In Food We Trusted

For those of my readers who have had their heads in holes for the last week, a major piece of breaking news in the United States has been the widespread realization that our pet food supplies may not be safe, thanks to a contamination of commercial dog and cat food manufactured by Menu Foods with an as yet unknown substance. Pets who consumed the food went into kidney failure, and pet owners have been experiencing widespread panic as a result.

According to the New York Times, pet owners who intend to bring suit against Menu Foods because of the contaminated food will probably get little satisfaction. The company has said that it intends to reimburse pet owners for the cost of medical treatment, presumably if the animal’s condition can be reliably linked to the contaminated food. Thanks to the lack of a national reporting system for animal deaths, the company has been hedging its bets, acknowledging only 16 official deaths at this time, although veterinarians suggest that hundreds of animals are probably involved. If nothing else, I hope that this case establishes a national system like that used by the CDC to track outbreaks of human illness…and that Menu Foods faces repercussions for leaving the tainted food on the market for several weeks after it was known to cause kidney failure.

So much for trusting our food providers, eh?

The list of foods affected by the recall keeps growing, but the FDA has a complete list here, along with links to the Menu Foods recall list. If you have an animal which is demonstrating any symptoms of kidney failure such as excessive water consumption, copious urination, listlessness, muscle weakness, or depressed appetite, contact your veterinarian, and make sure to bring along packaging from food it has recently eaten. Current high profile brands impacted by the recall include Science Diet, Purina, Eukanuba, Iams, and Nutro, but there are many more involved, so be sure to check the recall list.

For all of my readers who already feed their animals healthy diets that they make from scratch: good for you!

This case of contaminated pet food has led to serious public concerns about the food packaged for sale to feed domestic pets. I’m hoping that it will bring about some serious industry changes, and that incidents like this can be prevented in the future. But I think it is also encouraging a lot of people to consider making their own pet food, at home, which I think is awesome. Pets really should not be eating dry, dull kibble day in and day out.

However, if you do want to feed your animals with homemade food, please consult your vet. Pets have special dietary needs, and you want to make sure that they are addressed. Talk to your vet about feeding at home and how you can make sure that your pets get a balanced diet. Many vets are supportive of well educated pet owners who want to take better care of their animals, and will help you explore new ways to provide delicious, varied, and interesting food for your pets. I think all pet owners should adopt the philosophy that they would not feed their pets anything that they would not personally eat.

If you’re on the fence about how to feed your pets, I’ll leave you with this choice tidbit from the FDA:

“Before it was recognized that they were susceptible to the BSE agent, cats were exposed to the infectious agent through commercial cat food or through meat scraps provided by butchers. The number of reported cases of FSE in the UK and Europe has been declining annually since 1994 after implementation of feed bans in those countries.”

I’d like you to think carefully about this statement. I really sincerely hope that you know enough about how spongiform diseases are passed on to be disgusted by it. If not, I’ll translate it for you:

“Before it was recognized that they were susceptible to the BSE agent, cats were exposed to the infectious agent through the rendered flesh of dead cats, many of whom had died because of infections, chronic illness, and other veterinary conditions. The number of reported cases of FSE in the UK and Europe has been declining annually since 1994 after implementation of feed bans in those countries which supposedly outlawed the inclusion of cats in pet food, but did not say anything about dogs.”

[pet food recall]