Could Dogs and Cats Be Ingredients in Your Pet’s Food?

I am not aware of any pet food companies who have admitted using dead dogs and cats as an ingredient in pet food.  However, to my knowledge, dead dogs and cats are not prohibited as an ingredient in pet food by any state or federal agency, nor by AAFCO (the group which defines pet food ingredients).  Nor is any pet food manufacturer required to disclose whether they use dogs and cats in their product.

As a consumer, what I am looking for in terms of reassurance that dogs and cats are not used as an ingredient in pet food is definitive denial.  For example, if AAFCO’s list of ingredient definitions specifically excluded dogs and cats, then I would know that any pet food product which carried the AAFCO statement of approval would not contain dogs and cats.  As things stand, that’s not the case.

From AAFCO (pdf):

If consumers have a preference for certain ingredients, they should review the ingredient list to determine if their preferences are being met.

OK, let’s do that.  The ingredient list on a random package of pet food pulled off the shelf at a pet supply megastore includes “meat and bone meal” and I’m wondering exactly what type of meat it is.  The images on the front of bag look like prime cuts of beef, such as what a person might eat.  Here are the related AAFCO definitions:

  • Meat and Bone Meal – the rendered product from mammal tissues, including bone, exclusive of blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents, except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices.
  • Meat By-Products – the non rendered, clean parts, other than meat, derived from slaughtered mammals. It includes, but is not limited to, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, livers, blood, bone, partially defatted low-temperature fatty tissue and stomachs and intestines freed of their contents. It does not include hair, horns, teeth and hooves.
  • Meat Meal – the rendered product from mammal tissues, exclusive of blood, hair, hoof, horn, hide trimmings, manure, stomach and rumen contents except in such amounts as may occur unavoidably in good processing practices.

The takeaway here is that “meat” from an unspecified source on a pet food ingredient list indicates “mammals”.  Dogs and cats are mammals.  It does not say “mammals except for dogs and cats” or anything similar.  Meat=mammals.

Also from the AAFCO pdf:

7. Does most of the protein come from scrap and byproducts left over from human meat processing?
The animal proteins used in feeds are frequently, but not exclusively derived from the production of human food.

Frequently.  So some protein in pet foods is derived from sources outside the production of human food.  Rendered dogs and cats could be accurately described as such.  Again, there is no statement containing a definitive denial of the practice of obtaining the rendered remains of dead pets and using them in pet food.  Not here, not anywhere that I’ve found in AAFCO’s publications.

In an undated vid clip from KING5 news in Seattle, former AAFCO president Hersh Pendell states that “meat and bone meal” on the label may mean “Fluffy” is an ingredient in your pet’s food.

Here is a graphic 2007 video of D & D Disposal/West Coast Rendering grinding and boiling pets into protein meal.  Obviously they are creating this product for sale to some company (or companies).  Is it being sold to pet food manufacturers?  Some other type of company?  I don’t know.  The only thing for certain is that if the protein meal was used in a pet food product, it would be acceptable according to AAFCO as well as state and federal regulating agencies.  Again, because dogs and cats as a pet food ingredient are not prohibited by any of these groups.

More on rendering practices from a 1997 article in the NY Times:

Renderers in the United States pick up 100 million pounds of waste material every day — a witch’s brew of feet, heads, stomachs, intestines, hooves, spinal cords, tails, grease, feathers and bones. Half of every butchered cow and a third of every pig is not consumed by humans. An estimated six million to seven million dogs and cats are killed in animal shelters each year, said Jeff Frace, a spokesman for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in New York City.

For example, the city of Los Angeles sends 200 tons of euthanized cats and dogs to West Coast Rendering, in Los Angeles, every month, according to Chuck Ellis, a spokesman for the city’s Sanitation Department.

Pet food companies try not to buy meat and bone meal from renderers who grind up cats and dogs, said Doug Anderson, president of Darling International Inc., a large rendering company in Dallas. ”We do not accept companion animals,” he said. ”But there are still a number of small plants that will render anything.”

A 1995 document (pdf) from the Environmental Protection Agency on rendering processes states:

Independent plants 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.

Animal shelters would presumably be supplying dead dogs and cats to these rendering plants, not Angus beef.

In January 2002, the L.A. Times wrote about the public outcry in the aftermath of a St. Louis news story documenting the use of dead pets in pet food.  The reporter has since left the station in St. Louis but the report is preserved in text form here.  The story begins at the local pound:

A dozen or more former pets are put to death because no one wants them — alive that is.

