Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Monday, December 15, 2008

The pets in your pet food

Yummy, downed meat filled kibbleI ran across this information while I was researching something else, but I thought it was important to share this with you. With the recent melamine scare in our pet foods, this should help bring to light what also is in your pet's food.

Most commercial pet food ingredients all start at the rendering plant, where carcasses of various dead animals are rendered into a by-product that is used primarily for animal and pet feed. What goes into this mix? Well, downed farm animals, dead laboratory animals, what's left over after slaughter of meat and hide animals (such as heads, hoofs, bowels, diseased parts, tumors, bones, contaminated meat and the like), road kill, euthanized or dead companion animals (aka pets), restaurant grease and garbage, and pastries and meat past their pull date from grocery stores.

Given that the amount of money spent on the rendering process does not allow for simple processing of the inputs into the plant coupled with the volume being dealt with, things like flea collars, metal tags, plastic bags, pesticide ear tags from cattle, and the Styrofoam and wrappings from bad grocery store meat all get thrown into the grinder. This is also not to mention the quantities of Sodium Phenobarbital in the bodies of euthanized animals and how that survives the rendering process. I can't imagine these things can be good for your pet in any amount.

When you see the upscale "real meat" stamped proudly on the side of your bag of pet food, they are not referring to the happy chunks of meat that are shown on the packaging and in commercials. Real meat, as defined by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), is anything but that.

What you are getting in "real meat" is the "flesh derived from slaughtered mammals and is limited to that part of the striate muscle that is skeletal or that which is found in the tongue, diaphragm, heart, or esophagus; with or without the accompanying and overlying fat and the portions of the skin, sinew, nerve, and blood vessels that normally accompany the flesh." Meat by-products are pretty much what's left that wasn't included in that list. Basically, anything listed as "by-product" or "meal" is generally bottom of the barrel material and probably inedible, at that.

As for what is listed as "lamb" or "chicken", the AAFCO allows the rendering plant to call whatever the dominant amount of animal is in that run. Say, for example, that 20% of a run consisted of lamb parts, 15% chicken parts, 15% beef parts, 15% cat and dog carcasses, 15% grocery store refuse, 10% roadkill and 10% waste kitchen grease, that run can be legitimately called "lamb".

And it will be sold as "lamb" and packaged as such on your pet food ingredient list, even though it contains, as you can see, pretty much everything and the kitchen sink. And I'm not including the excrement and trace bits of plastic and garbage that got ground in there as well.

Finally, not all of this rendered material gets exclusively sold for pet food. It also gets sold as livestock feed used to feed the animals that are raised for human consumption.

Now, before we get into a major cracker grinding session here, let me also point out that rendering plants provide an extremely useful service without which there would be tons of rotting animal carcasses spreading diseases far and wide. So, how do we deal with the issue at hand? The rendering plants reduce the carcass burden and turn it into something less of a public health threat - at least directly. The pet food industry fills the gap of what to do with the rendered product. I can't say I could, in good faith, feed my pets this output since I've read this, but what do you do with all this junk?

Essentially, humans are mostly at fault for the necessity of rendering plants. If we didn't raise farm animals, own pets or buy meat from restaurants and grocery stores, there would be no input into this system. Any roadkill or animals dying on their own could be buried or decompose in the wild. In other words, the volume would be considerably less and more manageable.

So, is the very act that we demand meat and companion animals creating this burden on the other end that, literally, feeds back into the system? Rendered products feed livestock and pets which is turn get rendered into feeding more livestock and pets, ad nauseum. It's easy enough to say that we should demand that our livestock and pet food be human quality feed, but then what do we do with the output of the rendering plants? The only way I can see a solution to this problem is to reduce the inputs.

Does anyone have any other ideas on how to solve this problem? Has this changed your perception of the pet foods you purchase?

