Wednesday, December 6, 2023
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A Consumer-funded Study of Cat and Dog Foods

four black cats eating
“We belong to the Clean Plate Club!”

We read about recalls of the food and treats and even supplements intended for our cats and dogs on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis. At the same time, we’ve been asking to raise the standards in how our own foods are grown and produced and where they are sourced, and we may realize that our pets’ foods are made from many of the same ingredients and, in both cases, we know little about what is really in our foods.

A recent consumer-funded study of pet foods shows serious issues with the ingredients in the foods and treats we feed our pets. Even some of the premium brands have room for improvement, and with this information we can begin to understand the process and pressure these manufacturers and the animal feed industry as a whole to make the changes needed to make our pets’ food safer

Making change is the important point of finding and using information such as this. We need safe and nutritious food for our pets, but the sourcing and manufacturing of pets’ foods goes beyond just feeding our pets. Just as we have learned the environmental and social burdens and responsibilities of producing our own foods, we realize that producing our pets’ foods carries the same burdens and responsibilities. We can take this information to criticize, or we can learn more about the standards and practices of manufacturing our pets’ foods and, as consumers, use that knowledge to help change change the system for the better, for all of us.

We’ve learned that some ingredients used as a supplement to meet standards or used as a preservative are toxic or carcinogenic, and the ingredients that are present are insufficient or excessive to the point of toxicity or overdose. In 2007 cats and dogs began to fail and die of renal failure in great numbers and pet caretakers and veterinarians quickly saw a link to foods. It took years to pinpoint exactly what the ingredient was and even longer to source it and bring the culprits to justice. A combination of cyanuric acid and melamine—no, melamine is not a food and it is toxic—being added to pet food to increase protein measure in testing was part of a supplement product added to many pet foods and sourced from China. Those who lost their pets and love their pets pressed for answers and have continued, and since then ingredients, especially ingredients sourced from China, have been suspect in pet foods and started many animal caretakers seriously reading labels and asking questions as well as asking for better ingredients. The fact there are listed recalls of pets available to us is in part due to this incident and the public reaction to it.

That covers the ingredients that are supposed to be in the food, be they good or bad—but then there are the substances that aren’t supposed to be there but took a ride in on the ingredients, like bacteria from meats, mycotoxins from grains, even pentobarbitol, used to euthanize animals, remaining in the flesh of animals used in the food. The presence of salmonella in pet foods as an unexpected contaminant prompted the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to issue a warning not to handle your pets’ dry food and treats with bare hands for the risk of exposure to salmonella, though you are still supposed to feed it to your pets.

How do we know what should be in our pets’ food, and in what amount? Who sets the standards? Who ensures those standards are met? The regular recalls for issues that should be resolved if manufacturers followed recommended practices show that we don’t know and often manufacturers are not held to the standards.

Susan Thixton, the publisher and founder of The Truth About Pet Food, established an advocacy group to serve that purpose. The Association for Truth in Pet Food (ATPF) crowdsourced $16,000 to independently test a variety of pet foods for ingredients and standards, an unprecedented effort. ATPF recently published the results of the pet food testing project conducted by U.S. labs in late 2014. The results show there is reason for serious concern for the pets who consume the food and for the humans who purchase and handle it.

The Pet Food Test examined twelve pet food products, six cat foods and six dog foods. To avoid possible contamination from handling, from the ATPF press release about the study, “pet food products were purchased online (with the exception of one purchased from a veterinarian) and shipped directly to Dr. Tsengeg Purejav of INTI Service Corporation contracted various labs on behalf of consumers.” The pet food samples were then shipped to each contracted lab blind.

The products tested were:

  1. Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Renal LP Modified in Gravy Canned Cat Food
  2. Fancy Feast Grilled Chicken Canned Cat Food
  3. Science Diet Adult Hairball Control Minced Chicken Entree Canned Cat Food
  4. Meow Mix Tender Centers Salmon & Turkey Flavors Dry Cat Food
  5. Friskies Grillers Dry Cat Food
  6. Wellness Complete Health Deboned Chicken, Chicken Meal & Rice Adult Dry Cat Food
  7. Hill’s Prescription Diet C/D Urinary Tract Health Canned Dog Food
  8. FreshPet Vital Chicken, Beef, Salmon & Egg Recipe Grain Free Fresh Dog Food
  9. Cesar Top Sirloin Beef and Grilled Chicken Variety Moist Dog Food
  10. Blue Freedom Grain Free Chicken Recipe Adult Dry Dog Food
  11. Beneful Original Dry Dog Food
  12. Ol’Roy Dog Food Soft & Moist Beef Flavor Dog Food

And, from the study, they were tested for the following substances with excerpted explanations for those choices.


