9.19.18: a rebel alliance of quality content
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are we safer than our pets?
by lucy lediaev

Once again, I put on my glasses to read the almost microscopic list of ingredients on my cats’ bag of food. I guess I should thank the vet for putting the tubbier of my two cats on a diet, along with her slimmer brother. So far, IAMS weight control dry food for cats has not been under suspicion. However, with the addition of rice protein to the list of suspect ingredients from China, I thought I had better check yet once again.

I’m lucky, but I’m angry. I don’t understand how the FDA has allowed such lax quality control procedures among US pet food manufacturers. I’m also angry that the premium cat food companies, such as IAMS, Science Diet, Nutro, and Eukanuba, were using the same source for their foods as major discounters, such as Walmart. I've paid through the nose in the past for these brands, and it disturbs me to know that they may not be any better than the house brand at a local discount grocery or at a big discounter.

I work for a company that manufactures human diagnostic tests that fall under the aegis of the FDA. To retain our products’ status for in vitro diagnostic use and to keep our doors open, we have to follow a rigorous quality control program, that includes rapid response to customer concerns and complaints. FDA good manufacturing practice (GMP) requires that raw materials be tested for acceptance before we can use them in our products.

Clearly, Menu Foods failed to assure that their raw ingredients were unadulterated, and the various pet food companies they supplied did not properly test the foods manufactured for them by Menu Foods.

In addition to the failure of the pet food companies to follow GMP, the FDA’s oversight is suspect. How could this problem have gotten so large and so quickly without someone noticing early in the process?

Of course, the real issue here is the impact of these failures on the lives of our pets and, by association, our lives. I’ve talked to multiple people over the past few weeks who either have a sick pet, have lost a pet, or know people whose pets have been poisoned by the adulterated food.

One case stands out in my mind. A young family member contacted me for advice on how to “pill” her cat Jack. Jack is a young cat, who is very attached to his 10-year-old mistress, Hannah, and she to him. He’s her crying pillow when she’s upset, and he sleeps with her at night. Normally healthy, Jack showed signs of illness right after the first recall was announced. Hannah’s mom, a single parent, rushed Jack to the vet, where it was determined that his kidneys had been permanently damaged. Jack squeaked through by a whisker, but will have to continue pills and special food for the rest of his (likely abbreviated) life. Hannah’s mom incurred expenses she really could not afford; poor Jack is having pills forced down his throat once a day, and Hannah probably will not have his companionship for as long as might be expected.

Yes, Hannah’s mom can make a claim against Menu Foods, but my expectation is that they will be bankrupt soon. Claimants will be lucky to get a few cents on the dollar in compensation for loss of a pet or for their veterinary bills. I heard of another case where a dog owner paid $5000 for treatment of her pet and is now faced with the expense of monthly dialysis for her dog.

Each of these cases is a small tragedy. Imagine the elderly owner of a dog or cat. His or her pet is the sole companion. On a fixed income, the person may be faced with a choice between personal necessities, like food and medicine, to treat a sick pet. And, in the worst case, a long-time companion may be lost.

Also, think of the young family, scrabbling to make ends meet faced with massive vet bills for a family pet. How do you explain to your children that a beloved cat or dog has to be "put down" because the family simply cannot affort the vet bills?

And, I worry that if the FDA is lax with pet food, similar problems could occur in the human food chain, especially as manufacturing firms cut corners and try to make a profit in the face of the increasing cost of petroleum and other related chemicals. Who is checking to make sure that the raw ingredients (and there are many of them--both organic and chemical) that go into manufactured foods are fit for human consumption?

I already cook most of my food from scratch, using fresh fruits, vegetables, poultry, and fish. I’m beginning to think I need to do the same thing for my cats!


A freelance writer and full-time grandma, Lucy Lediaev retired recently from a position as web master, tech writer, and copy writer in a biotech firm. She is enjoying retirment more than she ever dreamed and is now writing about topics that are, for the most part, interesting and fun. She also has time to pursue some of her long-time interests, such as crafts, reading, sewing, baking, cooking, and the like.