Additional reading:
Food Pets Die For
Protect Your Pet


Frisky said...

continuing the shift toward whole, natural foods produced on a small scale should help. i hate to think that i'm a part of this cycle, but even most of us vegetarian non-pet-owners are.


mudnessa said...

i like to not think about what is in my cats food. they are seemingly healthy and i dont buy grocery store brand food so i like to think its better but i honestly have no clue.

when i worked with wild cats we would feed them these meat logs that were literally left over parts chopped up, it was one of the grossest things i had to deal with, but they sure did love it.

as for the problem, a solution is beyond me. its all pretty gross to think about though thats for sure.

Erika said...

Like Mudnessa, I don't like to think about what I'm feeding my dog. I hope that soon, we will be able to afford to feed her a "human grade," home prepared (mostly) diet, but right now, she's eating Costco dog food and lots of table scraps (before you call the Calvary and tell me not to feed her scraps, know that we're trying to put weight on her [per vet recommendation], and we don't feed her onions, grapes, and other foods the ASPCA says dogs shouldn't have).

I have no idea how to "solve" the problem as a whole, I just hope that my animals will be able to eat a "whole food" diet. Like Kelley said, starting on a small, local scale should help... at least it won't contribute to the problem ...


Maddie Can Fly said...

I lost my last cat to the melamine pet foods. My new cat only eats a home cooked diet (Urban King). She has a beautiful coat and is very healthy. Even her vet comments on her coat all the time. I will never feed another pet commercial pet foods.

abigail @ Paper and Cake said...

the only thing i can say right now, is, "ew". when i am done being totally disgusted, maybe i can form a thought.


Jenn said...

If you've ever watched your cat eat a mouse whole (guts, head, tail) or your dog gnaw on whatever they scrounged out of the woods, the various animal parts in their commercial food isn't a big deal.

However, it's the other stuff that is worrisome. As for the "sleeping drug," it decomposes past it's "toxic" stage pretty quickly.

On an aside...did you know the product in your fabric softener that makes your clothes so soft, static-free and good smelling is made from rendered horse fat? Think about that the next time you dump a capful of Springtime Downy into your washer.

scifichick said...

This is just so disgusting. I started buying 'natural' food for my cat some time ago, but I wonder how much better that is. I'm sure it still has a lot of grossness in it. When we had a cat in another country, it was outdoors, and we would only feed it home food. There was no such thing as cat food! And she drank milk too and was fine. Here I don't think my cat would be able to live on just table scraps, and she has no interest in milk.

Jennifer said...

Wow... I knew about that, but thought that if I stayed away from "meat meal" as an ingredient I would be fine. I had no idea that "fish" or "lamb" could contain anything BUT that!

Now... I have no problem with dogs and cats eating hoofs, nails, intestines, sinews, tendons, brains, organs, skins, etc. They would be eating these things anyway in the wild.

I have a problem with them eating diseased meat, or meat that contains medications (i.e. that from sick or euthanized pets). And, I have a problem with animals eating the same kind of animal.. there are numerous health problems related to cannibalism.

It seems to me that there are two parts to the rendered meats... things I don't mind, and things that shouldn't be in there at all. I wonder if the parts that are diseased/etc could be turned into fertilizer for fields?

I think the obvious answer to those trying to avoid feeding their pets these things is to feed a raw or cooked whole food diet. I don't have the time, and so feed what I THINK is a good quality food... they advertise human grade ingredients, at least.

jessjgh1 said...

Hmm, wondering how our 'natural' brand compares.... but now wondering why I shouldn't be feeding grapes to our dog??

That's one I've never heard and I used to work with a vet and kennel in high school.


Anonymous said...

Ah, geez. The plastics, metals, etc., are very worrisome, as are some of the diseased animals. "Byproducts" in themselves ... well, I agree with Jenn. My dogs would happily, nay gleefully, eat all the rotting junk from our compost bin, garbage, whatever. I encourage them to eat more "wholesome" foods by keeping compost in a closed bin and feeding them their special food, but it's not necessarily "natural." And so far they thrive on their Costco "superpremium" [with reservations based on your research] food and special formulations. How much can we all do? Is not having pets the option? One of our dogs is a rescue dog -- so we are trying to help rectify someone else's cruel choice. But I can't afford to feed them all human food. What a dilemma.

