I was browsing through Netflix late Saturday night looking for an interesting movie to watch and came across this documentary called Pet Fooled. It is co produced by Kohl Harrington and Micheal Fossat.

Pet Fooled describes the commercial pet food industry and the lack of transparency about what goes into the packaged pet food we give our pets. Being a new pet owner I have always looked for the best most healthiest pet food on the supermarket or pet store shelf for my little french bull dog. The documentary was an informative eye opener for me and I recommend it for all new pet owners. You must make it a must watch on your to watch film /documentary list.

Pet Fooled interviews veterinarians and pet owners about their knowledge on the true ingredients or raw materials found in packaged pet food and it’s impact on pet health and nutrition. The commercial pet food manufactured by pet food giants is made available for purchase in most pet stores or supermarkets in the United States. In fact, some of the more popular brands of commercial pet food is also available for purchase in many other countries across the globe.

The film also decodes with the help of experts the real meanings behind the food labels and ingredient list on the pet food packs we buy from our local pet store or the pets section of our supermarkets. It describes the negative impacts of such processed pet food diets on our beloved pets and discusses alternatives available nowadays.

While watching the documentary, just the thought of feeding poisonous substances to my cute little french bulldog puppy disturbed me. I was convinced that I should read more carefully food labels before buying or at least try my best to find a good source for healthy raw meat for my pets food. I am definitely going to ask my veterinarian their opinion on biological diets.

Usually, when one searches the internet for information on a pet problem or health condition even simple ones like rashes or itchy skin there is so much information it’s difficult to decide which source of information is scientific or the best source. This documentary educates pet parents on the way to read pet food package labels and to the alternative diets that are available in the market today.

It was also shocking to learn that not one pet food company had came forward transparently to be interviewed as part of the documentary. That itself speaks volumes. I feel terrible about what so many pet owners ( I like to call them pet parents ) went through in 2007 during the melamine caused pet food recall.

So what did I learn as a new pet owner, I have briefly summarised all of it for you below. Hope it helps you like it helped me better realise my pet parent responsibility.

The 2007 melamine-related pet food  recall

In 2007 pet foods company Purina and Hills amongst others recalled many packets of pet food including the brand labelled Science Diet due to melamine contamination and the public outcry at the number of pets that had died or fallen sick from eating the pet food that had been recalled.

The internet research I read states that 70% of China’s pet food manufactured ingredients are imported to the United States and used by the pet food commercial corporations in their branded pet foods. In 2007 Taipei recalled 4 brands of pet food off the shelves for lack of promised protein / mislabeling.

In the United States in 2007 pet food was recalled for melamine contamination. Melamine along with cyanuric acid was found in the wheat gluten that contained ingredients from China.

This combination of melamine and cyanuric acid causes kidney failure in animals.

And consequently had led to several pet deaths after consumption. Some of the biggest pet food corporations in the United States were involved in the 2007 pet food recall including Purina, Science Diet ( Hills ) and Eukanaba.

And yet even today a similar problem seems to exist with some chicken jerky products for pets. However, unlike the melamine food recall this issue remains still unresolved.

So why would anyone feed their dog wheat gluten in the first place? I asked myself what was wheat doing in my french bull dog’s food? Is that a natural part of a carnivorous animals high protein diet requirement? And what about buying goods with Chinese origins? Does the label say made in China? Well, that’s a part of the problem actually. Under prevalent United States laws, the country of origin details for raw materials or ingredients used to manufacture pet food is not required to be disclosed on the food packaging. Furthermore, under United States laws a pet food product can be said to be made in the United States as long as it is put together or assembled in the United States.

The big corporations and their bottom lines

When we walk into our favourite pet store or even the local supermarket there are a variety of pet food brands available for sale on the pet store shelves. However, despite the variety in brands and mixes there are actually just four or five multinational corporations out there who manufacture most of these various brands. The best known brands belong to pet food giants like

  1. Purina
  2. Mars
  3. Nestle
  4. Hills
  5. P& G

amongst others. Each of these commercial corporations manufacture or put together from imported raw materials or ingredients, commercial pet food which is then well packed and placed on the shelves for sale. In some cases, it’s just a matter of repackaging for example chicken jerky pet food products are simply repackaged and sold. While there appear to be a variety of brands and types of chicken jerky which are different looking on the shelves of the pet store, in fact, the film states that they were all at one point sourced from a production unit /factory in china and are simply repackaged under different brands for retail sale. While no one has been able to pinpoint or trace the exact ingredient in the chicken jerky which leads to the medical problems of many pets it is thought to be the chicken jerky products. This is the ongoing issue with several brands of chicken jerky affecting pet health which is not yet resolved.

