Are Pets Being Recyled Into Pet Food?

The headline read: “How dogs and cats get recycled into petfood” (San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 20, 1990). Similar headlines appear regularly. The belief is dead pets are rendered and the resulting product finds its way into petfoods.

Not true, according to Fred Bisplinghoff, DVM, Consultant for the Animal Protein Producers Industry (APPI). “I believe I have as much information on this subject as anyone,” says Dr. Bisplinghoff. “I have spent much time talking to reporters, renderers, petfood manufacturers and pet owners for the past twenty years. Adverse publicity has dictated that renderers get rid of small animals or make arrangements to sell their end products into markets other than the petfood market.”

Rendering pets for petfood is not harmful to pets consuming such petfoods. Nevertheless, emotional reactions overshadow any rational discussion of this issue. Pet owners tend to be appalled by the idea. The rendering industry is well aware of public disapproval of the practice.

Rendering is an economical, environmentally sound way of disposing of pets. The alternatives are to bury or incinerate them. However, these alternatives have economic and environmental disadvantages. Still, because most renderers will not accept pets, humane societies and others have increasingly turned to incineration.

The following is the breakdown of producers of animal proteins by type of raw material processed:

* Independent renderers process raw material from small packing houses, supermarkets, etc. There are 182 in the U.S.

* Packer renderers process raw material from only the species they are slaughtering. There are ninety-eight of this type in the U.S.

* Poultry processors process poultry by-products. There are fifty-six nationwide.

* Protein blenders purchase dry rendered tankage from the preceding processors. There are twenty-four in the United States.

Of these, says Dr. Bisplinghoff, the only group that might process dead pets are the independent renderers. He estimates that of the 182 independent renderers, only five to seven process pets. However, this number does not include the “small country processors who may occasionally take a pet from a livestock producer.” Generally, these small feed companies do not manufacture companion animal diets.

Petfood manufacturers have demanded guarantees that their animal protein suppliers do not process dead companion animals. Since petfood makers are large volume, valued customers, says Dr. Bisplinghoff, no renderer would chance losing this profitable business.

Furthermore, dead pets are not desirable raw material for rendering. Therefore, there is no economic incentive for renderers to seek this type of raw material.

“Some renderers may process a small volume of dog pound animals,” says Dr. Bisplinghoff, “but they do it to get along with local health authorities who have the responsibility to dispose of these animals in an economic and sanitary manner. But, these renderers do not sell their products to petfood manufacturers. The few renderers who handle large volumes of dead pets either export their animal proteins or sell them to integrated poultry operations.”

Tapeworms: Parasites with a past

Tapeworms are one of the few parasites that are most likely to be diagnosed by a pet’s owner.

They’re also one of the few internal parasites that can be tracked back to the source.

There are two common types of tapeworms in dogs. And adult tapeworms look alike. Each has little segments that look like a measuring tape. Since the segments break off easily, they vary in length. Owners often report seeing pieces that look like dried rice on the hair around their dog’s rectum, or on the dog’s bed, or even the furniture.

Rarely, small, white moving pieces are visible on a freshly passed stool. (But perhaps these are seen more frequently now that most responsible dog owners are bagging up their dog’s stools.) These pieces are sometimes confused with maggots if on a stool that’s been outside for a while. If you’re not sure what it is, take a sample to your veterinarian. Tapeworm eggs are not often caught on fecal examinations, so let your vet know if you’ve seen any segments.

Sometimes an observant owner will catch his or her dog rubbing its rear on the ground or carpet. Anal gland problems are the most common cause of this rubbing, but don’t rule out tapeworms. Also, although rare, a dog will sometimes vomit up an intact or large segment of a tapeworm.

The most commonly seen tapeworm species is Taenia sp. They appear in dogs that eat uncooked meat of various kinds — most commonly rodents or rabbits. A microscopic exam will tell your vet if the tapeworm sample is Taenia sp. If it is, you’ll know your pooch has been out hunting on his own. Or perhaps Kitty is dropping “gifts” for Fido to devour (this happens more often than people think).