EJ said...

Eat less meat = less waste.

Jenna said...

Bit by bit we're switching our cats over to homemade food. Its a struggle, they are acting just like teenagers who are being forced to switch from McDonald's every day to strick vegetarianism! But we're hoping by the end of the winter to find the right balance of meat and grains to keep them healthy and happy - and us reassured that we're not feeding something to them that will harm them.

Like other posters, the idea of our girls eating bits and bobs of innards and guts doesn't worry me (the last chipmonk who got into our house pretty much put that to rest!) but I do want them eating REAL food. If I don't want to buy it or have it around me... why would I bring it home for the critters in my life?

Michelle said...

It feels like everytime I turn around there is another huge, disgusting mess we humans have managed to create in the past century.

I know that those who posted that they are feeding their animals a homemade diet are aiming to solve the disgusting pet food dilema in their own homes, but if you are using meat in it, wouldn't you still be contributing to the animal carcass quandry? I am not judging (I eat meat at least once a day), just trying to think things through.

So often, I feel like I COULD stop what is coming into my house, but it does not stop what happens before I buy other items. If that makes any sense at all.

Sometimes I just feel so frustrated - like we have no way out.

Spot-On said...

Our dogs are on a vegetarian kibble, supplemented with free range eggs, and they get table scraps too. Everyone comments on their healthy coats, gleaming eyes and their lack of dog-stinky-breath. We made the decision to opt for vegetarian and supplement because of our ethical reasons (we're both veggie) and our breed of dogs has health issues with purines in foods. Which ruled out 90% of dog food straight away. We researched, got informed and made a decision that was right for us and our dogs.

A solution to the problem is to start treating ALL animals with the respect they deserve
1 - stop eating them! Or at least cut down on meat consumption drastically
2 - stop using them for unnecessary experiments
3 - dispose of them correctly
4 - THINK about what you're feeding your pets.

I also look back to pet stories told by elderly family and friends. Many were just fed table scraps and lived MUCH longer than todays pets! Makes you wonder!

Anonymous said...


If you make homemade pet food, you master the carcass problem by USING the carcass (at least I do). Bone broths are a nutrient-dense and age-old part of the human diet. So, after you pull the chicken or turkey or beef or whatever off the bone, you add some chopped veggies, water, salt, and lemon juice and let it simmer for a day or so until you make the most mouth-watering broth imaginable.

The organ meats (at least in poultry) can be used to make excellent and nutritious gravies, or they can be fed directly to your pet.

Once the carcass has been used for a healthy broth, then I just toss what's left into the trash. It will go the way of all other bones and eventually return to dust.


Farmer's Daughter said...

Our dogs have always eaten mostly people food. Maybe it's time to move them on to all people food.

And isn't that how mad cow gets spread? What's next? Mad dog?

As for all the parts in the mix... would dogs and cats in the wild eat all those parts naturally? I think they probably would. My dog's favorite part of animals he catches is the skull and brains.

The chemicals are what makes me nervous. One of my students lost her horse last year when it ate some contaminated food. Very sad and also very preventable.

MrsSpock said...

Ick! The list of what goes in is revolting! I think I need to rethink my cat food...

Robj98168 said...

yUCK. Hard to say if there is an answer. I would like pet food companies to be more forthcoming in their ingredients, and have to have a nutrition label not unlike human food. I know we be a premium dog and cat food, but hell, even the premium brands had the melamine in them. Maybe the answer is to go natural

Near Water said...

Somedays I get very discouraged. Our food, our pet's food, our water, our air -everything's polluted.

My neighbors, in their 40's, with no children and no need to transport heavy or large items, just bought a huge, gas guzzling SUV, and traded in a minivan.

Yeap, discouraged. And afraid. And helpless. But not hopeless, not yet.

Erika said...

Here's the html version of one of the many things the ASPCA has on dogs and grapes:
They (the ASPCA) mention that the grape no-no is a recent one, so that might be why you hadn't heard of it. I didn't hear of it until my mom's died of (organic!) grape-induced kidney failure and complications related to attempting to treat it. :-(


Anonymous said...