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jael mchenry
4.19.07 @ 4:20p

This whole Menu Foods mess makes me so sad -- I don't have a pet myself, but I have friends who are extremely attached to their pets, and very worried after this news came out.

As for people, our food sources are getting too homogenized -- I don't remember the exact example, but it's something like 90% of the cows in the US are Holsteins, so if some virus came along that they were vulnerable to, it would just wipe out beef production almost entirely. Again, the number and the breed are probably wrong, but the example says what I mean it to say.

I know some farmer's markets can be really expensive, but for those who have access to one that isn't, I wholeheartedly urge people to get out there and support local growers. More diverse foods, safer, and better for the environment since they're not shipped thousands of miles on big oil-burning vehicles.

lucy lediaev
4.19.07 @ 5:07p

From March through November, I buy most of my produce from farmer's markets. I am fortunate, because I have access not only to the expensive and fashionable farmer's markets set up within the City of Los Angeles, I also have access to a farm market run by a local community college that has an ag program and a working farm near where I live just outside LA County. Nonetheless, I'm still concerned about pesticides in everything and hormones and antibiotics in the meat. I don't eat a lot of meat!

tracey kelley
4.19.07 @ 10:51p

Here you go, Lucy:

How to Make Homemade Cat Food

It's all about the greed, plain and simple. Including the premier brands. After all, who are you going to "trust" - Iams, with millions of ad dollars at its disposal, or Sav-a-lot?

lucy lediaev
4.20.07 @ 9:47a

I just got a simple recipe from my vet after they checked my cats' weights and age (they are litter mates). As soon as I get bone meal, we're good to go. Now the hope is the picky little brats will eat what I make!

lucy lediaev
4.20.07 @ 2:37p

From a news article today:

California agriculture officials placed a hog farm under quarantine after melamine was found in pig urine there.

robert melos
4.22.07 @ 12:07a

I've never fed my dog pet food. He's always eaten diner food, or stuff I've cooked. I know, I spoil him, but logically, dog food wasn't around even 100 years ago, but dogs have pretty much been around since, well, forever. What did they eat before Alpo and Iams? They ate the same stuff humans ate. Cats also. I mean cats ate the same food as humans, not that dogs ate cats.

I have been wondering if the wheat gluten that was "contaminated" wasn't meant for human consumption? Meaning, it came from a country where most people don't imagine animals as pets, so the concept of pet food is foreign to them. If this were an act of terrorism, what else would wheat gluten be used in? Many other foods consumed by humans.

The government is blind and foolish on most things. They aren't watching out for anything other then their own pockets.

lisa r
4.22.07 @ 4:17a

Can I weigh in here? The FDA has pretty stringent regulations for the most part--alduterating an animal feed is a criminal act. However, the FDA regs are hamstrung by the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The feed industry lobbied Congress heavily for, and got, a requirement to use a series of tests called Proximate Analysis to determine the information that goes on animal feed labels. It's ridiculously inaccurate, but it's cheap.

In Proximate Analysis, the test for protein is not a test for protein at all, but a test for nitrogen content. Protein on average is 16% nitrogen, so once the amount of nitrogen is determined, all they have to do is multiply by a factor of 6.25 and they've got the Crude Protein value that you see on your feed tag/bag. Because all the nitrogen in the feed shows up in this test, it also treats nitrogen in non-protein components as protein, thus overestimating the protein content. In fact, if you look in the US and Canada Feed Tables, you'll see that non-protein nitrogen sources (which can safely be fed to ruminants) test at well over 200% Crude Protein, even though they contain no CP at all. Urea, which can also be used as a fertilizer, comes in at a whopping 282%.

