Do pet foods really contain euthanized dogs and cats?

A proposed new law to prevent the use of euthanized dogs and cats in pet food may target a non-existent practice.

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photo by viperagp, BigStockPhoto
photo by viperagp, BigStockPhoto

A proposed new law to prevent the use of euthanized dogs and cats in pet food may target a non-existent practice. A bill introduced by Representative Laura Lanese, a Republican, to the Ohio State Legislature would ban the use of dog and cat remains as pet food ingredients. That bill, House Bill 560, would also prohibit the use of animals euthanized with drugs such as pentobarbital in pet food. However, that provision may be redundant.

Are euthanized dogs and cats used in pet food?

“Dogs and cats from shelters or anywhere else are not rendered into animal food in the US,” said Jessica Meisinger, PhD, director of education, science and communication for the National Renderers Association (NRA) and Fats and Proteins Research Foundation.

Using dogs and cats in pet food ingredients is not condoned or sanctioned, said David Dzanis, DVM, PhD, CEO of pet food consultancy Regulatory Discretion.

“However, I am not aware of any rule that expressly and specifically prohibits the inclusion of materials from euthanized animals in rendered product,” he said. “Still, the presence of pentobarbitol in a feed or feed ingredient would be considered adulteration.”

Pentobarbital in pet food prohibited

Federal regulations already prohibit pentobarbital and similar chemicals in pet foods at any concentration.

“In light of the recent recalls from Big Heart Pet Brands, it appears that Representative Laura Lanese and the Ohio State Legislature are trying to take advantage of some free publicity by introducing House Bill 560 which prohibits the use of euthanized animal remains in pet food,” said Ryan Yamka, PhD, founder of independent pet food consultancy, Luna Science and Nutrition. “For those of us who are familiar with the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) we know that House Bill 560 is redundant.”

FFDCA requires that both human and animal foods be safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions and labeled truthfully, he said. The Act also requires that those foods not contain any harmful substances, including pentobarbital or other euthanasia drugs.

“These requirements are further emphasized with the Food Safety Modernization Act,” Yamka said.

Only veterinarians can administer pentobarbital and other barbiturates, said Meisinger. To develop a means of indicating that an animal was euthanized with barbiturates and ensure that it will not enter the food supply, NRA is working with the United States Food and Drug Administration, Pet Food Institute and American Veterinary Medical Association.

More about bill to prohibit euthanized dogs and cats in pet food

Ohio House Bill 560 would, “prohibit pet food from containing remains from an animal that was euthanized by the use of any drug injected intravenously or through another nonvascular route or remains from any dog or cat.”

Representative Lanese introduced the bill after seeing a story on Cleveland-based Fox 8 in early February. That story covered how another piece of Ohio legislation allows for dead or euthanized animals to be used as raw materials for rendering plants. An attorney quoted in the article claimed that this could include dogs and cats from animal shelters. However, an Ohio Department of Agriculture representative stated that their testing had not revealed the presence of dogs and cats in pet food.

Other media outlets have reported that pet foods may contain euthanized cats and dogs, despite no evidence of this as well as federal regulations prohibiting it. For example, Newsweek stated that, “the body of a stray dog killed in a shelter may be ground up into dog food.”

Consumer focus on pentobarbital in pet food

In a little more than a year, numerous pet food products were recalled after testing found pentobarbital in dog or cat foods.

On March 2, the United States Food and Drug Administration informed J.M. Smucker that the company’s February withdrawal of pet food products, including Kibbles ‘N Bits, Ol' Roy and Skippy, from the marketplace is now considered a recall. The FDA based this decision on a test paid for by Smucker that confirmed the presence of pentobarbital in the tallow ingredient used in the affected products.

In February 2017, Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food of Wheeling, Illinois, USA recalled specific lots of its Hunk of Beef product because of potential contamination with pentobarbital, then expanded that recall in March. Party Animal recalled dog food in April 2017 for the same reason.

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