Commercially Manufactured Pet Foods are Very Safe

In the past, when pets were fed largely table scraps and improperly cooked fresh food or commercial diets, the risk of intestinal problems such as vomiting and diarrhea were common.  These days, the risk of food borne illness is rare.  This is due the fact that most pets in developed countries are fed processed commercial pet foods.  Commercial pet foods that are manufactured currently are much safer due to better manufacturing capabilities and governmental regulations.  If a person is feeding a commercial pet food, follows the label direction and uses proper storage procedures, the risk of a pet food-borne illness is quite low.

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Factors that promote safety of commercially manufactured pet foods.

Modern pet foods are typically composed of multiple ingredients, including grains, meats, meat by-products, vegetables, eggs, dairy products, fish and other added nutrients.  The use of multiple ingredients tends to dilute any contamination in a particular ingredient.  Commercial pet foods are made using techniques such as extrusion for dry foods, and cooking with a commercial process for canned foods to produce temperatures high enough to destroy most pathogens and heat-labile toxins.  Improved packaging and better warehouse storing helps protect both raw materials used to make the diet as well as the finished products themselves.  Manufacturers use sensitive analytical techniques to verify that the ingredients and final products are of high quality and free from contaminants.  Companies that produce pet foods have large investments that they must protect.  As a result, they have a strong incentive to avoid procedural breakdowns and oversights in the production and storage of their product that could have a catastrophic effect on the company’s reputation and profits.

Regulatory aspects of commercial pet foods

Pet foods and pet food ingredients that are shipped across state or United States international boundaries are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the authority of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA).  The Act states that foods, including pet foods, shall be considered adulterated when they contain an added substance such as bacteria, mycotoxins, drugs, pesticides, and metals that render the food injurious to health.  The FDA monitors pet food and individual pet food ingredients for pesticides, mycotoxins, and heavy metals as part of its Feed Contaminants Program.

Foods that do not cross state lines are less subject to federal scrutiny and fall under the authority of the local and state officials.  Many locally produced dry pet foods are pelleted instead of extruded.  The manufacturing processes used for these products may not produce temperatures high enough to kill bacteria and inactivate heat-labile toxins.  These products also may utilize locally obtained raw materials that may hold more potential for undetected contamination.

Click here to learn what to do if you suspect your pet is suffering from a food-borne illness.

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Dr Stephen Atwater

Stephen W. Atwater, DVM, MS, Diplomate ACVIM (oncology) is a board-certified veterinary oncology specialist. His professional interests include utilizing emerging therapies for difficult to treat cancers.

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