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Natural Awakenings

Hidden Dangers in Pet Food: The Scary Truth About Toxic Ingredients

Dec 30, 2022 09:30AM ● By Karen Becker
Dog and cat side-by-side each eating from a side of a food bowl filled with fresh healthy food

Monika Wisniewska/Shutterstock.com

Among the many reasons to switch from ultra-processed diets to fresh food for our furry family members, unwanted toxins are high on the list. Because pet food manufacturers are not required to conduct quality control testing, consumers never know exactly what toxins their dogs and cats are inadvertently ingesting. According to PetFoodIndustry.com, “Some level of contamination is unavoidable.” Here is a look at the most common toxins found in many popular pet foods.

Arsenic is used in herbicides, insecticides, wood preservatives and insulation, as well as in chicken feed in factory farms. According to Greg Aldrich, Ph.D., associate professor and pet food program coordinator at Kansas State University, “The measured presence of arsenic in pet foods does not equate to toxicity for this naturally occurring earth element.” While this may be true, bioaccumulation can do significant damage over time if sublethal doses are consistently consumed. The gastrointestinal tract, liver, kidneys, lungs, blood vessels and skin are most vulnerable to arsenic damage, which interferes with hormones and causes cancer and death. To help pets with elevated arsenic levels, try iodine- and selenium-rich foods, including sea vegetables and Brazil nuts; sulfurous foods like garlic; alpha lipoid acid; and N-acetylcysteine.

Mercury is released into the air and waterways primarily through burning coal, and seafood is the most common route of exposure. It is best not to feed pets an exclusive diet of fish protein. On the other hand, seafood contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential to a pet’s well-being. Consider feeding them low-mercury options like wild-caught salmon, sardines packed in water, mussels or rainbow trout in rotation with other proteins, or supplementing their diet with krill oil or an omega-3 fatty acid that is third-party validated as contaminant-free and sustainably sourced. Mercury detoxification can be achieved by using chlorella and cilantro.

Polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) are used as fire retardants and can bioaccumulate at high levels in large, predatory fish at the top of the food chain like tuna, tilefish, king mackerel, shark and swordfish. Research suggests that cats are especially sensitive to PBDEs and PCBs found at high levels in both canned and dry pet foods. Although PCBs were banned in the U.S. in 1979, they are still used elsewhere in the world and continue to pollute the oceans. These fat-soluble toxins can be cleared through the bowels, so add fibrous veggies and chlorophyll-containing foods or supplements to the pet bowl.

Pet food bowl full of fresh meat and vegetables

Monika Wisniewska/Shutterstock.com

 

Bisphenol A (BPA) is used in plastics and coatings inside pet food cans. It imitates the body’s hormones, especially estrogen, in ways that are damaging to the health of both humans and animals. A 2017 study conducted by researchers at the University of Missouri concluded that even a short-term (two-week) feeding of canned dog food resulted in a three-fold increase of BPA in dogs. Avoid canned pet foods and #7 plastic food and water bowls and storage bins. Provide ongoing BPA detoxification support by offering foods rich in Lactobacillus acidophilus (kefir and yogurt) and glutathione-rich foods, including culinary and medicinal mushrooms.

Dioxins, a byproduct of industrial processes, can disrupt the signaling of both male and female sex hormones in the body. They’re found in much of the U.S. food supply, including factory-produced meat, fish, milk, eggs and butter. Offer pets organic food whenever possible. Because dioxins are fat-soluble, they are stored in adipose tissues. Try the Ayurvedic practice of lipophilic-mediated detoxification, which uses healthy fats, including ghee, coconut and MCT oil, to pull out fat-stored toxins.

Aflatoxin contamination has been the cause of several pet food recalls and major disease outbreaks for more than 20 years. Known to cause acute toxic illness and cancer, they are naturally occurring mycotoxins produced by fungi in agricultural crops. Corn, peanuts and cottonseed have the highest rate of aflatoxin contamination. Aflatoxicosis is more common in dogs than cats because commercial dog food more often contains corn. Many animal studies demonstrate the efficacy of using ginger, thyme, broccoli, turmeric and carrots for aflatoxin detoxification.

The only way to know exactly what a pet is eating is to buy the ingredients and prepare nutritionally complete meals at home. When choosing a commercial pet food, make sure that it contains human-grade ingredients and that manufacturers employ quality control steps in their operations to test for contaminants.


Veterinarian Karen Becker, DVM, has spent her career empowering animal guardians in making knowledgeable decisions to extend the life and well-being of their animals.

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