The other common tapeworm is Dipylidium caninum. This one shows up in dogs that are infested with biting lice or fleas (usually fleas). When dogs do the sort of self-grooming/nipping that they often do with a flea infestation, they tend to ingest fleas which may carry the tapeworm cysticercoid stage. Not all fleas carry tapeworms, but many do.

Again, these two types of tapeworms can be distinguished only by careful examination. They’re not easily identified by just looking at them.

Both types of tapeworms mentioned here are fairly easily treated with oral or injectable medications. But unless you remove the source of the tapeworms — get rid of the fleas or stop the hunting — these parasites will recur with regularity. A severe case of tapeworms can interfere with digestion and cause blockage or a poor haircoat, but they’re rarely serious parasites. (The whipworm, on the other hand, is serious.) No one appreciates tapeworm segments on the sofa, however, and maintaining family peace requires prompt treatment.

The truly serious tapeworm species is called Echinococcus. There are two variants: a) granulosus, which is associated with Australia though found almost everywhere to some extent and b) multilocularis, which is less common. Both of these tapeworms can cause serious, even fatal disease in humans through hydatid cysts. (Think of those alien sci-fi films where something evil grows inside you. This isn’t far off!)

Echinococcus granulosus is in its most aggressive form in sheep. If a dog eats uncooked meat or offal from an infected sheep and then defecates in the pasture, the life cycle for this parasite is perpetuated. Humans are most often infected through contact with their own pets. Personal hygiene is obviously of the utmost importance here.

There are effective medications with which to treat dogs and cats; periodic worming for tapeworms is practiced in endemic areas. Sheep-herding dogs imported to the United States from Australia must undergo quarantine. In Australia, wallabies and dingoes help perpetuate the cycle, as well as the sheep and dog relationship.

So, while tapeworms are not usually a serious parasite, they can cause some health problems. They’re reasonably easy to treat and you, as an owner, are an important partner in diagnosing it. And then there’s that question of how your dog got infested and how you can change that.

Friskies kills Dr. Ballard

It’s official. Dr. Ballard’s dog and cat foods are dead. The Friskies division of Nestle, which made the foods, has pulled the plug. By April 2001, the food will no longer be found on store shelves.

That’s too bad — many people grew to love Dr. Ballard’s oven-baked pet foods, and tasty canned foods. But sales slowed down when prime customer PETsMART brought out their own oven-baked food, PETsMART Premier. (That’s still available, although there is no canned version.)

Other alternatives in the baked pet foods category are rare, because it takes a lot of extra heat — and therefore natural gas — to run the ovens which bake the foods. Heinz pulled the plug on Ken-L Biskit, a 70-year old baked food.

You might try PETsMART Premier. Other alternatives are Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance, Neura, Wellness, and Flint River Ranch.

If you want to call and complain to Friskies, the number is 1-800-851-5857.

Dick Molay: Every Dog Has His Doo


A woman I knew when I lived in California kept a horse at a boarding stable. In addition to whatever the stable charged for keeping horses, all owners were expected to put in a few hours of unpaid maintenance work each month. It so happened that I needed to speak with my friend on a weekend morning when she was fulfilling her obligation at the stable.

I drove over and found her up to her ankles in road apples, cheerfully shoveling the stuff into a wheelbarrow. I had never before seen her in anything other than formal business attire, but there she was, in raggedy blue jeans, a stained sweatshirt and distinctly aromatic tennis shoes. She greeted me with a broad smile and a humorous curtsy. “I just love the smell of horse poop on a frosty morning,” she said, “Don’t you?”

Well, as a clever author wrote in a popular children’s book, everybody poops. And the disposal of those metabolic leavings is big business for many companies. You can buy cattle manure for your vegetable garden. The mushroom industry is based on fermented horse manure. Those tourist attractions where lions spend their days napping in the sunlight sell sacks of lion poop to home owners plagued by landscape-eating wild deer. The distinctive aroma is said to keep the deer at a respectable distance. There are even municipalities that treat, sanitize, granulate and sell solid (human) waste as flower bed fertilizer.