The current theory is that the companies where the wheat gluten and rice byproduct which had melamine added to them did so to jack up the price to increase profits. Melamine, being a fertilizer, is high in nitrogen, and would skew the CP results. Both the wheat and rice byproducts are protein supplements, and therefore their price per ton is based on their protein content. Protein is THE most expensive nutrient per ton of feed and thus the most profitable.

Robert, if your feeding your dog people food, you're significantly shortening his life span. His digestive system isn't designed to handle the high-fat, rich foods typically found in diners. And for those of you feeding cats homemade cat food, please consider that you could be jeopardizing your cat's health as well--commercial cat foods are balanced for the amino acid taurine, which is an essential amino acid for cats. It also is unwise to overfeed carbohydrates to cats, as it can trigger diabetes. Dogs and cats aren't humans, and shouldn't be fed the same.


robert melos
4.22.07 @ 7:47p

Lisa, I don't buy into the separate foods for pets because pet food hasn't been around all that long. Of course I also don't think doctors or vets are some great authority figure just because they studied medicine. I won't go to a doctor because I feel the majority of them are in it for the money. The same goes for the pet food industry. It's a $38 billion dollar industry, and I think that alone makes it something to be questioned. I'm also anti-corporate. We give too much control of our lives to the government, FDA, corporations, medican industry and the like. Americans should take back control of their lives.

Why can't these wheat glutens and many of our other food products be grown right here? Because it's cheaper to import them. Money and greed run our lives.

sarah ficke
4.22.07 @ 11:42p

Erik and I feed our cat fancy gourmet pet food and now I'm glad that we do. Our previous pets ate Iams and Eukanuba, but I don't think we'll ever go back to that now.

lisa r
4.23.07 @ 4:20a

Robert, keep in mind that before commercial pet foods came along, many pets were allowed to fend for themselves, and in fact their primary purpose for being kept were their predatory natures. Cats and dogs both were used to control vermin before the pest control industry took over that task, and pets became primarily companion animals--and thus the need for a pet food industry arose. This is why there are so many terrier, hound and spaniel breeds today.

As an animal nutritionist by training, I'm not convinced that we should rely as heavily as we do on grains and fillers for pet foods. My specialty when I was still in the industry was livestock, and for the most part the theory was that you stick with what the digestive tract was designed for, because you get the best performance when you do so. With ruminants you have a little more leeway simply because you are primarily feeding the microorganisms in the gut (although we know now that it is possible to sneak nutrients past them if the nutrients are protected).

Feeding carnivores as if they are omnivores might be convenient, but is not necessarily in the best interest of the animal physiologically. Yes, their GI tracts are just like ours, but the differences lie in the function of the liver and pancreas. Their pancreases aren't biologically primed to dump large amounts of insulin on a regular basis, because meat isn't loaded with carbohydrates. Their liver is primed to make glucose from protein and fat more than it is to convert to fat for storage. Having said that, the grain products in question were commmon protein supplements that are byproducts of flour milling, and are mostly devoid of carbohydrate. However, plant proteins tend to be deficient in one or more limiting amino acids and have to be balanced properly with other ingredients to address those deficiencies. Animal protein sources derived from muscle have a much higher biological value because the amino acid profiles for muscle are highly similar across species. For that reason, they are much more expensive than plant protein sources, which leads to my next point.

We CAN grow adequate grain supplies in this country, and do unless there's a weather-related shortage--but we turn around and export it to other countries then import more to replace what we exported because of convoluted trade agreements. But you're right, it was a matter of the almighty dollar--it's an industry practice known as least cost ration balancing. Plant protein sources such as wheat gluten are cheaper than meat sources, thus the use of things like wheat gluten in dog and cat foods.