This discussion about what's going into our animal friends (much less what's going into us!), reminds me of a new product I read about recently. (Pardon the digressin'.) Some company makes biodegradable poop bags. The idea is that you can pick up the poop and flush it away. It's touted as a way to reduce plastic use. Bravo on the biodegradable part but flushing things away doesn't really make things disappear. Feces is just a by-product until you add water, then it becomes toxic sewage. So, no flushing pet poop--we've got enough problems with people poop. Now that would be a challenge, composting your own poop for a week... Yes, people do it and what a blessing it is for the water system!

Anonymous said...

Oh man. I began making homemade cat food several weeks ago to avoid all the packaging waste.

Your disgusting post (why oh why do you keep doing this to us?) has given me even more reason to cook whole foods for them.

Of course, I'm adding to the carcasses to be rendered because I feed them organic boneless skinless chicken breasts out of convenience. I wouldn't be able to handle the homemade cat food every week if I had to debone several chickens. No time.

So my cats aren't eating chemicals or plastic or distant relatives, but I guess we are still contributing to the rendering industry.

Unknown said...

I feed my dog organic food and treats. I also use natural products to give him baths, clean ears and eyes. I'd like to believe that his food is free from all that. It has to be better than normal dog food.

Anonymous said...

We've had dogs that happily would eat their Own poop. I just can't get too worked up about anything after that. All the dogs at the barn I worked at Loved to eat fresh, steamy horse "apples" and chew on hoof trimmings. Organic pet food would be a nice luxury item but I'd rather spend the money on feeding my child organic which is far more important. The pets are all healthy and happy on Purina with a dollop of oil on their food for their coat so I'm not going to change at this point.

Anonymous said...

I used to own a boarding kennel (used TONS of dog food), and now and then would find a piece of collar, plastic, etc. After a year with an old dog who became increasingly unable to eat commercial dog food, and then the melamine incident, I gathered up all the dog food in the house and pitched it. I started that day feeding my dogs various recipes from the internet, books (and there are lots of good ones out there), but with time I've gotten to the point where they get one raw meat/bone meal and one mostly meat-but-it-varies meal each day. The raw bone/meat is usually chicken backs and necks that I scrounge from a local upscale, organic grocery store, usually for free. The rest of their food is leftovers, sometimes eggs, sometimes dairy (which they love), and sometimes fish. They are in great condition and have sparkling white teeth. The puppy, at nine months, goes to shows now and then with his breeder, and she feeds dog food, so I feed him a meal or two each week of her brand of dog food.

All the nutrients dogs need, amino acids and everything else, is found in meat and bone. All those complicated recipes, etc, are not really vital. The main thing to remember if you go this route, is that dogs need a great amount of calcium, which in their natural, canine diets is supplied by bones. So if you don't give your dogs raw bones (never cooked; it makes them too hard and prone to splintering), be sure they are getting adequate calcium of the correct kind.

On this diet, my old dog lived another three years -- to almost 18 -- and her overall condition improved remarkably.

Anonymous said...

The approach I'd like to see is for people to raise fewer animals and use them more thoroughly, for starters. For example, in my house we only eat local, grass-fed meat. We also eat less of it than the average household, a personal choice that's reinforced by the greater cost. But what meat we do get, we use as thoroughly as we can...for example, we buy whole chickens, the cats get the squidgy bits (which they love), and we make broth with the carcass.

Theoretically, we could smash up what's left and toss it in the compost, and perhaps we will when we've gotten better at composting, but for now our pile is neither hot enough nor well enough contained. It is, however, entirely possible to compost even large animal carcasses in a sanitary, controlled manner...the safety of this option has been demonstrated in controlled studies, and this strikes me as a simple way to turn a waste product into a resource.

Lastly, of course, I think that if we want a better product (at leas sans the plastic bits, for example), obviously we have to expect to pay more, in order to allow rendering plants to do a little more pre-processing. If greater expense means that some people reconsider the whole idea of getting a pet, frankly, so much the better.

