In 2010, author and natural pet food entrepreneur Amy Renz was one of many pet parents who wondered what the truth was behind pet treat labels. Many do not realize that behind the colorful packaging and clever slogans of pet treats, there are dangerous, carcinogenic substances, masked by vague wording like “natural flavors” and “meat.” So what’s the truth behind a pet treat label? In 2010, Renz investigated, finding astonishing and disturbing results.
According to Renz, pet treat labels often include BHA, BHT, Ethoxyquin, Sodium Metabisulfite, and TBHQ among the ingredients. Renz notes that Del Monte and Purina routinely use these chemical ingredients, which are known to be carcinogenic and can also cause liver and kidney problems, loss of consciousness, brain damage, and life-threatening asthma. In addition to being in the top-selling dog treats, these chemicals are also used to manufacture rubber and petroleum products, including embalming fluid.
Many pet treats, such as Purina Moist ‘n Meaty, list Ethoxyquin on their label. Ethoxyquin is so toxic that the FDA prohibited it from human consumption except for minute quantities in certain spices. Despite the behest of veterinarians, the FDA has done nothing but suggest to pet product manufacturers that they reduce its usage.
Sodium Metabisulfite (the preservative in Milk-Bones) is harmful if ingested or inhaled. It reacts with water and acids (like those in your dog’s stomach) to release toxic sulfur dioxide gas. It can cause life-threatening asthmatic reactions after ingestion as well as gastrointestinal, circulatory, and central nervous system problems.
BHA and BHT are banned in England, Japan, and numerous European countries. BHA is thought by the National Institutes of Health to cause stomach cancer. BHA and TBHQ are classified as nongenotoxic (not directly affecting DNA) carcinogens (Kroes and Wester, 1986). A Consumer’s Guide to Food Additives (Winters, 1999) stated that TBHQ can cause death from ingestion of as little as 5 grams. Ingestion of one gram causes nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, a sense of suffocation, and collapse. The FDA puts strict requirements on all of these toxic chemical preservatives in human food, but pet foods have few if any requirements and often contain much more. Why are companies allowed to place these dangerous substances in our pets’ food?
There are natural solutions for preserving food, such as dehydration. Taking the moisture out of a food ensures that bacteria cannot grow. Vitamin E and Vitamin C also make effective natural solutions. But dehydration is more expensive than using sodium metabisulfite, BHA, BHT, TBHQ or ethoxyquin.
Many pet food labels vaguely list “meat” as an ingredient…but what does this really mean? The FDA states that “meat” for animal feed comes from “independent [rendering] plants that obtain animal by-product materials, including grease, blood, feathers, offal and entire animal carcasses from the following sources: butcher shops, supermarkets, restaurants, fast-food chains, poultry processors, slaughterhouses, farms, ranches, feedlots, and animal shelters.”
AAFCO, the organization that works with the FDA to standardize definitions of ingredients and other things for the pet food industry, broadly defines “byproducts.” Poultry byproducts, for instance, can include: “the carcass of slaughtered poultry such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs and intestines exclusive of feathers except… as might occur unavoidably…” The FDA also allows 4D animals, including roadkill, dying or diseased animals, disabled, and spoiled or contaminated meat to be used in pet food. “Meat” and “by-products” are found in Milk-Bones (Del Monte), Pup-Peroni (Del Monte), Busy Bones (Purina), Moist n Meaty (Purina), T-Bonz (Purina), and Beneful Snackin’ Slices (Purina).
The effect of ingesting these toxic substances is drastic. Many young and middle-aged dogs are developing myriad medical issues, including skin irritation and gastrointestinal issues. The reason behind their symptoms is that dogs cannot digest what they are eating. Many dogs cannot digest components like wheat, corn, and soy. Some dogs are allergic to these ingredients, but they are included in dog food because they are economical for the large companies that produce dog food and dog treats.
MSG, an addictive substance, is included in pet food but not listed on the label. When a protein is listed as “hydrolyzed,” it likely contains MSG. MSG is likely a causal factor in pet obesity because it can more than triple insulin levels. More than 50% of dogs and cats in the U.S. are reportedly obese.