Then of course there is the giant headache to the animal feed industry known as ethanol for fuel, which is going to drive the cost for animal feeds (and thus meat prices) sky-high soon as the petroleum industry competes with the feed industry for corn supplies. The ony winners there will be the corn producers.


lucy lediaev
4.23.07 @ 3:35p

The recipe I've been given by my vet accounts for the taurine and calcium requirements for cats. That's why I'm waiting for appropriate supplements arrive at my door before attempting to make my own cat food. With my luck, they'll likely refuse homemade food anyway, especially if I go to the trouble of making sure it has all required nutrients. Then, it's back to careful reading of labels of commercial pet food AND crossing my fingers.

lisa r
4.30.07 @ 12:35a

They may very well refuse human food if they've only ever eaten cat food. They're used to a certain taste and texture that they won't get from human food.

You know, I agree that Menu Foods blew it. However, the first vanguard was Chem Nutra, and they should have been suspicious when the protein levels of the wheat gluten meal they were getting from the Chinese suppliers tested higher for protein than known averages. Wheat breeders are creating new varieties for a number of different reasons, but protein content most likely isn't high on the list. Wheat isn't grown for its protein, after all. So it really should have set off red flags in the testing labs before the shipments were ever accepted.

Gluten is a byproduct of the flour milling industry. Since we've heard absolutely nothing about contaminated wheat or rice flour products--and that would have been more likely if it was truly an accident--I'd have to agree that the folks suggesting that the melamine was added to drive up protein content of the wheat and rice protein supplements purely for profit reasons are probably right.

NOTE TO PET OWNERS: Labeling laws are specific as to what must be on the label regarding manufacturer information. If you want to be sure that the products you are buying are made by the company whose name is on the label, look for the words "Manufactured For" somewhere on the package, usually in the corporate info region. If those two words appear on the label, the product was made by a third party manufacturer. By law, if another company such as Menu Foods manufactured the food, even if they used the name brand company's formula, those two words MUST appear in the label.


lucy lediaev
4.30.07 @ 12:09p

The homemade cat food project is on hold. The vet put the fat cat (and her brother with her) on a special prescription diet. IAM's weight loss formula has not resulted in any weight loss.

Does anyone need a 2# container of bone meal?

lisa r
4.30.07 @ 2:05p

Use it in your garden if you have one. :) Bone meal is a favorite of gardeners, especially around roses. Also would be good around tomatoes, and tomato season is just around the corner.

lucy lediaev
4.30.07 @ 3:40p

I don't have a garden, but my daughter read my comment and has already claimed the bone meal for her plants.

reem al-omari
5.1.07 @ 12:46a

I'm totally with Robert on vets being in it just for the money. Vets may know what your pet could possibly have, but they still have to run tests to be sure, which surprise surprise, cost money, and you have to pay them to tell you that, even. I've had experience with a vet who basically told me my cat was basically a goner due to pneumonia. Being the stubborn "Oh yeah? watch this, A-hole" person that I am, I took my baby home, turned my bedroom into an incubator, brought in a humidifier, and made up a gruel of my cat's favorite wet food, and fed it to her with a dropper, along with pedialyte... she not only made it through, but she became a mama a few times after that, and lived another 6 wonderful years. That vet charged me $75 to tell me that pile of crap, that was nothing but laziness and carelessness on his part.

lisa r
5.1.07 @ 8:59a

Reem, 2 comments--

First, your vet suggested tests because a significant number of feline respiratory diseases present the same symptoms, and cats, especially kittens, are hypersensitive to some drugs. Treating without testing could have killed your kitten, and baby animals have a bad track record with pneumonia regardless of course of treatment. Yours was one of the lucky ones.

Second, I have a number of college friends who became vets (not surprising since we all majored in animal science)and I considered becoming one until I became interested in research, so I have to state that your comment is offensive.

No one becomes a vet because of the money. Vet school is like medical school except you have to learn the anatomy, physiology, diseases, treatments, and medical dosages for numerous species. Then factor in that not only do you need to know different drug sensitivities and dosages for different species, you may even need to know them for different breeds as well as different weight animals.

A single disease organism can cause different signs of disease in different species. I researched a toxin that caused such different problems in horses and cattle that for well over 50 years after its discovery no one was able to put together that it was the same causative agent until my major advisor did a study testing his theory.

