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In the wake of the social media frenzy about Purina Pro Plan, I was encouraged to create a pet food safety series (of which this is the first installment). The topic of this article is about euthanized animals in pet food, based on a comment that I’ve seen all too often being spread around on social media.

“Veterinarians and dog shelters sell euthanized animals to pet food companies. They are then ground up with their collars and everything, and put into pet food.”

A surprising number of people believe this gut-wrenching theory. Let’s dig in.

Euthanized Animals in Pet Food

Are There Euthanized Animals in Pet Food?

Unlikely. This is not a widespread issue, nor are there any verifiable reports that this practice is done intentionally by any pet food company.

But as always, there is more to this story.

The theory about euthanized pets in dog and cat food has circulated on the internet from day one. In all fairness, some variation of this scenario has occurred.

Pentobarbital is a drug frequently used to euthanize animals, including pets.

A handful of pet food companies have faced issues involving recalls and FDA scrutiny due to the discovery of Pentobarbital in their products. It all started in late 2016 when one pet died and a few others became sick after eating Evanger’s canned food.

As a result of this, tests were done on more than a dozen pet food brands. The euthanasia drug was found in 9 out of 15 cans of Gravy Train.

Evanger’s

J.M. Smucker/Big Heart Pet Brands (Gravy Train, Kibbles n’ Bits, Skippy)

Party Animal (Cocolicious)

Against the Grain

Recalls were issued, and a media frenzy on this topic began.

The source of Pentobarbital in Gravy Train was determined to be beef fat, purchased from the JBS Souderton Inc. meat processing facility in Souderton, PA.

JBS had also supplied beef tallow Champion Pet Foods (Acana/Orijen Brand), and despite the potential presence of contaminated beef fat in their product, the company opted not to issue a recall.

Substantial inquiries arise regarding the circumstances surrounding this occurrence, the actions taken to address it, and the measures implemented to prevent its recurrence in the future.

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Can Pet Food Companies Use Euthanized Animals?

Reputable pet food companies steer clear of this practice by meticulously selecting ingredients and enforcing rigorous quality control measures to detect any adulterated or contaminated products throughout the entire production process, from sourcing to final inspection.

The FDA specifically prohibits pet food companies from using meat sources that contain Pentobarbital1. Any trace of the drug renders the product “adulterated” and it is removed from the market.

However, the lack of oversight in some regions has led to questions about the sourcing and quality of ingredients used in pet food. 2

There is a growing demand for clearer labeling and higher standards in the pet food industry.

It’s important to acknowledge that the majority of pet food companies prioritize the creation of a safe and nutritious product.

Their emphasis on these aspects is driven by the understanding that without a strong focus on safety and nutrition, consumers would likely refrain from purchasing their products, resulting in a loss of revenue for the companies.

To put this simply, while this has occurred in the past and could occur again, the risk is low. Especially if you are choosing pet food companies with industry-leading protocols for food safety, batch testing, and ingredient sourcing (more on this below).

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How Does Pentobarbital End Up in Pet Food?

Pentobarbital can potentially end up in pet food through various avenues, including the presence of euthanized animals in the rendering process, which is the process of converting animal tissues into usable materials like fats and proteins for various industries (including pet food).

If euthanized animals are not properly segregated from the rendering process, residues of pentobarbital from euthanasia drugs may remain in the rendered material and subsequently contaminate the pet food.

JBS Souderton Inc., the provider of the contaminated beef tallow used in various questionable pet food brands (Including Kibbles & Bits, Orijen/Acana, and Evanger’s), faced scrutiny from the FDA.

A warning letter to JBS Souderton dated April 23rd, 20193, reveals that repeated inspections of the processing plant uncovered numerous instances of cleanliness, sanitation, and sourcing violations, along with the discovery of Pentobarbital in product tanks at the facility.

While JBS Souderton bears initial responsibility, the pet food companies that incorporated the contaminated beef tallow into their products also have significant accountability to address.

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Pet Food Myth: Shelter Animals in Pet Food

The above information has led many people to conclude that all pet foods contain euthanized, ground-up shelter pets.

To put this bluntly, that is a big stretch. There is no truth, let alone verifiable proof, of this claim.