On a slightly different note, where the heck do these euthanized pets come from anyway? I mean, I know where they come from, but are there really that many people who are just "oh, yes please, just make it go away, thanks" to the vet? My family has always taken personal responsibility for disposing of our dead pets, whether by burial or cremation, out of simple respect. To me, of course having cats eat dead cats is gross, but also, I can't help but think that if the owner of said dead cat knew what had happened to it, s/he would be really upset. Anyway, I would. Or maybe most of them come from the pound?

Crunchy Chicken said...

The euthanized animals come from a variety of sources, but it sounds like they mostly come from shelters and some vets. For example, Los Angeles city and county shelters send more than 120,000 dead dogs and cats to be rendered in a typical year.

Anonymous said...

Squrrl, if you make your soup stock in a pressure cooker (they are cheap), the bones come out very soft & compost quickly.

though they do attract squirrels & feral cats, unless you bury them pretty good.

Anonymous said...

Having done tons of research on dog food and ingredients, I settled on a raw, prey model diet for my three. I do realize that the meat animal industry is wasteful, but I'm unwilling to compromise their health by making them eat an unnatural diet and I won’t impose my morals (vegetarianism) on carnivores who aren’t in a position to choose for themselves.

I've still done as much as I can to lower the impact of their diet though. I buy from local farmers who pasture raise their livestock. I buy their least desirable parts, scrap, and freezer-burned leftovers in bulk so that I can reduce their waste and lower my cost. I also stock up on dog food during hunting season. My father hunts, and he has put the word out for me within his circle of hunting buddies. So now they save the organs, scraps and tough cuts that would normally go in the trash. I do have a chest freezer to store everything, but I bought an energy efficient model to help offset that cost. It actually costs me less to feed my dogs a local, pastured, raw diet than it would to feed a high quality kibble. It just takes more time and effort.

Plus, you have to factor in the savings (financially and environmentally) of better pet health. My dogs don’t need to be bathed that often, they will never need their teeth cleaned, and have reduced need for other medical treatments (no more ear infections, anal glad impaction, etc.). I also haven’t had to use any flea/tick collars, shampoos or topical treatments since the diet switch. Those pesticides can’t be good for them, me or the environment.

On a similar note, I also have three guinea pigs. Commercial food sold for other pets is just as unhealthy and contaminated. Guinea pigs are strict herbivores and their natural diet is grasses and such. Some commercial guinea pig pellets have salt, sugar, even animal meal. My pigs eat hay and fresh lettuces/greens. I can get all of their food locally, but I haven’t found anyone growing organic hay… yet.

-Rebecca W.

Anonymous said...

My dogs eat costco food which I might have to rethink. When buying some expensive canned food (while one of my dogs was on chemo)I found it had bones in the canned food. The label said the bones were slow cooked and were soft. I tested it and they were. I saved the next chicken bones in the freezer until i had enough to try to cook. I cooked them for about 20 hours in the crockpot and the bones came out soft. I mushed them up to make sure they were all soft and give them to the dogs. Being a vegetarian it was odd that i asked for the turkey bones at thanksgiving. My dogs love it and it saves it from going to a landfill.
found this link that explains how to do it with a pressure cooker. i just use bones not the whole chicken

Lisa Nelsen-Woods said...

My rescue dog has food allergies (corn and wheat.) When I started searching for food he could eat I found out that most kibble, even some of the better brands, are full of stuff thats way too disgusting to feed to even a nonallergic dog. A homemade raw diet wasn't for me. Fortunately, I go to a great local pet store who is very up on pet nutruition and doesn't carry food will of DDD ingredients. They suggested that I feed my dog California Natural and I'm very happy with it. And I'm very happy with the company because during last year's dog food scare the company was very up front about where their ingredients come from - all human grade US sourced/grown ingredients. There are others out there, but CA is the one I have the most experience with.

Anonymous said...