Vets also have to deal with the breed-specific problems caused by breeders with their insane ideas about what constitutes the "perfect" dog or cat or horse----hip dysplasia, respiratory conditions, dental issues due to deliberately bred-in underbites, hypersensitivity to potassium, fatal blood disorders, skin disorders and heat dissipation problems in the wrinkled breeds, and a host of other issues.

You don't walk out of vet school after 4 years and start practicing, any more than a doctor walks out of med school and starts practicing. There's internship, residency, specialization, and board certification same as for those folks who pursue an MD. Then there's the student loans to contend with on a starting salary that's significantly less than an MD's starting salary.

Then let's consider working conditions. Your doctor's patients don't generally come with the predisposition to bite and scratch when in pain. Large animal vets mostly go TO their patients. This often means wrestling animals covered in mud and manure in a downpour. Being a large animal vet is very hazardous because cows and horses weigh 10 or more times what a human weighs. Delivering a calf or foal can easily result in a broken arm or a kick in the head.


lucy lediaev
5.1.07 @ 1:02p

Lisa, you forgot one other important point. A vet's patients cannot tell him or her where it hurts, when the symptoms started, or anything else to help in the diagnosis. I have dealt with mostly terrific vets over the years. I believe in veterinary care for pets, but also realize that sometimes it's best to let go and put down a suffering animal who has little or no chance of survival. I also always remember that pets are not human--they have limited life spans.


reem al-omari
5.1.07 @ 4:25p

Lisa, I guess I've just had bad experiences with vets. I've never taken any of my cats into the vet and come out with anything more than a large dent in my budget, and either a dead pet, or a false alarm. You'll notice that I still take my pets to the vet if they're really sick, so obviously I respect that profession to some degree and realize that I got lucky with my cat. But that vet was obviously wrong. I also know someone whose dog had some sort of cancer, and she was told that the dog would die within weeks. She started putting honey on the dog's biscuits and the dog lived a few years longer. All I'm saying is that vets have a narrow view of treatment. Sometimes, common sense and the things that are good for humans are good for your pets too... vets refuse to accept this and want everything to be either black or white and labeled for dogs or cats. I shudder to think of how many people have lost their pets prematurely due to the narrow view of SOME vets out there... usually, the ones I keep running into. Again, I mean no offense, but my experiences are what make me say these things. As far as vets risking it by going out and dealing with mud-covered animals and risking a kick in the head... well, we all risk something everyday, and kudos to those vets and other professionals out there. As an animal lover, myself, I have no doubt that someone who devotes themselves to veterinary medicine is at heart not a greedy person, but that doesn't change my experiences, or eliminate those few who've lost their ability to care about animals and just wanna get through the day without drama. Besides, I feel this way about dentists, doctors, mechanics... they all go through rigorous training to be what they are, but that doesn't get rid of their tendencies to be rotten at times. As with everything, there's good and there's bad... I was just focusing on the bad.


lisa r
5.3.07 @ 8:55a

Thanks, Lucy. That, too, is a problem--and that's why my veterinary diseases professor stressed that pets never have symptoms, but signs. Symptoms are based on a patients' perceptions, and signs are just what can be detected by the doctor or vet.

Reem, a lot of people grumble about vet bills or experiences, without taking into account two things---first of all, there are a lot of people who swear up and down that their pet is like a member of their family, until a big medical expense rears its ugly head, then all of a sudden the animal becomes a possession. That doesn't mean I'm not in favor of euthanasia for a pet under appropriate circumstances--quality of life is very big with me for animals, and if they are miserable, it's inhumane to keep them alive for our own selfish reasons. I just spent the night crying myself to sleep because a dear friend had to put down his beloved dog of 11+ years yesterday--and I've never even seen the dog except in pictures.