Yes, recycling makes short work of a lot of poop.

And then there is doggie doo.

Try to think of a worse catastrophe (dogastrophe?) than planting your shoe directly in a mound of fresh English Setter poop as you are about to show up for a job interview. I picked English Setters as an example because I would love to have one. My own little darling is a Lhasa Apso, a small animal that makes up for her diminutive size by depositing truly terrible-smelling little leavings.

As if we all didn’t agree on the social drawbacks of dog poop, I have just now learned from my son of a website where you can order a gift-wrapped package of same delivered to your least favorite person. The stuff is available in a number of weights and containers, and is reasonably priced, considering the rather unpleasant task of dealing with it at the source. If you want to check out my discovery, just point your web browser to Honest. I wouldn’t kid you.

Well, it got me to thinking. It wasn’t too long ago that there was an epidemic of pie-in-the-face attacks. Antisocial individuals all over the world advertised themselves as pie throwers, and for a fee, you could have the satisfaction of seeing your designated victim peering out at the world through a thick facial of lemon meringue. Before that, it was dead flowers. A young man, thinking better of a developing relationship with a young woman, could signal his waning interests by sending her a bouquet of almost-dry, brown-spotted, petal-dropping roses. As a nation, we seem to be losing our ability to speak plainly with one another. Instead of telling someone that the party’s over, we send dead flowers or arrange to have a pie tossed in his (or her) face. Or we dispatch a gift-wrapped parcel of dog doo.

At first glance, the doggie doo delivery service sounds new and different. Disgusting, but different. It turns out, however, that this is just a new twist on a very old idea. While I was cleaning out a dresser drawer not too long ago, I came across a small, squarish white box with a lifelike lump of dog poop, rendered in plaster and realistically painted to resemble the real thing. I ordered it decades ago, from a fantastic company called Johnson Smith & Company. When we were kids, my brother and I would spend hours leafing through the Johnson Smith catalog, imagining the disruptions we could cause with dribble glasses, whoopee cushions, joy buzzers and dog poop. But that was at least 50 years ago. Surely, a company so wonderful could not possibly survive.

Just for kicks, I tried an address on my web browser: And I was astonished when a home page came up, looking a lot like my memories from a half century ago. It was enough to bring tears to my eyes. There was a fill-in-the-blanks rectangle and I typed in “dog” and held my breath. An instant later, there it was. Johnson Smith’s traditional “dog mess,” item number 2999, priced at an affordable $1.49 per lump.

I confess that I worry about water pollution, acid rain, indiscriminate use of antibiotics and the gradual decline in taste and texture of bagels. But I will sleep better tonight knowing that Johnson Smith is still selling artificial dog doo. It takes a heck of a load off my little Lhasa Apso.

The Cutting Edge of Dog Food Technology

If you’re into learning about dog food, or if you hang out at the health food store, you’ve probably heard about “essential fatty acids,” “marine lipids,” “linoleic acid,” “omega-3” and “omega-6 fatty acid.” You may have an idea that these are all good for the heart, but don’t know why — or exactly what a fatty acid is.

One of the hottest areas of nutritional research for dogs happens to be: fatty acids. In this article, we’ll take a look at fatty acids, what they are, and how a proper balance of certain fatty acids in the diet can help solve the problems of a dog who itches, scratches and chews on himself all the time.

What Are Fatty Acids, Anyway?

Fats are made up of fatty acids. There are many different fatty acids, but they all have a common structure.

Each fatty acid is a chain of carbon atoms with oxygen atoms hooked on at one end (COOH or carboxyl group) and three hydrogen atoms hooked on at the other end (CH3 or methyl group). The end with the oxygen is called the alpha end. The end with hydrogen is the omega.

Fatty acids differ in two respects: how many carbon atoms are strung together, and where there are double bonds instead of single bonds between carbon atoms. If the first double bond is located three carbons away from the omega end, the fatty acid is considered an omega-3. If the first double bond is located 6 carbons in from the omega end, it’s an omega-6 fatty acid.

