As you may know by now, a consumer alert has been released for contaminated Diamond pet foods for dogs and cats. Over 100 canine deaths have already been linked to Diamond pet foods contaminated by the potentially deadly toxin Aflatoxin.Aflatoxin is a naturally occurring toxic chemical byproduct that results from the growth of the fungus Aspergillus flavus on corn and other crops. The fungus typically develops on crops during severe high temperature stress and drought conditions followed by high levels of humidity.Aflatoxin is similar to another toxic byproduct, Vomitoxin, that was found in Nature's Recipe brand dog food in 1995.Dogs could experience liver trouble, liver failure and even death due to the contaminated food. Scientists say about two-thirds of dogs that show symptoms from the toxin have died.While there have not been any reports of cat health issues or fatalities due to the recall, five Diamond cat food formulas have been recalled due to the presence of aflatoxin. 24 states and 20 pet food products manufactured by Diamond are affected by the recall.Symptoms of potential illness in dogs can include a sudden and unusual loss of appetite; severe, persistent vomiting combined with bloody diarrhea; discolored urine; fever; and yellow whites of the eyes, yellow gums, and/or yellow in the belly or areas where hair is very thin.If your dog or cat has consumed Diamond, Country Value or Professional brand pet foods and is showing clinical signs of aflatoxin, you should stop using that food and consult your veterinarian immediately.From a Pet Health StandpointThis is certainly a rare and isolated case -- in fact, it's the first pet food recall by Diamond in over 35 years of operation -- but the Diamond Pet Food recall news is the latest example to underscore just how important the quality of the food you feed your cats and dogs food is -- it can literally make the difference between a long, healthy life for your pet and an unexpected, needless death.From a pet care and nutrition standpoint, there are several issues to consider regarding the contaminated foods in this case:
Toxic mold on grains - Most pet food formula ingredient labels feature at least one variety of whole grain or processed grain, and many contain several types of grain. What the labels don't list, however, is the source and quality of the grains. It's important to research pet foods and select ones that only use grains purchased from major commercial suppliers and that have the grains tested and retested by specialized labs to ensure the highest possible quality -- as well as to prevent the possibility of toxic molds being introduced into the pet foods. While grain is often cheaper when purchased from smaller or less reputable operations, the risk of toxic mold is greater.
Corn used in dog foods - The use of corn in so many of Diamond's dog food is of some concern. While corn is a whole grain frequently found in cat food formulas, it's more difficult to digest by dogs (as well as humans) and can cause allergic reactions in some dogs. The feline digestive system can better utilize corn, and corn also delivers important dietary benefits to cats and kittens, but in dog foods it simply serves as a low-cost filler, albeit one that many manufacturers like Diamond use in order to save money.
Corn passes right through a dog, providing little to no nutritional value. If a dog food, such as Diamond's Premium Adult Formula for Dogs, lists corn as the first or second ingredient on its label, the customer can expect to pay for up to 25% filler in that food.
Best by dates - In general, foods will spoil without some form of temperature control or preservatives. While natural preservatives such as mixed tocopherols prevent foods from becoming rancid, they generally have a limited peak freshness of only six to twelve months in ideal conditions (stored in cool, dry environments). After six months -- or much sooner if stored in hot or humid conditions -- the product's quality begins to quickly deteriorate.
Chemical antioxidants like BHA, BHT and ethoxyquin can extend the shelf life and reduce fat spoilage (rancidity) in pet foods and pet treats, but they have been shown to frequently result in dry skin, allergic reactions, dental disease, and poor health, as well as stimulate adverse effects on liver and kidney functions.
The fact that Diamond foods manufactured between September and December of 2005 carry "best by" dates between March 1 and June 10, 2007 -- 18 months from the date of production -- is concerning. The ingredients labels for many of Diamond's pet foods show that mixed tocopherols are used in the formulas, but the listed "best by" dates contradict their use, or at very least, greatly overestimate the longevity of their efficacy.
Meat by-products - While not directly related to the pet food recall, a quick glance at the ingredients of Diamond dog food formulas and those of other pet foods shows that animal byproducts continue to constitute a large portion of many pet foods. Meat byproducts are ground, rendered and cleaned slaughtered meat carcass parts such as necks, feet, undeveloped eggs, bones, heads, and intestines (and a small amount of feathers in the case of chicken byproducts) -- yes, animal byproducts are indeed as gross and disgusting as they sound.
In many cases, byproduct meals are derived from "4-D" meat sources -- defined as food animals that have been rejected for human consumption because they were presented to the meat packing plant as "Dead, Dying, Diseased or Disabled." Additionally, ingredients listed as "beef, chicken, and/or poultry by-products" on pet food labels are not required to include actual meat, and "rendered meat" on pet food labels can refer to ANY rendered mammal meat, including dogs and cats!
Despite their questionable quality, animal byproducts continue to be used in the majority of lower-grade pet foods and even many of the larger name brands that market themselves as "premium pet food" manufacturers for one simple reason -- they are cheaper to use than higher quality, human-grade meat sources.
Your pet's health and wellness depends largely on the food that you feed him or her. It's important to research your pet's food and ensure that you are using a pet food that offers the highest quality ingredients with absolutely none of the animal byproducts, unhealthy fillers, artificial additives and chemical preservatives of the typical cat and dog food brands.