

“What we found is truly shocking and sad,” the group said in a blog post announcing the findings, urging pet caregivers to contact their legislators to “ask them to investigate the condition of pet food.”

Popular Brands Were Part of Study

Six dog foods and 6 cat foods were analyzed by labs contracted by INTI Service Corp., of Marshalltown, Iowa, which received “blind” shipments of the products, according to ATPF.

The 12 tested brands were:

  • Beneful
  • Blue Buffalo
  • Cesar
  • Fancy Feast
  • FreshPet
  • Friskies
  • Hill’s Prescription Diet
  • Meow Mix
  • Ol’ Roy
  • Royal Canin
  • Science Diet
  • Wellness

The full results appear here (PDF)

Among the findings:

  • A Meow Mix sample (a bag of Tender Centers Salmon & Turkey Flavors dry cat food) contained the highest levels of mycotoxins.
  • The second highest levels of mycotoxins were found in a sample bag of Purina Beneful Original Dog Food.
  • A can of Hill’s Prescription Diet C/D Urinary Tract Health Dog Food contained nearly 3 times more calcium than is allowed by AAFCO (pet food industry) guidelines. Excessive amounts of calcium have been shown to stunt pets’ growth. The same can of Hill’s was also found to have too much phosphorus, magnesium and sulphur.
  • A sample of Cesar Canine Cuisine Top Sirloin Beef was determined to have the highest level of Staphylococcus bacteria in the test sample (the exact species of Staph bacteria was not determined).
  • No concerning bacteria were found in the FreshPet sample, a result that stands in stark contrast to the 11 other brand samples.

Petful has reached out to several of the brands (Wellness, Purina, Hill’s Pet Nutrition and FreshPet) for comment. In response, Wellness didn’t address these test results specifically but stated that the company has quality controls in place to ensure a good product.

No Melamine, No Pentobarbital

One bit of positive news arising from the tests is that no measurable levels were found of either melamine (the culprit behind the deadly 2007 recalls) or the euthanizing drug pentobarbital (long a popular fear).

However, that is little consolation to people who have long been claiming that their dogs and cats fell sick or died after eating products such as Beneful — which has never been recalled by the FDA but performed poorly in this limited test.

Thixton says the results will be shared with officials from the FDA, AAFCO, various state Departments of Agriculture, and the Centers for Disease Control to push for tighter regulation of the industry.

This was “the most detailed examination of pet food ever performed,” she declared. “This history-making project is all thanks to some very determined pet food consumers” who donated more than $15,000 for the research.


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Dave Baker

View posts by Dave Baker
Dave Baker, founder and publisher of Petful, is a journalist and editor who has worked at The New York Times and The Nation magazine. He was also part of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize–winning team at The Times-Picayune newspaper of New Orleans. After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, he moved to Brooklyn, New York, where Petful is now based. A longtime advocate for pet food safety, Dave has been passionately tracking pet food recalls for the past 10-plus years, and more than 30,000 pet parents are subscribed to his recall alerts — which often arrive faster than even the recall alerts put out by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Learn more about Dave and the rest of the Petful team here: Meet the Team.

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