Canadians Try To Kill Your Pets - Pet Food Recall
Canada is at it again. This time, it's not mad cow (as far as we know), but will these insidious northerners never stop?
Menu Foods of Ontario, Canada, recently issued a recall for dog and cat foods manufactured by the company that is sold under several brands, following the death of at least 10 animals in North America since the beginning of this year, mostly from kidney failure. You can find a list of all the foods being recalled here.
Before you Canucks get all up in arms, I should point out that I'm not really blaming Canadians; I've just always wanted to have a post title like that. Americans are not immune to this kind of pet disaster: pet food recalls have happened a lot here in the past, and it appears that this current contamination occurred only in US plants that produce food for Menu Foods (thanks to astute and humourless Canadian readers for pointing this out).
I'm also a Canadian citizen, FYI, I just happen to live in the US. So keep your tuques on.
Menu Foods believes that the contamination was caused by wheat gluten or another product associated with wheat gluten (the origin of the tainted gluten has not been identified), a very common ingredient in most dog food. If you didn't know that, I should point out that another extremely common ingredient is corn husks. I should also point out that the list of possibly contaminated pet food brands is very long, and you should check to see if your pet food is on the list.
Now, lest you say to yourself "Ah, I don't feed my dogs that crappy dry stuff - only the best canned gravy and meat for my little poochie woochie", keep in mind that:
The recall covers the company's "cuts and gravy" style food, which consists of chunks of meat in gravy, sold in cans and small foil pouches from Dec. 3 to March 6.
This would be a pat, yet tragic, lead-in into my latest Expensive Pets series, if it weren't for the fact that the jury is still out pet food. Like breastfeeding and (male) circumcision, pet food (specifically dog food) is one of those topics that inflames the passions and fills the forums, especially for people who have nothing better to do with their time than worry about what other people are doing with their own bodies (and I'm not saying that I'm not among them - bloggers obviously shouldn't throw stones from their glass houses).
The Raw Story
Most of the vets I talked to about dog food felt that the usual stuff that we feed our animals is fine, just fine. I tend to trust vets. That said, I haven't felt comfortable feeding my pets regular dog food since I discovered what is actually used to make dog food. There is a very devoted group of people out there who absolutely refuse to feed their pets processed pet food at all.
Some of these people cook for their dogs - they buy meat and cook it, sometimes with veggies, sometimes without. And we're not talking just any old meat, but grassfed, hormone free, free range organic meat. Others believe fervently in raw foods (read: raw meat) for dogs, the idea being that dogs are natural predators and originally ate raw meat from a kill, and thus, are genetically disposed to survive best on a diet of raw meat.
I personally won't use this approach, first because of the risks involved in handling and serving raw meat, and second, because my dogs are so far removed from their predatory ancestors that it's not even funny. There is nothing about my dogs that suggests that their lineage has been fed anything but dumplings and kung pao chicken for the past few thousand years or so.
Raw pet food is also very expensive (figures range quite a bit depending on the amount, but appear to average about $100 a month). Now, I pay quite a bit for a special diet food for my dogs, who are allergic to corn and wheat, but oddly enough, not dust bunnies or cat vomit. And I will occasionally switch out their food for some cooked meals (mostly chicken stew with veggies) that they seem to like and digest well. As far as I know, my brand of dog food (which is actually a prescription food provided by our vet) has never had any recall problems, and doesn't use any of the ingredients that typically cause problems in dogs (corn, wheat, and dairy are common allergens).
C'mon - It's Just a Dog!
I've heard a lot of people question the sanity of spending so much on our animals. After all, domesticated dogs have been living with us for at least a hundred years (longer with the upper classes) and they've been eating dog food all these hundreds of years, right?
Well, yes and no. Dog food as a product is a fairly recent invention. Prior to dog food, most domesticated dogs ate table scraps from their family (in fact, that's what my vet in China told me to feed mine, since Chinese dog food brands are not to be trusted). Not only do dogs get a better range of food that way, but it enforces the pack hierarchy that dogs seem to understand (you're in charge, so you eat first; they are lower on the totem pole, so they eat your leftovers). In any case, even if dog food had been around for a much longer time, our meat processing has changes drastically over the past hundred years or so.
Small farms have been replaced by massive operations with tens of thousands of heads of cattle. Slaughterhouses are a complete nightmare, and cows are fed hormones to make them grow faster, and antibiotics to keep them from getting sick since they are all packed together in tight spaces. Animals who naturally eat grass are now fed corn and other grains, the starch content of which isn't digested well by the bovine's many stomachs.
You probably know all of this already. It's the reason that many people insist on eating all natural meat these days. Since I don't eat much in the way of meat, it's harder for me to make a comparison between the food that I eat and the food I feed my dogs, but the question that I asked myself was "Should I give my pets the same consideration that I give myself?".
This, by the way, is not meant as a criticism of people who have fed their pets using store brand pet food. I certainly would have done the same if my dogs weren't hideously allergic to those foods. They're generally affordable, and seem to be trustworthy, and hey, pets gobble the stuff down, right?
The sad reality seems to be that the kinds of ingredients that go into these food isn't nearly as natural or as friendly as we would like to belive. This recent recall is one example of how inferior ingredients can go terribly, terribly wrong. However, don't take this as a persoanl diatribe against average pet food. I have the luxury of blowing some of my paycheck on prescription pet food - many people don't. Also, growing up, I had a dog (Toto, the toy poodle who thought she was a Great Dane). Toto always ate store-brand food, and she lived to be 16.
IMNSHO (In My Not-So-Humble Opinion)
It can be difficult to justify a large expenditure on all-organic natural dog food for creatures that will eat other animals droppings.
My own decision to feed my dogs a special diet food stemmed less from my overall love for them and more from seeing the misery that they were experiencing eating the regular ol' store-brand dog food that we started purchasing once we returned to the States. My shih tzu, in particular, was suffering from awful skin rashes, which he would gnaw until he was bleeding. Don't think that I didn't consider the cost of the food, because I did. Ultimately, economics won: the cost of the special dog food ($50 a month) was significantly less than the cost of taking him to the emergency clinic every time he chewed his back into a bloody mess ($300 a month).
About a year ago, I did purchase some dehydrated raw food (which was technically cooked enough to kill germs) but when I took out the first little food patty, I cut my finger on a bone shard. Turkey bone, as it turns out. Every dog owner knows not to feed their dogs poultry bones because the sharp edges can shred their esophagi - so I was shocked that this company wouldn't have tried harder to grind the bone down or leave it out altogether.
All of this back and forth has left me rather stumped on the issue of the best diet for my dogs. Meat can be dangerous enough if there is even minimal contamination, so the idea of purchasing raw frozen meat and then defrosting and serving it is really beyond reasonable for me. However, I don't mind cooking meals, although it's definitely inconvenient, given that I don't even have the time or the energy to cook for myself.