Unwanted by their owners, their bodies are in high demand. Loaded into a city refuse truck, they are taken five miles across the river to Illinois to a rendering plant in Millstadt. Along with dead cows and road kill, they will be piled into a vat and boiled, turned into raw tankage or protein.

We were asked to leave the property before we could ask where it all eventually goes. But it soon became evident as a tanker truck made its way into the plant to be filled. The truck was from a southern Missouri company, its mission spelled out on the tank itself: “serving the pet food industry.”

“It may be objectionable. People may not want to know what goes in there,” says Don Aird of the Food and Drug Administration.

But the Food and Drug Administration, which oversees pet food ingredients, allows dead dogs and cats in pet food, saying disease or the drugs used to sedate the animals dissipates through cooking.

“Well, we don’t believe it’s going to cause problems for the animals. If we did, we would not allow it to happen,” Aird says.

Salon addressed the issue of rendered pets in pet food in a broader article from 2007:

For years the pet food industry has been, well, dogged by persistent rumors that meat from horses and from euthanized cats and dogs finds its way into pet food. “They do not use horse meat,” [Duane Ekedahl, president of the Pet Food Institute] says, and “as a condition of membership, [Pet Food Institute members] affirm that none of their rendered material will contain cats and dogs. The public just wouldn’t stand for it.”

So we’re probably not feeding cats and dogs to our cats and dogs.

Is “probably not” a strong enough reassurance for you?  It doesn’t work for me.  By the way, the Pet Food Institute (PFI) is not a regulatory body with enforcement powers but a lobbying group.  Any members who might pledge to the PFI with their hands over their hearts that they don’t use rendered pets could have their fingers crossed behind their backs.  They’d still be legal.

The bottom line for me is that pets are legally allowed as an ingredient in pet food.  I can’t state definitively that pets are used in pet foods but there is sufficient historical evidence to make me consider the possibility.  I’d like to see AAFCO change their definitions related to non-specific types of meat to include wording that excludes dogs and cats.  But unless a government regulatory agency steps up and specifically makes it a crime to include dogs and cats in pet food, it will always be legal, no matter what pinky promises are made to consumers by corporations or lobbying groups.

H/T:  Truth About Pet Food

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21 thoughts on “Could Dogs and Cats Be Ingredients in Your Pet’s Food?

  1. I’d love to see AAFCO change their definitions, too. But, in the meantime, maybe the FDA could fund a study testing actual dog food and cat food samples for the presence of material derived from dogs and/or cats. Oh, wait, they did!

    Summary of the test results:

    They were testing for the presence of dogs and cats because they had found pentobarbital in pet food. They tested mostly low-end foods with non-specific “animal by-products” or “meat and bone meal.” The conclusion was that the pentobarbital came from euthanized cattle, or possibly horses, which they did not test for.

    There’s lots of speculation, often presented as fact, based on the known facts that yes, dogs and cats do get rendered; yes, pet food companies use rendered products; no, low-end pet foods with non-specific animal ingredients don’t use high-quality ingredients you’d want to feed your family. But the only actual scientific testing found no dogs or cats in the low-end pet foods where it would be the most likely to happen, if it were happening.

    There are plenty of non-food uses for rendered products. Two of those uses are in pharmaceutical manufacture and in cosmetics. Both of which are higher-margin industries than pet food, and don’t have the same potential for nasty backlash that pet food companies would risk in using rendered pets. I.e., they are probably willing to pay more for the rendered pets than pet food companies would be.

    So we have on the one had zero actual evidence of pets in pet food, only statements that it’s not impossible they are there, and on the other hand, we have the only scientific testing done on the subject, which says, no, there aren’t pets in pet food.

    There are lots of reasons not to feed low-end foods with non-specific ingredients. This isn’t one of them.

    1. If the truck at the rendering plant said “serving the cosmetics industry” on the side instead of “serving the pet food industry” or the AAFCO president had said something like “There’s no way Fluffy would ever be in pet food” instead of “There’s no way to know if the meat and bone meal refers to Fluffy”, I might be inclined to agree. But given that there is ample evidence that it’s a possibility, the question remains for me.
      As for “low end” foods, I’m guessing that what some folks call low end, other people call premium. Some examples of foods that have non-specific meat/fat/bone sources listed in the ingredients (and are not available in my grocery store): Purina Pro Plan Selects, Purina Pro Plan Shredded Blends, Diamond Hi-Energy Sporting Formula, Iams Veterinary Formulas Skin & Coat Response (prescription required to buy this product), Wysong Archetype Buffet.

