by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M
The recent recall of certain brands of pet food in the United States and Canada is a story that has caused much anguish for all pet owners. First, most any pet owner can feel great empathy for anyone who experiences the sudden, unexpected loss of a pet, under any circumstances. It is even more tragic if an owner feels somehow they were responsible for the death of a pet - in this case, by feeding their pet. At the same time, many people have been caused great anxiety worrying about how they can avoid a similar tragedy for their pet.
As with any such story, receiving such wide media attention, some fact and some fiction has been generated. This is an ongoing issue. At the time of this writing, now three weeks after the initial recall, we have quite a lot of information about the problem but do not have all the answers yet. Let's review some of the facts as we now know them.
Scientists at the University of Guelph's Animal Health Laboratory (AHL) and the Agriculture and Food Laboratory (AFL) have been investigating the toxin involved in the pet food recall. I spoke recently with Dr. Brent Hoff, a clinical pathologist/clinical toxicologist at the AHL, involved in this research. Their conclusion, supported by similar results at diagnostic laboratories in the U.S., is that the suspected cause of the problem is melamine. Melamine is an industrial chemical used as a fertilizer and to make plastics. This material was apparently introduced into the pet foods when wheat gluten was used in their formulation. Wheat gluten is primarily used in pet foods as a thickener in moist foods or foods that have a gravy component. Scientists at the AHL and the AFL have detected melamine in suspect moist pet foods and in crystals in the urine of affected cats but have not detected melamine in dry pet food. Studies are continuing to determine exactly how melamine can cause acute kidney failure in pets.
Also, although numbers are expected to increase as recording continues, at this time, only about 16 pet deaths in the U.S. are confirmed to have been connected with the toxin in the food. It is thought the number of pets affected in Canada will be fewer than in the United States.
I am certain there will be lessons learned from this calamity. For pet owners who are concerned about food health and safety for their pet, I believe there are important things to remember. I sincerely believe one of the most serious errors a pet owner could make would be to blame all pet food manufacturers and believe that all commercially prepared diets are unsafe. At a time when our pets are living longer and enjoying a better quality life than ever before, that would be a tragic mistake. I would urge owners not to panic but to calmly study the facts, intelligently assess the information gained and plan their pet's diet accordingly.
Remember, first off, melamine was not a toxin identified ever before as a threat to an animal's health. It was not a substance that should have been tested for by the pet food manufacturing industry.
Martha Wilder has been executive-director of the Pet Food Association of Canada for ten years. In that decade, she told me last week, there have been three recalls of pet food. Compare that with a day recently when there was four recalls of human food on that single day. We all remember just a few months ago the spinach recall. It caused great concern, but, I hope it has not changed anyone's mind about the value of adding this wonderfully healthy food to our diet.
I have written before about the problems, I believe, are inherent with feeding bones and raw food to our pets. In my opinion, it is unsafe for both the pet and the people with whom they live. There are no benefits to be had from not cooking the food and one would have to be quite naïve to think that raw ingredients would lessen the risk of introducing toxins.
I would suggest it is not an easy and simple task to home cook and prepare a complete and nutritionally balanced diet for your pet through all its life stages. Do not be influenced by rumours, anecdotal incidents and unsubstantiated findings, a good quality commercial pet food diet, produced by a reliable manufacturer is still the best and safest way to feed your pet.