Say No to Pet Foods Containing This Deadly 'Mash-Up'

Written by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

euthanasia drug in dog food

Story at-a-glance -

  • The FDA is now acknowledging that the problem of pentobarbital contamination in pet food is probably widespread
  • The agency also acknowledges the contamination is probably the result of euthanasia of horses and other animals
  • The issue involves ingredients sourced by animal renderers, including the remains of both food and non-food animals that died by means other than slaughter, along with food waste from restaurants and stores
  • There is much you can do to protect your furry family member if you’ve lost trust in the pet food industry; you can also take steps to help change the industry’s deceptive practices

Here’s a horrifying, if unsurprising, news update: it seems the disastrous problem of pentobarbital in pet food may be more widespread than initially thought. According to veterinarian Dr. Steven Solomon, director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine:

“Most of us probably think that pentobarbital contamination comes from a few bad actors. New evidence is showing it may be a much more pervasive problem in the animal food supply than originally thought.”1

Solomon believes rendered products may be a source of pentobarbital in pet food ingredients; however, according to PetfoodIndustry.com, “… he also recognized that rendered products are valuable to the pet food industry and reduce strains on the environment.”2

Rendered products are “valuable” to pet food producers because they’re much cheaper than clean, fresh ingredients. They “reduce strains on the environment” presumably because they consist of recycled waste products of the human food and other industries.

Pentobarbital in Pet Food Is Likely Coming From Euthanized Horses or ‘Other’ Animals

Also according to PetfoodIndustry.com, the FDA is working to address the problem by including guidance to the industry on how to deal with it in a draft document titled “Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Food for Animals.”3 From page 53 of the document:

“Pentobarbital residues in animal tissues are most likely the result of euthanasia of horses or other animals not intended for human consumption. Pentobarbital is stable in tissue, aqueous environments, and resists degradation at rendering temperatures.

There are reports of pentobarbital toxicosis in domestic species, zoological animals, and wildlife. In 2015, cases of toxicosis linked to pentobarbital in horsemeat resulted in the death of two animals and illness of a third in a wildlife preservation center in the United States.

In 2017, pentobarbital in dog food resulted in illness in four dogs and the death of a fifth dog. Pentobarbital residues should be identified as a known or reasonably foreseeable hazard for facilities that salvage skeletal muscle, organs, or other tissues from animals that died other than by slaughter if the cause of death is unknown, or the animal was known to be euthanized with chemicals.

The salvaged skeletal muscle, organs or other tissues are generally used for food for carnivorous animals such as those at zoos, wildlife rehabilitation centers, private wildlife preservation centers, alligator farms, mink farms, or in pet food products. We recommend operations that salvage skeletal muscles, organs, or other tissues for processing determine whether animals have been euthanized using pentobarbital and, if so, exclude those animals from use as animal food.”

Big Pet Food Companies Use Animal Renderers to Source Their Ingredients

The important takeaway from the excerpt above is that since food animals (e.g., cows, turkeys, chickens) are presumably slaughtered versus euthanized, it means pet food contaminated with pentobarbital contains at least one non-food animal, perhaps a horse, or maybe a euthanized pet.

I have no statistics on this, but I do know it takes a lot of pentobarbital to euthanize a horse. If pentobarbital contamination of pet food is indeed widespread, it’s reasonable to assume it isn’t coming just from horses.

If you’re wondering how in the world this happens, it’s because the processed pet food industry “repurposes” garbage from the human food and other industries as the primary source of ingredients in their dog and cat diets, and those waste products undergo a rendering process.

According to a 2004 report made to Congress titled “Animal Rendering: Economics and Policy,” sources for the raw products of the pet food rendering industry include:

“… [M]eat slaughtering and processing plants (the primary one); dead animals from farms, ranches, feedlots, marketing barns, animal shelters, and other facilities; and fats, grease, and other food waste from restaurants and stores.”4

In addition, independent renderers use specially designed trucks to collect and process about half of all livestock and poultry that die from diseases or accidents before reaching slaughter plants. From the report:

“They pick up and process fat and bone trimmings, inedible meat scraps, blood, feathers, and dead animals from meat and poultry slaughterhouses and processors (usually smaller ones without their own rendering operations), farms, ranches, feedlots, animal shelters, restaurants, butchers, and markets. As a result, the majority of independents are likely to be handling ‘mixed species.’”

The rendering process involves combining the raw products listed above in huge containers and grinding the mixture down to chips or shreds. The mixture is then cooked at 220º to 270º degree F for up to an hour, which separates the meat from the bone.

The grease, also called tallow, rises to the top, is skimmed off the mixture, and becomes the no-name “animal fat” frequently found on pet food ingredient labels. The remaining product is put in a press that squeezes out all the moisture and pulverizes the material into a powder.

Shaker screens are used to separate excess hair and large bone chips from the powder. The result is the meat and bone meal found in pet food formulas. Given the source of ingredients in many pet foods and the process used to turn those waste materials into companion animal “nutrition,” is it really any wonder deadly contaminants like pentobarbital wind up in these products?

What to Do if You’re Officially Done With the Processed Pet Food Industry

Thanks to the pentobarbital and other contamination scares, low-grade ingredients, too-frequent recalls, and an exploding population of pets with chronic digestive issues, allergies and degenerative disease, many pet parents are exploring other options to nourish their animal companions.

They’re discovering homemade diets, fresh food diets made by smaller, transparent pet food producers, raw diets and other alternatives, and are choosing to no longer roll the dice on processed pet food.

My advice? Search this website for more information on choosing the best diet for your pet. There are dozens of videos and articles here that can help you become more knowledgeable about pet nutrition so that you can make the best diet choices for your own dog or cat.

If you want to help change the deceptive practices occurring in the pet food industry, I recommend becoming a member of the Association for Truth in Pet Food, which is the only organization out there committed to holding the regulatory agencies and AAFCO accountable.