  2. That FDA study didn’t say that they tested for cow, pig, or sheep DNA. Maybe there are detectable levels of DNA from those animals in the food, I don’t know. Maybe not. DNA is denatured by heat, and I would think it possible that dog and cat DNA could have been destroyed in the rendering process. Also, this study is from 1992 and DNA tests were far, far less sensitive back then. I think that study is ripe for a re-do. Another interesting way to look at it, which might work (or might not), would be to look at stable isotopes. Carnivorous mammals would have a different stable isotope profile than would herbivorous ones. Pigs being omnivores would complicate it, and maybe stable isotope analysis is not a viable way to get at this, but I still find that old DNA study unconvincing.

  3. DNA testing is done by denaturing; if denaturing destroyed DNA to the point of making it undetectable, we couldn’t do DNA testing at all.

    To destroy DNA to the point of making it unidentifiable in testing, you need to hydrolize it, which is a chemical reaction and not what happens in the rendering process.

    They didn’t test for cow, pig, sheep, or even horse, because they were responding to the detection of pentobarbital in the food, and wanted to know if euthanized cats or dogs had been used in the food. Remains from the other four species wouldn’t be “Fluffy,” and wouldn’t raise the moral issues, the ick issues, or the health issues raised by making our pets into unwitting cannibals.

    We have one statement, which from the evidence is at least twenty years old, saying that it’s not impossible that Fluffy is in your pet’s food, and we have an eight-year-old FDA study using DNA testing, saying that no, there is zero evidence of pets in pet food.

    You can’t prove a negative, but this isn’t a theory that has anything real to support it.

  4. I used to work in a DNA lab, and, yes, we use heat to denature DNA as part of the amplification (PCR) process, but we do it in a very controlled way, for a specific period of time and at a specific temperature, which I am quite certain is a lot lower than the temperatures used in rendering. DNA will deteriorate over time, especially under moist or hot conditions, even in the absence of efforts to hydrolyze it. This is why ancient DNA poses so many technical problems.

    The reason for testing for the DNA of cows, etc. would be to see if you could detect those in the food–a ‘control’. If you can’t detect that which you have every reason to expect to detect, then the test needs to be revised.

  5. Am I just clueless here? Cats and dogs ARE carnivores…and they can also be cannibalistic.
    What’s the big deal? If you want cheap, and “food is food” then what’s the difference if you’re eating the icky parts of a pig that never saw daylight or a dog that somebody says nobody wanted. (Or who was too sick or old to continue to live?!)
    I take issue with the whole “leftover” part of the pet food industry, but I find it somehow fitting that those who think pets are just dogs and cats (like some think cows and pigs are just meat on the hoof) could find said meat in their pet food.
    Isn’t it better to make use of viable proteins than to fill the landfill? Is it better to donate “cheap” dog food to those in need than to steal their pets and kill them because they don’t have enough money to spay or neuter them?
    I’m already paying $40 – $60 a bag for kibble. Whatever happened to the whole green recycle theory?

    1. I’m kinda in your camp on this BUT one of the issues is whatever chemicals might be in the rendered animals. Not just an issue if it’s “Fluffy” either. The other scientific issue with “cannibalism” is that disease transmission is more likely from eating one’s one species than from eating a different species.

      Floor is now open for all to flame us with ICK at the very idea that we shouldn’t waste the dead animals the way we do.

    2. More like “soylent green”!

      Fact is that feeding cats to cats is a real issue – cats are one of the species susceptible to spongiform encephalopathies and since prions aren’t damaged by the rendering process…

    3. The health problem with cannibalism is that it can transmit diseases that aren’t otherwise transmissable–such as the prion diseases, the spongiform encephalopathies. It was feeding cow remains to cows–in one sense an excellent choice, because of the extra protein–that produced the “mad cow” epidemic, and in turn led to a truly scary increase in the otherwise-rare Creutzfeld-Jacob disease in humans. Also scrapie in sheep–the reason the USDA is absolute death on importing sheep from Europe, which except for the scrapie problem would be a great way to improve and diversify our sheep stock. Again, they were feeding processed sheep remains to sheep for the protein boost–and made common a problem that was otherwise rare.

      So, yes, feeding cat and dog remains to cats and dogs would be a potentially disastrous problem if it’s happening. I just don’t see any actual evidence that it’s happening.

      And yes, in fact, I’m all in favor of giving cheap pet food to people who are struggling economically, instead of taking their pets. It’s just that pet food that includes pets isn’t, in the long run, or possibly in the medium run, “cheap.” Even ignoring the ick factor, it could threaten the existence of large, healthy populations of domestic dogs and cats. That’s a worst-case scenario, but there really are better, more efficient was to make low-end, just-good-enough dog and cat food.