Also, it is astounding to know that the base ingredients of almost all of them have very little differences. Also, the film points out that most of these commercial pet foods list as their main ingredient carbohydrates like soya, wheat and corn with a minimum of meat and added dry chemical vitamins. And  that’s the tip of the iceberg, there are issues on rendered meat and it’s sources. No checks on meat quality or by product that’s being processed to make into rendered meat raw materials. There is also the issue that some pet food formulations when processed at high temperatures in factories lead to the creation of acrylamides and other carcinogens. And all of this is what we are feeding our pets. I hesitate every time I put commercial pet food into my frenchie’s  dinner bowl with all these thoughts rushing into my head.

What do these pet foods do for our pets?

Well despite all the fantastic packaging and photos I am concerned at the nutrition that my french bulldog puppy gets at the end of the day. The packaging promises extra

  • nutrients,
  • good fibre,
  • high protein.

In come cases organic and natural is also written. Not to mention all the photos of happy healthy pets that are on the packs. Is this food really healthy. While your vet is the best person to consult about the choice of pet food and to discuss the pros and cons of a raw meat diet for your pet there are many differing opinions on this amongst veterinarians themselves as well.

I for one am now wiser for all this glossy advertising and want to know what I am exactly putting into my french bull dogs plate of food.

Decoding the labels on your pet food

So the regulators and AAFCO ( the full form is Association of American Feed Control Officials) have the following meanings attached to the use of the certain descriptive words in packaged pet foods wrappings or covers. AAFCO is not a government authority neither a regulatory one. Certainly, these meanings are not the regular dictionary ones and most consumers of the pet food end product do not know these word associations. I for one am now wiser and look out for these words before buying. While I do prefer to follow a raw diet I also keep some pet food for emergencies and cases with time constraints.

The word ‘With’ in the package indicates that the buyer should expect a 3% chicken or meat content. The words ‘Formula, dinner or nugget’ on the package of pet food suggest that the pet owner buying should expect 25% chicken or meat content. The word ‘dog food’ on the pack indicates a 95% meat content. And what then about the pet food products with the words natural or organic I was thinking. Well ‘organic’ can be used in. Sort food package with even with only 3% organic chicken content. The word ‘natural’ as per the AAFCO definition includes rendered meat.

And all this, by the way, is not fresh for human consumption first grade FDA approved meat but it is mostly rendered meat or by product. What’s that? Well, I sure had not heard of these terms before? Well by product is the leftovers of an animal carcass after the parts fit for human consumption have been removed from it. It is biological waste which slaughter houses look for hygienic and non contaminating ways to dispose. This quantity of useless meat leftovers is the highest in red meat eating countries with high meat and beef production.

Rendered meat is meat basically smashed and ground by machines that is sourced from a variety of places and includes by product from slaughter houses, butchery left overs. Dead animals from farms, ranches or elsewhere, road kill, undisposed carcasses are all included in the sources for meat rendering factories. Once it’s all smashed and minced it all looks identical and generic and comes neatly packaged as a raw material to be used for pet food factories.

What do the veterinarians say?

Pet Fooled while filming took the expert views of many veterinarians like Dr Barbara Royal and Dr Karen Becker. There is one faction of veterinarians that recommend a diet of raw meat for your pet. They state that our pets in particular our pet dogs are canine in origin like wolves and so biologically they are carnivorous. Biologically appropriate foods are the best for our pets. So what is the biologically appropriate food for my pet dog? Raw meat!

Traditionally  however vets have always advised against raw meat primarily because of the bacteria it contains as being harmful to the pets and also to humans. Even so, some vets feel the traditional vets prescribe commercial pet foods and other packaged foods simply because they don’t know better or due to a lack of awareness about raw meat diets.

The Regulators

Ironically there are no regulators for the pet food industry as of now. In the United States, AAFCO is a private organisation consisting of and funded mostly by the big pet food manufacturers. They do come out with a manual or standards in one can call it that every year after many discussions. By and large, it’s what most pet food makers refer to. While AAFCO does set the standards every year and also publish minimum requirements for pet food AAFCO is not a regulatory government authority but instead, they like to call themselves a pet food ingredient quality checking laboratory. Other than AAFCO the only other regulatory authority looking into pet food regulation in the United States although indirectly is the compliance policies of the United States FDA for feed manufacture.

Conclusion

After watching this interesting documentary,  I for one am now a firm believer in raw meats. That’s what I am going to give my little french bull dog. Also, I will remember to read all my ingredient labels and do my homework before I purchase and feed my little frenchie any processed or packaged treats or pet food.

Dr. Marika Zoll

Dr. Marika Zoll