The other issue that a lot of people forget with both veterinary and human medicine is that both people and animals defy medical odds all the time. Some individuals simply have a constitution that lets them keep going long past a predicted time of death. Doctors and vets make these predictions based on statistical averages, and the thing about averages is that data they come from has a wide range of numbers to pick from. In addition, doctors and vets also go on personal experience with their own patients. I had 2 cocker spaniels growing up, a mother and son. Both were diagnosed with lymphosarcoma. The mother, Frisky, was put down immediately after her diagnosis. 10 years later, her son Happy was diagnosed with the same disease. We made the decision to let him live out his life at home as long as he was comfortable, and he lived about 3 years longer before we finally had to have him put to sleep. Same disease, different animals, different life spans, and Happy lived considerably longer than the prediction. Moral of story--instead of considering the vet or doctor a charlatan, be grateful for every day you have with an animal past the predicted death. The vet wasn't wrong, the animal just defied the odds.

I'm continually amazed that people seem to think that diagnostic testing for animals should somehow be cheaper than diagnostic testing for humans. It takes the same materials, chemicals and time to run a test on a dog's blood or tissue sample as it does on a human's. Often, the tests are the same ones used on humans and in many cases were developed on and for use in animals before they ever became commonplace in humans (in vitro fertilization got its start in the livestock industry a good 20 years before the first test tube human was born).



lucy lediaev
5.3.07 @ 2:16p

Lisa, you are absolutely right about beating the odds. Some years ago, I took a very sick cat to the vet at the beginning of a 3-day holiday weekend. She had a high fever and was not eating or drinking. The vet, having diagnosed a raging infection of unknown origin, sent us home with antibiotics.

I applied nursing care, keeping her warm, giving her fluids mixed with pureed baby food turkey through an eye dropper, and gave her the antibiotics. I also carried her around with me during my waking hours and took her to bed with me at night. By Sunday night, she had perked up and was eating and drinking a little.

I took her back to the vet on Tuesday, and he seemed surprised to see us. Then, he told me he had expected her to expire over the weekend. She had proved him wrong and she went on to live to age 19.

reem al-omari
5.3.07 @ 3:05p

Bottom line is: Get a vet's/expert's opinion, then wait it out if your pet's not suffering.

lisa r
5.3.07 @ 3:43p

Medicine, despite being a science which requires exactness, is not an exact science. There are still a lot of unknowns....and still a lot of miracles. That's true for a lot of things.

My animal nutrition professors always reminded us that we could formulate rations using all the tables and prediction equations in the world then control an animal's environment to the nth degree, but we could never control or ignore the individual's contribution to his or her own perfomance. That holds true in medicine as well.


lucy lediaev
5.3.07 @ 3:45p

I think what I liked most about the vet in the case I mentioned above is that he did not tell me he did not expect the cat to live. He did what he could, and I went home with the expectation that she would get better. For that reason, I invested a lot of time and effort into her care, which surely had some influence on the outcome.

Holding out hope, if there is any, is much healthier for people and for animals. Clearly, if an animal is suffering, it's a different situation.

lucy lediaev
5.29.07 @ 12:46p

I just heard in a radio story that people involved in class action suits against Menu Foods are being strong armed to settle by Menu Foods' insurance carrier. So, now that they've gone through the pain of losing a pet, they are being harassed by the company responsible for the loss. Shame on Menu Foods! A federal judge has in fact told them and their insurance company to cease and desist in contacting the litigants.

lisa r
5.30.07 @ 12:07p

It's unfortunate, but sadly it's not surprising. It also will probably come back to haunt them if it goes to a jury trial because the plaintiff's attorneys will find a way to get the harassment into evidence, and juries tend to take a dim view of that sort of behavior.

lucy lediaev
9.24.08 @ 7:35p

From an online news story: The panic comes days after China announced that baby formula laced with the industrial chemical melamine has killed four babies and sickened 54,000.

As I postulated in my article, we are no safer than our pets. I find stories about food contamination in China beyond belief, but it's clear they are true. Clearly, communism does not eradicate greed! Or, perhaps, it's the evil of capitalism that is causing these problems.

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