      1. Okay, thanks everybody…I’m sold, no feeding dogs to dogs or cats to cats! (What if they separate out and only cross-pollinate, does that make it okay?! (Not that I was ever really four-square behind the idea anyway…)

  6. Any animal that was chemically euthanized “should” be excluded since most states now have specifications for disposal of those. However, any animal that dies a natural death could certainly be going to a rendering plant. There’s a market, they get paid for those carcasses. I have no doubt that “Fluffy” (dog/cat/rabbit/etc.) could be in pet food. I have even less doubt they are in other products that use/contain rendered animals. I actually doubt they would be entirely prohibited in human food; really doubt they don’t “slip” in there occasionally.

    I know no one wants to think their veterinarian would sell a dead pet to a rendering plant but, if they get paid for the carcass, why wouldn’t they? Especially if the alternative is a disposal that they have to pay for. Just because the owner paid for that disposal doesn’t mean the veterinarian/clinic might not sell the carcass either. How would an owner ever know?

    None of us are nearly as suspicious as we should be of what ends up in our food, our pets’ food, our household products. We should at least know the answers. That’s step one.

  7. You should read “The Nature of Animal Healing : The Definitive Holistic Medicine Guide to Caring for Your Dog and Cat” It has a very enlightening chapter on what is in pet food. I was shocked and disgusted. No wonder cancer and other deadly diseases are skyrocketing when we are feeding our pets this garbage.

    1. Okay, I took a look at this book on Google Books–

      Dr. Goldstein, amongst other things, believes that viruses don’t cause disease; diseased tissue causes viruses. Because, he says, otherwise the virus “would have to evolve out of thin air.”

      And his discussion of “what’s in pet food” begins with a discussion of Ken-L Ration, “as common a brand as you can find.” Really? Ken-L Ration has been gone from the pet food aisles for many years. There’s a long-running comment thread over on The Pet Connection about Ken-L Ration, with people who take pet nutrition very seriously reminiscing over how well their dogs did on Ken-L Ration, and lamenting the fact that they can’t get it anymore. Whatever else it is, for good or ill, Ken-L Ration is NOT “as common a brand as you can find,”–and wasn’t even eleven years ago, when the book was published.

      So, Dr. Goldstein can’t imagine any source other than spontaneous generation for viruses, and has no idea what commercial pet foods are actually currently available. I should take him seriously–why exactly?

      1. Thank you for challenging his so called ‘science’ when he is really a quack who believes in redefining biology….

    2. I have Dr. Goldstein’s book! Like many of the books in my library, I don’t agree with some of what’s in it. But I do agree with his idea of home prepared foods being safer and more healthful to feed than pet foods.

      I also have Ann Martin’s “Food Pets Die For” and the follow up book.

      1. I agree that a good home prepared diet is better and safer.

        But even a broken clock is right twice a day, and when someone thinks that the only alternative to viruses being produced by diseased tissue is spontaneous generation, and says that a brand of dog food that’s been off the market for many, many years is one of the most common brands available, I’m not going to regard them as a source or authority for anything dog-related or health-related.

      2. I also think Ken-L Ration was almost 100% real meat, too (horsemeat, that is). So I’d think that would actually make it better than most brands today.

  8. to say that dog food companies would probably not do this is completely insane~~~ If the FDA lets us Humans eat stuff like Pink Slime AKA ammoniumated Beef.. Which by the way use to only be fed to dogs, then what do you think they will put into dog food? Then lets use common sense– if the beef scraps that use to go into dog food is now going into the ground beef sold in stores , restaurants, fast food, ect,, what do you think they are using for dog food?? Its not beef!! Doubt its chicken either ,, because those chicken nuggets you get from Mc Donalds and just whole chicken ground up! Beak, feathers, feet and all!

  9. So hypocritical for anyone to object or act all high and mighty about our precious dogs and cats being used as food for other dogs and cats when it is literally NO different ethically and probably health wise from killing cows, pigs, horses or chickens and feeding them to other animals. Humans happily consume animals pumped full of all kinds of antibiotics, hormones and who knows what else. This is a ridiculous ‘outrage’. Dogs and Cats need meat…the source is bound to have some byproducts of medicine or other risks in it, just as catching wild meat for them would have the risk of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. It would be a concern if our dogs and cats were dying young….however, on these processed diets, the life span of pets has risen to 12-20+ years so it can’t be causing much if any harm. I do not eat any meat personally so if anyone feels strongly about it, yet eats meat themselves, they should shut up or eliminate meat from their own diet.

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