Here’s The Difference Between Saturated and Unsaturated Fats

Let’s look at some other kinds of fats. If the fatty acid has no double bonds, it is a saturated fat. These tend to be solid at room temperature, and in people, most saturated fatty acids cause the blood cholesterol to increase.

Unsaturated fatty acids have one or more double bonds. Polyunsaturated fatty acids have three or more double bonds. The unsaturated and polyunsaturated are generally less likely to raise the cholesterol in humans. Dogs don’t have to worry about cholesterol, except when they have certain diseases. The unsaturated are more liquid at room temperature, while the polyunsaturated fats are definitely liquid at room temperature.

The length of the fatty acid chain — how many carbons are strung together — will help determine whether a fatty acid is solid or liquid. Shorter chains tend to be more liquid.

For example, acetic acid is a short fatty acid with only two carbons. It’s found in vinegar. Butter has much butyric acid, which is a four-carbon fatty acid. Much longer fatty acids, with 16 and 18 carbons, are found in beef and pork, and are relatively solid.

Fish oils are 20 to 24 carbons long. These are very long chains, yet tend to be liquid because they’re highly unsaturated — they have many double bonds.

Fish And Relatives Stink After Three Days

As the chain gets longer, or as it gets more unsaturated, it is more likely to go rancid. Remember the bacon drippings your mother saved in a can? Once they cooled, they turned relatively firm, and could sit out for months. They were solid at room temperature, and didn’t go rancid because they were highly saturated.

On the other hand, there is an old saying that “Fish and relatives stink after three days.” That’s because fish oil is highly polyunsaturated and goes rancid quickly unless a preservative is used. In fact, all fatty acids in the dog’s food need to be protected from going rancid. Rancid fats can make dogs very sick. Preservatives, such as vitamin E, BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin, work to protect the fatty acids. (There is no preservative for relatives.)

There’s No Mystery To Marine Lipids

At the beginning of this article, we mentioned “marine lipids.” Lipid is another term for fat. Many of the marine lipids, which are mostly from deep-sea fish, have a structure different from the oils from freshwater fish. They have more omega-3s in their fatty acids. The key is that these fish eat lots of plankton and other plants that produce the omega-3s. Their bodies concentrate the omega-3s.
Land mammals just don’t have much of the omega-3s in their fat, unless they’re eating a diet which includes omega-3s, such as flax or soybeans. If you eat fish, you get a really good supply of omega-3s in the diet.

Your Dog Needs Linoleic Acid!

There is only one fatty acid that dogs really need, and it’s an omega-6: linoleic acid. Dogs can’t make their own, so it must be in the diet.
For the dog, linoleic acid is an essential fatty acid, as it must be included in the fat content of the diet. If the dog’s diet is deficient in linoleic acid, the result will be a scruffy, dry coat. In some cases the coat might also feel oily. In addition, the coat, paw pads and nose leather may not be healthy. Other problems occur, but they are unseen, inside the cells.
Luckily, the amount of linoleic acid needed to prevent a deficiency is small, Good sources include beef, pork, chicken, and oils from corn, safflower and soybean.
Various studies have shown that adding sources of linoleic acid to the diet cures the symptoms of deficiency. The deficiency in linoleic acid is also seen in the disease known as Generic Dog Food disease. As you can guess, some dogs fed generic dog food from the supermarket were found to have a linoleic acid deficiency.
Linoleic acid is particularly important because it is required in the membrane of the cells. It helps to maintain a state where the electrolytes (minerals and fluids) can get back and forth across the membrane. It helps prevent the moisture loss from cells which causes flaky, dry coats.

Are Other Fatty Acids Needed?

What about other fatty acids? Deficiencies are not a problem, as the dog appears to make all of the other fatty acids he needs.
Questions have been raised, though, debating whether alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is needed in the dog’s diet. This is due to some reproductive problems seen in rat studies. While different studies have shown contradictory results, and the rat is not a good model for dogs, the question is still there. More research is needed into ALA requirements for dogs. ALA, by the way, is an omega-3.

