Nothing is certain in life except death and taxes and, increasingly, pet food and treat recalls. There were 33 in 2013. On average, that’s one every 11 days.
And between 2008 and 2012, the Food and Drug Administration received more than 2,500 complaints from consumers regarding pet food and livestock feed. The complaints ranged from an animal refusing to eat a food to illness and death associated with eating a particular food.
Food safety issues include microbial hazards, primarily salmonella bacteria; physical hazards, such as glass, metal or plastic; and nutrient imbalances, such as inadequate levels of thiamine in cat food. Toxic levels of animal drugs have also been found in non-medicated animal food, according to the FDA.
People can disagree about the nutritional merits of commercial pet foods, but the fact remains that if you buy pet food, you should be able to rely on its safety. The FDA, after years of prodding, has for the first time proposed regulations that, if passed, would oversee the manufacture of pet food and set standards to help prevent contamination.
The proposal benefits people, too. They can acquire food-borne illnesses from handling contaminated pet food or touching pets who have eaten contaminated food.
Among the suggested changes: Manufacturers would be required to set out a written food safety plan, put in place controls for likely hazards, maintain certain standards of cleanliness, implement record-keeping provisions, and have a written plan for responding to outbreaks of food-borne illnesses. Inspectors will have more power to act before contaminated products reach store shelves and to restrict imports from suppliers who don’t meet the new standards.
If the proposal passes, manufacturers will have one year from the date of publication of the final rule to meet the new requirements. Smaller businesses will have two to three years to comply.
Here are steps you can take to reduce your dog’s or cat’s risk.
• Mix it up: Don’t feed the same brand or flavor all the time. If you rotate food frequently, your pet will be less likely to encounter a bad batch.
• Call the manufacturer: Use the toll-free number on the bag or can to ask about ingredient quality, safety protocols and sourcing of ingredients. Often, ingredients are imported from other countries, including China or Egypt. Ask what measures the manufacturer takes to ensure that ingredients aren’t contaminated.
• Choose undamaged containers: The Centers for Disease Control recommends avoiding bags with visible signs of damage to the packaging, and cans with dents.
• Take pictures: Photograph package codes and expiration dates so you have a record if there’s a problem.
• Scoop food out of the container using a clean measuring scoop, spoon or cup, not your pet’s food bowl.
• Clean the dishes: Wash pet food dishes in hot, soapy water after every meal or run them through the dishwasher.
• Information: Report any adverse reactions to foods or treats to the FDA’s Safety Reporting Portal at safetyreporting.hhs.gov.
J.J. doesn’t have an M.D. or even an R.N. after his name, but he was an essential part of the medical team recently at Duke University Medical Center when his charge, 7-year-old Kaelyn Krawczyk, underwent an anesthetic procedure. Kaelyn has a condition that can cause her to have mild to severe allergic reactions in response to even normal stimuli, such as heat or cold. J.J. is a service dog trained to detect the reactions before they occur. He alerted doctors twice during the recent procedure, allowing them to monitor Kaelyn and take precautions.
• Scientists at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service have developed a new way to make cat litter that’s almost fully biodegradable – using waste grains from corn ethanol production. Some cat litters are made with corn or other grains, but this is the first-known use of treated, spent grains, used primarily as an ingredient in cattle feed.
• What’s the penalty for animal cruelty? In Kentucky, Iowa, South Dakota, New Mexico and Wyoming, the answer is, “Not much.” Those states have the nation’s weakest animal protection laws, according to a December 2013 report by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which has tracked animal protection laws for eight years. The best states for animals? Laws in Illinois, Oregon, Michigan, Maine and California demonstrate a strong commitment to combating animal cruelty.
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, author of many pet-care books. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com. Dr. Becker can also be found at facebook.com/DrMarty Becker or on Twitter at @DrMartyBecker.