Is Your Pet’s Food Safe?

Jennifer Coates, DVM
Written by:
Published: July 11, 2017
Is Your Pet’s Food Safe?

Did you hear about the recent Clean Label Project study into pet foods? The organization screened more than 900 dog and cat foods and treats for over 130 toxins “including heavy metals, BPA, pesticides, and other contaminants with links to cancer and other health conditions in both humans and animals.”

The pet food products they tested were from 71 brands that represented “the top 90 percent of the best-selling products in each category.” What they found was eye-opening, to say the least. Here are some of the key findings:

  • Some pet food contains 2,420 parts per billion (ppb) of lead, which is 16 times more than has been found in Flint, Michigan’s “tainted” water (158 ppb).
  • 1,917 percent more arsenic was present in pet food (5,550 ppb) than in cigarette tobacco (360 ppb).
  • There was 980 percent more BPA (bisphenol A) in pet food in comparison to a can of chicken soup.

In a news report, Jaclyn Bowen, the executive director of the Clean Label Project, said that the analytical chemistry laboratory that did the testing, Ellipse Analytics, “has tested tens of thousands of consumer products” and “they literally have never seen environmental and industrial contaminants as high as they have ever seen in pet food.”

Yikes. But what does this mean for your pet’s health?

The sad truth is that we really don’t know. Research into the long-term health effects in pets of chronic exposure to most of the contaminants that were studied simply hasn’t been done. That said, I think it’s reasonable to take a “better safe than sorry” approach to results like these. Why feed your dog or cat a food that you know contains high levels of toxins when potentially safer alternatives are readily available?

The Clean Label Project has conveniently rated all of the products it tested using a 5-star system and provides a scale to denote a product’s purity and value. It’s important to note that this study found that “the cleanest ingredients can be found across all price points” and that “more expensive products are not always better.” I was quite surprised to see that within a particular brand, some products tested well while others fared quite poorly.

Consumers also need to be aware of potentially confusing label claims. For example, pet parents may reach for grain-free diets assuming that these would be a more healthy choice, but this research actually found that products labeled as being grain-free tended to have higher levels of toxins.

Take a look at the product ratings list to see where your pet’s food ranks, but keep in mind that these ratings only apply to a product’s contamination level. They say nothing about other factors, like whether a food is nutritionally complete and balanced or appropriate for your pet’s age, lifestyle, and overall health. Use this study as part of your research when picking out pet food. Once you have a few options that seem like a potential good fit, run them by your veterinarian. He or she can let you know which would be the best choice for your dog or cat.

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