Mycotoxins are a toxic substance produced by a fungus and especially a mold—grains are prone to mycotoxin mold growth. Existing studies of mycotoxin contamination in pet food have shown that day to day consumption of small amounts of mycotoxins can result in “chronic diseases such as liver and kidney fibrosis, infections resulting from immonosuppression and cancer.” Experts suggest chronic diseases are “often overlooked” as caused from long term consumption of lesser amounts of mycotoxins.

Our budget allowed for testing of eight (of twelve) pet foods for 37 different mycotoxins.

Guaranteed Analysis/mineral content

Pet foods are required to meet various nutritional requirements established by the American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and enforced by FDA and State Department of Agriculture.

All twelve of our pet food products were tested for Guaranteed Analysis nutrient and mineral content. Results were compared with AAFCO nutrient requirements and suggested nutrient maximum as established by the National Research Council’s (NRC) publication Mineral Tolerances of Animals. Our testing found four instances in excess of nutrient maximum suggested by NRC in cat foods, five instances in excess of nutrient maximum suggested by NRC in dog foods, and five instances of excess of AAFCO regulatory nutrient maximum in dog foods.

Cyanuric Acid and Melamine

The 2007 pet food recall killed and sickened countless thousands of pets due to the combination of cyanuric acid and melamine being added to pet food ingredients.

All twelve of our pet food products were tested for cyanuric acid and melamine; our results found no measurable level of either contaminant.

Euthanizing Drugs

In 2002 the FDA released the report “Risk of Pentobarbital in Dog Food”. The FDA tested numerous dog foods and in many found the animal euthanizing drug pentobarbital.

All twelve of our pet food products were tested for euthanizing drugs; our results found no measurable amount of these contaminants in any pet food tested.

A sampling of results

From the press release, a sampling of the test findings included:

Meow Mix Tender Centers Salmon and Turkey Flavors Dry Cat Food: Tested positive for seven different fungus-based toxins (mycotoxins). On an industry standard risk scale (Risk Equivalent Quality) 0 = no risk, 5 = Low Risk, 10 = Medium Risk, 20 = High Risk — this Meow Mix cat food scored 70. The mycotoxins found – and at the levels found – “can cause tremors and convulsion, bloody diarrhea and lower immune response” (per analysis by Dr. Tsengeg Purejav) in cats. This cat food also tested to contain numerous bacteria including two bacteria the FDA terms as “Qualifying Pathogens” posing a “serious threat to public health”.

Hill’s Prescription Diet C/D Urinary Tract Health Canned Dog Food: Tested to contain 7.72% calcium – almost three times the legal limit of calcium (AAFCO 2.5% maximum) allowed in an adult dog food. Mycotoxin Risk Equivalent Rating was at 16 (20 being High Risk), and contained numerous bacteria including two the FDA terms “Qualifying Pathogens” posing a “serious threat to public health”.

Nine of twelve pet foods tested to contain one or more bacteria the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations states is linked to “putrefaction” of meat (putrid meat).

Read for yourself

A little understanding goes a long way, so read through the resources for yourself and decide what you should do for your pets and for the industry as a whole.


ATPF Press Release

ATPF Infographics about the study (with link to study)

Full text of The Consumer-Funded Pet Food Study (52 pages)

Truth About Pet Food Website

Articles about the 2007 Pet Food Recall

Read more articles in the category Health and Welfare

Browse some rescued cats and kittens!


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5 thoughts on “A Consumer-funded Study of Cat and Dog Foods

  • Brian Eberman

    I would have loved to see freshpet dog food( tested. Because these days I am using this for my two dogs though I am not facing any issue with dog health. Freshpet claims minimal processing for their dog food that’s why I believe it’s healthy and full of nutrition.

  • That looks like a great study. I need to go look at the links. I love that picture of the four black cats. That is terrific. Thanks for posting about this.

    • thanks, Marg–and I forgot to tell you, I’m so glad Joe and Smoke are back home and Joe is feeling well!


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