PROPOSED FDA REGULATIONS WOULD ADDRESS PET FOOD SAFETY
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Nothing is certain in life except death and taxes and, increasingly, pet food and treat recalls. There were 33 in 2013. On average, that's one every 11 days. And between 2008 and 2012, the Food and Drug Administration received more than 2,500 complaints from consumers regarding pet food and livestock feed. The complaints ranged from an animal refusing to eat a food to illness and death associated with eating a particular food.
Food safety issues include microbial hazards -- primarily salmonella bacteria; physical hazards, such as glass, metal or plastic found in food; and nutrient imbalances, such as inadequate levels of thiamine in cat food. Toxic levels of animal drugs have also been found in non-medicated animal food, according to the FDA.
People can disagree about the nutritional merits of commercial pet foods, but the fact remains that if you buy pet food, you should be able to rely on its safety. The FDA, after years of prodding, has for the first time proposed regulations that, if passed, would oversee the manufacture of pet food and set standards to help prevent contamination. The focus is on preventing rather than responding to safety issues.
The proposal benefits people, too. They can acquire foodborne illnesses from handling contaminated pet food or touching pets who have eaten contaminated food.
Among the suggested changes: Manufacturers would be required to set out a written food safety plan, put in place controls for likely hazards, maintain certain standards of cleanliness, implement record-keeping provisions, and have a written plan for responding to outbreaks of foodborne illnesses. Inspectors will have more power to act before contaminated products reach store shelves and to restrict imports from suppliers who don't meet the new standards.
If the proposal passes, manufacturers will have one year from the date of publication of the final rule to meet the new requirements. Smaller businesses will have two to three years to comply.
Those are advances -- if they go into effect -- but because nothing is ever completely safe, pets can still be vulnerable to contaminated food. Here are steps you can take to reduce your dog's or cat's risk.
-- Mix it up. Don't feed the same brand or flavor all the time. If you rotate food frequently, your pet will be less likely to encounter a bad batch.
-- Call the manufacturer. Use the toll-free number on the bag or can to ask about ingredient quality, safety protocols and sourcing of ingredients. Often, ingredients are imported from other countries, including China or Egypt. Ask what measures the manufacturer takes to ensure that ingredients aren't contaminated. Does the manufacturer test finished products for pathogens before shipping them (known as "test and hold")?
-- Choose undamaged containers. The Centers for Disease Control recommends avoiding bags with visible signs of damage to the packaging, such as tears or discoloration, and cans with dents.
-- Photograph package codes and expiration dates so you have a record if there's a problem.
-- Scoop food out of the container using a clean measuring scoop, spoon or cup, not your pet's food bowl.
-- Wash pet food dishes in hot, soapy water after every meal or run them through the dishwasher. It will kill bacteria -- and besides, your pet doesn't want to eat out of a dirty dish any more than you do.
-- Report any adverse reactions to foods or treats to the FDA's Safety Reporting Portal at safetyreporting.hhs.gov.
Rabbit dietary needs:
hay, yes; carrots, no
Q: We have a bunny in the classroom, and I want to make sure he is getting a proper diet. The kids love to give him carrots; is that all right? -- via Facebook
A: Peter Rabbit notwithstanding, carrots are not a good treat for rabbits, let alone a regular meal. They are high in sugar and can quickly upset a bunny tummy. Rabbits have interesting digestive tracts. They're not able to vomit, so if they eat something that's not good for them, it can really cause problems. It's not difficult to feed rabbits, but they do have distinct dietary needs.
Rabbits are herbivores, and they need to eat grasses such as hay or timothy every day. Other good additions to their diet include a cup per day of leafy greens, such as cilantro, dandelion greens, kale and red leaf lettuce.
Pelleted diets are available for rabbits, but they should be a supplement to the hay and greens, not the sole diet. Choose plain pellets, not those that resemble Lucky Charms cereal, and don't give more than one-quarter cup per day. It's easy to overfeed rabbits, but it's not good for them.
What about treats? It's very easy to give a rabbit too much sugar, which causes painful and messy diarrhea, so sweet foods such as fruit and carrots are best avoided. If you want to give some fruit, offer a small piece of organic apple peel or the top of a strawberry. Skip carrots, bananas, yogurt treats or other dairy foods, and anything that contains honey or seeds.
Remember that rabbits are much smaller than humans. When you give a treat, the portion size should be no larger than the joint end of your pinky finger. It's best to let one child each day offer the bunny a treat, instead of running the risk of overfeeding him and causing stomach upset. -- Kim Campbell Thornton and Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker
Service dog aids doctors
during medical procedure
-- J.J. doesn't have an M.D. or even an R.N. after his name, but he was an essential part of the medical team recently at Duke University Medical Center when his charge, 7-year-old Kaelyn Krawczyk, underwent an anesthetic procedure. Kaelyn has a condition that can cause her to have mild to severe allergic reactions in response to even normal stimuli, such as heat or cold. J.J. is a service dog trained to detect the reactions before they occur. He alerted doctors twice during the recent procedure, allowing them to monitor Kaelyn more closely and take precautions to prevent a reaction.
-- Scientists at the USDA's Agricultural Research Service have developed a new way to make cat litter that's almost fully biodegradable -- using waste grains from corn ethanol production. Some cat litters are made with corn or other grains, but this is the first-known use of treated, spent grains, used primarily as an ingredient in cattle feed. The environmentally friendly litter made from dried distiller's grains was absorbent, formed strong clumps and provided good odor control.
-- What's the penalty for animal cruelty? In Kentucky, Iowa, South Dakota, New Mexico and Wyoming, the answer is, "Not much." Those states have the nation's weakest animal protection laws, according to a December 2013 report by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which has tracked animal protection laws for eight years. The laws reflect inadequate standards of basic care, give limited authority to humane officers, and don't require mandatory reporting when veterinarians suspect animal cruelty. South Dakota is the only state with no felony penalty for acts of cruelty. The best states for animals? Laws in Illinois, Oregon, Michigan, Maine and California demonstrate a strong commitment to combating animal cruelty. -- Kim Campbell Thornton
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are joined by professional dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.