Yup, we changed to Pet Promise cat food for environmental and ethical reasons. We can't afford organic or homemade local right now, but this brand doesn't use by-products and supports sustainable US farming, so it seems like a second choice.

Anonymous said...

This all reminds me of Soylent Green.

"Soylent Green is Peeeets!!!"

Sharlene said...

What I find even more disturbing is that my two year old daughter loves the Costco dog food and I have caught her munching on it more than once. Now I feel physically ill. I honestly never thought my dogs were eating rendered pets. I took the lamb and rice label on the bag as gospel. Silly, naive me.

Anonymous said...

I've also written on this subject, and your article was very well written and articulate.

The whole concept of rendered animal "products" in our pets food is so horrible that many people don't even believe it. I've been called a liar by more than one un-informed consumer.

This is something that should be made public. Thanks for putting the word out.

Keep up the good fight and Alter the Eco,

Adam Shake

ChefSara said...

While a raw diet is what is best nutritionally for your dog, PLEASE do your research before switching to this kind of diet. You need to find the right ratio of meat:bone:veggies:fat, and make sure that you have the supplements to make sure s/he is getting the vitamins and minerals they need. It takes time and research to do correctly, otherwise, you may be malnourishing your dog without realizing it. It's a great diet, but needs to be done responsibly!

Anonymous said...

I'm a little skeptical about the claim that laboratory animals are used to make pet food. I've worked in both academic and industrial labs and, at least here in Canada, those carcasses are incinerated on the facility grounds as required by law. They are considered biohazardous waste.

I am currently without pets, but plan to add at least one dog and two cats when we finally buy our own place. I'm convinced that we should tailor their diets to their carnivorous biology, so a raw food/all meat diet appeals to me. Since we buy a half or quarter cow and lamb every year or so we could certainly use the less appealing (to human) bits towards feeding the pets, and I love the ideas of seeking out the local organic butcher and farmers to see what scraps they have that they would part with.

Overall a great post and well worth thinking about...

Hilary Baumann said...

I'm going to try and keep this short but I probably won't succeed because I have a lot to say on this topic.

I have a cat that has chronic renal failure - CRF (similar to what's called kidney disease in humans.) After his acute kidney failure in 2007 I researched a TON because I wanted to make sure he lived a happy healthy life.

Cats = carnivore (please do not try and feed them a veggie diet, I know someone is going to consider it after reading Crunchy Chicken's post)

Dogs = omnivore (they use the energy in both meats and veggies but typically do better with some meat)

Both cat and dog food are using too many grains and fillers as well as the nasty rendering meats.

Cats require Taurine which their bodies do not produce. Taurine is less in home cooked meals which means the raw meat or adding taurine (either buying pet food from a brand you trust or adding it to home cooked.)

I am feeding my cats organic soft food. I called the company and talked to them because I had to find out other things not on the label (some dietary needs for kidney failure.) They were very helpful and they are USDA organic so they do have to go through tests whereas "Natural" is just a marketing term that doesn't mean much.

Even more frustrating is that most vets don't know much about pet nutrition. I have a very good vet, don't get me wrong. Cats get their nourishment from protien, meat protien. Vets recommend for CRF a low protien, low phosphate, low sodium prescription food... sigh. It needs to be protien their bodies can easily use though (think of their kidney's like filters ... if they don't have the filters then what you put in needs to be purer and healthier.)

My vet expected my cat to die in less than a week after bringing him home. He has approximately only 30% of his kidneys left.

I am pretty sure that if I had fed them what the vet recommended or kept feeding them the crap they ate before (name brand expensive crap so don't think avoiding the cheap stuff will mean you're buying quality) I'm pretty sure he'd be dead.

Bottom line - research what you're going to feed your pet. Research the company producing the food.

Anonymous said...

My dogs have been BARF fed for seven years now and I was happy not to have to worry about the pet food recalls. Both of my pets are happy and healthy on a raw diet. On the occasions that I use dog food I make sure to purchase organic pet food to limit the "crap" contained within. Hopefully raw and homemade diets will become more popular for our pets.