New Research Looks Inside Cells

The really exciting research in fatty acids is now unlocking what’s happening inside the dog, in the cells.
The unique thing about the omega-3s in the diet is that you are what you eat. The fatty acids in the diet show up in the body fat.
The ability of the diet to influence body fat composition is well known in poultry, pigs and people. It works in dogs, too.
If you add omega-3 fatty acids to the diet, it shows up in the fat and the cell membranes. How quickly? That’s a function of how much is circulating in the bloodstream, and how fast the cells are being remodeled.
Some cells, which are quicker, pick up the omega-3 fatty acids faster. Intestinal cells, for example, take about two weeks from feeding before omega-3s show up. It’s thought that skin cells take 6 to 8 weeks.
This becomes important because of the impact omega-3s and omega-6s have on inflammation. Omega-6 fatty acids (such as linoleic acid) tend to promote inflammation, while omega-3s are less inflammatory.

Inflammation — What’s Really Going On?

Let’s take a look at what goes on when skin gets inflamed. Inflammation is a cell’s response to some kind of insult, either physical or chemical. The insult could be a scrape or a reaction to something like a mosquito bite or flea bite.
Inflammation is simply the cell’s defense mechanism. One of the cell’s reactions is to produce compounds that attempt to protect it and some of its neighbors. Those compounds are made from fatty acids and are called eicosanoids. The eicosanoids that are made from omega-6s attract many white blood cells to the site, and produce much of the pain and itching associated with the mosquito bite. Platelets collect in an attempt to stop bleeding. The omega-6s are very pro-aggregatory — they cause the coagulation or sticking together of the platelets.
The visible signs of inflammation are redness, swelling, heat, and pain, all in varying degrees. We’ve all had those symptoms from our different bites and scrapes.
If you’ve ever wondered why an injury feels hot, here’s your answer: Some of the heat difference is due to the eicosanoids causing the blood vessels to dilate, which lets plenty of blood come pumping through. All that blood brings warmth to the site.
Some inflammation is good, and a natural response. But sometimes the body can get out of hand with its reactions. In the case of hot spots, the inflammation causes the dog to lick and scratch, which causes more inflammation. This self-perpetuates into a vicious cycle of more self-trauma and inflammation.
Allergies are another situation where the immune system goofs up. The immune system senses an invader when it shouldn’t and starts the inflammatory process going. In actuality, there’s no reason why the body should react to pollen or ingredients in the dog’s food. Eicosanoids are, in part, responsible for the allergic reaction.
While the omega-6s produce eicosanoids that encourage inflammation, the omega-3s produce eicosanoids that cause much less inflammation.
Some of the eicosanoids from the omega-3s are just less potent than those from the omega-6s. But some are also anti-aggregatory.
That means they’d prefer that the platelets in the blood not stick together. This is fine, as long as you don’t go overboard with the omega-3s. People in Greenland, who have a diet heavy in omega-3s from deep-sea fish and marine mammals, also bleed longer than people elsewhere. That’s because the omega-3s don’t help the platelets coagulate.