We can substantiate past issues with Pentobarbital in pet food, particularly among brands sourcing beef tallow from JBS Souderton.

During an investigation into the contaminated beef tallow, tests for dog and cat DNA were conducted, revealing the absence of such DNA in the product.4 This finding indicates that the source of Pentobarbital likely originated from cows and horses. It was not from shelter pets.

Beyond the brands that had Pentobarbital in their pet foods, any further claims remain speculative.

Of course, sensationalism SELLS.

The idea of using ground-up shelter animals in pet food is provocative, controversial, and deeply concerning to pet parents who prioritize the well-being and quality of nutrition for their beloved pets.

It is also a broad, sweeping generalization that has caused needless and untold amounts of fear and anxiety for pet parents.

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How To Find a Pet Food With Good Quality Control

The trick to this is not to avoid commercially prepared pet foods. It’s to learn how to choose brands that are transparent, ethical, and have good quality control practices.

It doesn’t matter how nice, holistic, or organic the marketing of that brand is; they are still subject to making mistakes and engaging in questionable sourcing and testing practices.

To find a pet food with excellent quality control, consider the following steps:

  1. Research reputable brands: Look for pet food companies with a strong reputation for transparency, quality ingredients, and rigorous quality control measures. Your veterinarian is a good place to start, as they often communicate directly with certain pet food companies and have insider information about their plants, quality, sourcing, and nutrition science. Here is a great example of a brand with exceptional attention to quality control5, where they indicate that over 1000 lab analyses are done every day during all stages of production.
  2. Check for certifications & guidelines: Seek out pet foods that adhere to regulatory guidelines such as those set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).
  3. Review ingredient sourcing: Opt for pet foods that prioritize high-quality, responsibly sourced ingredients and provide detailed information about their sourcing practices. (A great example of a good sourcing page looks like THIS.)6
  4. Look for quality control information: Check the manufacturer’s website or contact customer support to inquire about their specific quality control processes, including testing for contaminants and adherence to safety standards. Exceptional pet food companies are testing at all stages of production, and maintain batch samples for some time after the food is distributed.
  5. Ask who formulates the food: companies that have several highly qualified nutritionists, food scientists, and veterinarians on staff are much more likely to produce food that is safe, nutritious, and bioavailable.

Another valuable resource is the WSAVA recommendations for pet food manufacturing, which serve as a comprehensive set of guidelines for ensuring the production of safe and high-quality pet food. You can read more about choosing foods that follow WSAVA guidelines HERE.7

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Final Verdict: Myth Busted

This is a big jump. No, your neighbor’s dog, your local shelter animal, and some dogs from a hoarding situation down the street are NOT in your pet’s food!

It is neither honest nor ethical to suggest that all brands incorporate ground-up euthanized animals due to the actions of a few companies that sourced low-quality ingredients.

Has euthanasia drug been found in pet food? Yes.

Have ground-up pets and collars been found in pet food? Not that I’ve seen, anywhere.

Is this a widespread problem? No.

Is Pentobarbital in pet food likely to harm your pet? No, because even if it does end up in the food, it is likely to be in very low and nearly untraceable amounts. While this doesn’t justify its presence, it does make the likelihood of harm extremely improbable.

Each year, 300-400 new pet food brands enter the market, attempting to compete alongside a small group of popular legacy brands with established practices.

The tiny handful of questionable brands that were caught with contaminated ingredients do not accurately represent the vast majority of pet food options available.

My opinion? When it comes to pet food safety, there are bigger fish to fry.

What do you think? Leave your comments below! Discussion is welcome and encouraged.

Footnotes

  1. FDA Questions & Answers: Are There Contaminants in Pet Food?
    07/29/2021 ↩︎
  2. AAHA Notice About Recalled Pet Food Due to Pentobarbital
    02/16/2018 ↩︎
  3. FDA Warning Letter to JBS Souderton Inc.
    04/23/2019 ↩︎
  4. FDA Laboratory Information Bulletin on Pentobarbital in Pet Food ↩︎
  5. Royal Canin Quality Control Practices ↩︎
  6. Nestle Purina Responsible Sourcing Standard PDF
    07/2018 ↩︎
  7. WSAVA Guidelines and Recommendations ↩︎

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. 

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