Refined sugars are added to pet food because dogs can taste sweetness. Sugar can cause obesity, dental problems, and diabetes. The FDA still allows cancer-causing saccharine to be sold to humans and genetically modified ingredients to be undisclosed on labels. Glycerin is a sugar substitute and filler and hydrogenated starch hydrolysate is an artificial sweetener with a similar chemical compound to Xylitol, which is a known pet toxin.
Wheat, which can be difficult for dogs to digest, is frequently identified as an allergen. Wheat is in countless dog treats, including Milk-Bones (Del Monte), Pup-Peroni (Del Monte), Beggin Strips (Purina), Waggin Train Jerky Tenders (ADI in China), Busy Bones (Purina), Moist n Meaty (Purina), T-Bonz (Purina), Beneful Snackin’ Slices (Purina), and The Goodlife Recipe (Mars, Inc.).
Titanium dioxide, copper sulfate, calcium proprionate, sodium bisulfite, propylene glycol, and zinc sulfate are toxic, commonly used food additives. Food colorings Yellow #6, Blue #1 and #2, Red #3 and Green #3 are linked with cancer in animal testing. These are in Milk-Bones, Beggin Strips, Beneful Snackin Slices, and T-Bonz.
Titanium dioxide is a widely used white food coloring that is suspected of causing genetic disorders and lung tumors and has caused emphysema-like lung injuries in mice. Sulfate is an herbicide, fungicide and pesticide that’s also a known toxin. Calcium proprionate is a mold inhibitor. Sodium nitrite is linked with cancer and can be found in Beggin Strips and Pup-Peroni. Sodium nitrate is easily converted into carcinogenic compounds (called NOCs). Both sodium nitrite and nitrate have been linked with gastric cancer, esophageal cancer, and colorectal cancer.
Propylene glycol, which is lethal for pets, is found in antifreeze as well as the following pet treats: Milk-Bones (Del Monte), Beggin Strips (Purina), Pup-Peroni (Del Monte), T-Bonz (Purina), Beneful Snackin’ Slices (Purina), Moist n’ Meaty (Purina), and Busy Bone (Purina).
Wolves in captivity live for 20 years or longer, but dogs frequently die at far earlier ages. Cancer is the #1 killer of our dogs; 25-50% of them die from it by some estimates. The toxins in their food are arguably a significant contributing factor.
Our pets cannot tell us that they feel ill – experiencing headaches, itchy skin, gastrointestinal upset, dizziness, and weakness – after ingesting the treats that are intended to act as a reward. Disturbingly, in the three years since this article’s publication, few, if any, changes have been made to diminish the danger to pets who consume store-bought treats and foods.
“In the last couple years, I haven’t noticed the big guys make any improvements in their products,” Renz stated. “The market for healthier pet food and treats is growing rapidly. But instead of making a better product, companies like Del Monte (the maker of Milk Bones) makes a better gimmick. They invent Milo’s Kitchen, for example. Del Monte markets Milo’s Kitchen as a ‘home-style’ treat, but there are dozens of ingredients in them that you would never find in your home kitchen, and the chicken treats are produced in China.”
Renz recommends using alternatives to the larger companies. “What I have noticed are healthier choices coming from new companies,” she stated. “These are products that contain what the industry strangely doesn’t like us to call ‘human-grade’ ingredients. They’re products from companies like my company, Goodness Gracious, or The Honest Kitchen, or Primal Pet Foods. The ingredients we use are fresh, wholesome, USDA certified, and nutritious for dogs and cats. They are the same ingredients you’d buy in a grocery store and feed all members of your family.”
“Consumer awareness has grown over the last couple years and that is encouraging,” Renz stated. “People are reading labels, asking educated questions, and finding a lot of good information on-line. Just like they do with their children, parents need to take an active role in guiding their pet’s nutrition. A trip to McDonald’s will always be cheaper than a trip down the produce aisle of the grocery store. But there’s a reason the parent does the latter. The same rule applies to our pets. I’m often asked to recommend a healthy, cheap treat. They don’t exist. Quality ingredients and careful preparation costs money. The better choices are more expensive. So don’t sweat it. Just give your pet one healthy piece of jerky over five or ten junk-food biscuits. Your dog will make up the difference by living longer.”
While our pets cannot tell us that our kindness is killing them softly, educating yourself by taking the time to read a label can help your pet live many years longer. To learn more about Renz’s company, visit their website.
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Thank you – from all of the animals at Pasado’s Safe Haven.