What It All Means

The bottom line is that if there are more omega-3 fatty acids in the cells than omega-6s, there may be fewer symptoms of inflammation such as pain and itching.
By influencing the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in the cell membrane, a blend of eicosanoids will be produced, with a reduction in the symptoms of inflammation. This ratio can be changed by changing the dog’s diet, since as we said before, when it comes to omega-3s and omega-6s, you are what you eat.
Some inflammation is necessary because it’s a defensive mechanism, so you don’t want to eliminate the omega-6s. Anyway, the omega-6 linoleic acid is necessary to maintain moisture in skin cells. But if we put the right proportion of omega-6s to omega-3s in the diet, it will end up properly proportioned in the cell membranes. That means we can increase the amount of eicosanoids that help reduce inflammation.
Omega-3 fatty acids may also influence the way the coat looks. But overall, they have more of a role in controlling inflammation, not preventing it.
By modifying the body’s response, we can help relieve the itching of a dog with allergies. By helping the skin react in a more controlled fashion, we can avoid hot spots and hair loss from allergy-caused licking. We may even be able to reduce the allergy problems of dogs who are troubled by flea bites, although this has not yet been demonstrated scientifically.
Influencing The Ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3
Now you know that you need to keep track of the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in your dog’s body. You know you can do it through the diet. But what should the ratio be? How can you affect it?
Research indicates that the ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the diet is between 5 to 1 and 10 to 1. This allows the body to have all of the omega-6 linoleic acid it needs to keep the skin cells healthy, while still helping to reduce inflammation. These ratios are similar to the ideal ratios for rats and people.
There are two ways to get the proper ratio into your dog: in the dog food, or by adding omega-3 supplements.
The problem with supplements is that there is no easy way to tell how much of the omega-6s are in your dog’s present diet. If you don’t know how much omega-6 fatty acids your dog is getting, there’s no way to figure out how much of the omega-3s is needed to bring the ratio back into line. Remember, you don’t want to get too much of the omega-3s or your dog will have a slower blood-clotting time.
Too few omega-3s won’t show up as a problem, but it also won’t make any difference to your itchy dog. That’s because the mass of eicosanoids from the omega-6s will overwhelm the few eicosanoids from omega-3, resulting in continued itching and inflammation.
Supplements are fairly expensive, costing between 20¢ and 60¢ a capsule at the veterinarian. In addition, current studies show that the supplements give good results only about 25% of the time.
If your dog has fleas, that can affect the impact of omega-3 supplements, too. Many veterinarians will suggest you try the supplements, and there will be some successes and some failures. While it hasn’t been researched, the possible reason for the poor success rate might be that the dogs were on a high omega-6 diet, and the amount of the omega-3s in the supplement just wasn’t enough to make a difference.

Finding a Food With A Good Ratio

Since supplementation isn’t a good option, the only other choice is to feed a diet where the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is predetermined by the manufacturer. This is difficult, since most manufacturers haven’t caught on to the need to monitor the ratio.
In addition, the test to determine the ratio is not an easy one, and most pet food companies and independent test labs don’t have the equipment to do it. (Very few companies that make food for people have the equipment either, even though fatty acid research is hot on the people side, too.)
For now, you can make some educated guesses based on ingredients. If the diet has safflower oil or corn oil in it, it’s likely to be high in the omega-6 linoleic acid. There should be fish oil or fish meal to provide balancing omega-3s. In fact, seeing fish oil, fish meal or flax in the ingredients is the best clue you have in finding a diet that might have a good balance of fatty acids.
Dog foods on the market vary widely from the optimal ratio of between 5 to 1 and 10 to 1. Before it was reformulated, one major brand had a ratio of 16 to 1. Safflower oil was added to boost the linoleic acid content. That altered the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3s to a whopping 50 to 1. It would take somewhere between two and six times the recommended dosage of omega-3 supplements to bring a dog fed that food back into line.
Beware of foods that promise they are high in linoleic acid. Unless it’s balanced with the omega-3 fatty acids, it may cause more itching than other foods.
Remember that it takes several weeks after a change in the diet before the omega-3s are taken up by the skin cells, so don’t expect immediate relief. If your dog is in so much trouble that he is destroying his skin, take a quick trip to your vet. A dose of steroids quickly interrupts the inflammatory process, stopping the self-trauma right away. You’ll still see a difference in skin itching later on, when the effect of the steroids wears off.
For many dogs, none of this really matters. They don’t develop allergies, flea problems or hot spots. But if your dog is one who has recurrent problems, it would pay you to search for a different food.
The future of dog food is clear: as the data become more readily available, more companies will start adjusting the fatty acid ratio in the diet. More will jump on the bandwagon.
Greg Reinhart is Director of Strategic Research and has done most of the fatty acid research for The Iams Company. He is also involved in several studies investigating exercise-induced physiological changes in Alaskan sled dogs. Dan Carey is Director of Technical Communications for Iams.