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The scoop on pet treat safety

Who doesn't enjoy surprising the family pet(s) with holiday treats.

Who doesn't enjoy surprising the family pet(s) with holiday treats.

Just this morning, I saw more cautions floating around the Internet regarding pet treat products (such as chicken jerky) sourced from China. As I not only buy holiday treats for two dogs here in Warrenville, IL, and for family dogs and cats elsewhere in the US and Canada, but also for our 4 ferrets, I thought I’d go to the alleged source of these warnings: the US FDA. And in fact, I found a current (10/12/2011) FDA publication, Import alert #72-05. The rather imposing title of the report, "Detention Without Physical Examination of Pet And Laboratory Animal Food Due To The Presence Of Melamine And/Or Melamine Analogs (Trazines)," refers to investigation undertaken by the FDA in 2007 in response to

"pet deaths in the United States associated with the consumption of pet food. FDA found melamine and melamine analogs *** (cyanuric acid, ammelide, and ammeline) *** in the pet food, and traced this contamination to products labeled as 'wheat gluten' and 'rice protein concentrate' imported from China."

Because of its findings, FDA has collected and analyzed 222 samples of human, bird and fish food as well as cat, dog, and other pet food and treats. Analysis of these 222 samples found contamination in multiple pet food samples, but only four pet food samples in which the contamination level posed a health risk. However, that was enough to place a number of Chinese and Taiwanese manufacturers on an import restriction list (included in this alert). In addition, the Guidance given in this import alert includes the instruction to district offices:

"If district resources permit, sample collection is warranted of pet food including, but not limited to, pet treats, bird food or fish food from Chinese and Taiwanese firms not identified on the attachment to this alert for melamine and/or melamine analogs analysis."

The alert also instructs district offices that results of tests done on samples collected must be forwarded to the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM, HFV-232), 240-276-9771, for evaluation if the combined total concentration of melamine and melamine analogs are equal to or greater than 2.5 ppm.
Did you know the US FDA does inspections overseas as well as here at home? To get off the list of import restriction, companies must prove to FDA that they have eliminated or corrected the problem manufacturing conditions.

So, my own personal take-away after this research: FDA has taken action since the original tragic deaths of pets fed contaminated food. The odds of dangerously contaminated food and treats getting through the import process have fallen dramatically because of that. Does this mean that some hitherto unknown company cannot get substandard products onto pet store shelves? Sadly, probably not. But it’s less likely.

You may still want to look more carefully at the protein sources listed on the pet food you buy, but I know full well how expensive going to a premium brand can be. I’d love to be able to afford Science Diet, but my dogs do just fine on Purina or whichever other mid-range product is on sale when I shop. Similarly, my ferrets get ferret nutrient supplements as treats but otherwise thrive eating an inexpensive kitten kibble that meets the recommended 40% protein the little guys need to stay healthy.

And whatever your budget range, if you want to splurge on edible holiday treats for your pets, you might want to get a little less product and pay a little more to purchase from a reputable source, whether the vet-endorsed US products, or meat products certified as coming from organic farms.

[reposted for Chicago Pets Examiner column written by Susan NC Price]

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