What mysterious "meat byproducts" really are
Let's start with what usually appears as the protein source and the primary ingredient in pet food: Meat byproducts or meat meal. Both are euphemisms for the parts of animals that wouldn't be considered meat by any smart consumer. The well-known phrase "meat byproducts" is a misnomer since these byproducts contain little, if any, meat. These are the parts of the animal left over after the meat has been stripped away from the bone. "Chicken by-products include head, feet, entrails, lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, liver, stomach, bones, blood, intestines, and any other part of the carcass not fit for human consumption," writes Henry Pasternak in Healing Animals with Nature's Cures.
Meat meal can contain the boiled down flesh of animals we would find unacceptable for consumption. This can include zoo animals, road kill, and 4-D (dead, diseased, disabled, dying) livestock. Most shockingly, this also can include dogs and cats. That's right, your pets could be cannibals. Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser writes, "Although leading American manufacturers promise never to put rendered pets into their pet food, it is still legal to do so. A Canadian company, Sanimal Inc., was putting 40,000 pounds of dead dogs and dead cats into its dog and cat food every week, until discontinuing the practice in June 2001. "This food is healthy and good," said the company's vice president of procurement, responding to critics, ''but some people don't like to see meat meal that contains any pets."
How roadkill ends up in Fido's food bowl
The process that turns these animals and animal parts into pet food is also disgusting. After all, it takes a lot to turn roadkill into something owners feel good about pouring into their pets' bowls. Ann M. Martin describes the process in Food Pets Die For: "At the rendering plant a machine slowly grinds the entire mess in huge vats. Then this product is cooked at temperatures between 220 degrees Fahrenheit and 270 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes to one hour. The mixture is centrifuged (spun at a high speed) and the grease (or tallow) rises to the top and it is removed from the mixture. The grease becomes the source of animal fat in most pet foods. Oftentimes, when you open a standard can of dog food, you will see a top layer of fat. The centrifuged product is the source of that fat, which is meant to entice a hungry dog or cat. After the grease is removed in the rendering process, the remaining material is dried. Meat meal, and meat and bone meal are the end product of this process. This dried material is usually found in dry pet food."
Chemical dangers lurk in commercial pet food
Rendering practices aren't just gross; they're also dangerous for your pets. The chemicals used to euthanize zoo animals, dogs and cats can survive the cooking process, which means these chemicals end up in pet food, and ultimately, in your pet. Martin writes, "Euthanized cats and dogs often end up in rendering vats along with other questionable material to make meat meal, and meat and bone meal. This can be problematic because sodium pentobarbital can withstand the heat from rendering. For years, some veterinarians and animal advocates have known about the potential danger of sodium pentobarbital residue in commercial pet food, yet the danger has not been alleviated." In short, that means the poisons designed to kill pets are the same ones being fed to them.
Now that you know pet food manufacturers will seemingly go to any length to fill their foods with the cheapest sources of protein they can find, you probably won't be surprised to find out that the other ingredients in pet foods aren't much better. Cheap grain fillers, cellulose to bulk up the food, preservatives and poorly monitored vitamin and mineral supplements round out the recipe. In Healing Pets with Nature's Miracle Cures, Henry Pasternak writes, "Remember, pet foods are primarily processed, grain-based diets. These foods are 'fortified' with synthetic B vitamins, which can cause a subclinical B vitamin deficiency." Martin mentions in Food Pets Die For that one bag of dog food was overloaded with so much zinc that she had to take her dog to the vet because he became ill. She took the bag of food to an independent lab to verify that the zinc content of the food was 20 times the recommended daily allowance for dogs.
Preservatives in dog and cat foods keep the foods seemingly fresh for long periods of time: "Unfortunately, harmful chemical preservatives and other artificial additives are the norm in most pet foods. Some are intentionally added by the manufacturer, while others come from the herbicides, insecticides, and pesticides used by farmers to boost crop yields," Pasternak writes. While some pet food companies have decided to use less harmful preservatives and natural preservatives, most pet food companies don't find these ingredients to be cost effective.
So what should you do with this information? Many pet owners are discovering there are more natural alternatives to commercial pet food. Natural health food stores usually stock a few varieties of organic or all-natural pet foods. There are other owners who go even further and prepare their pets' foods from real, whole ingredients. Though this might not be for everyone, some owners say it's worth the peace of mind, and it helps them feel closer to their animal companions. Be aware though, that once your pet finds out what real, whole foods take like, they may not want to go back: "I used to feed my cat canned or dry pet food, but now I prepare her food from fresh ingredients. She thrives on raw meat," writes Debra Lynn Dadd in Home Safe Home. "She will eat canned or dry food if it is a natural brand, but if I give her pet food from the supermarket, she paws around it like she's trying to cover up something in her litter box."