You may have heard of the recent pet food recalls involving several brands of commercially available canned pet foods as a result of pentobarbital contamination. You may have never heard of mycotoxins, but they are dangerous and present, in varying degrees, in commercially available pet foods. Considering the fear and concern imparted into the psyche of pet owners worldwide after the Melamine recall and the ongoing concerns surrounding chicken treats manufactured in China, these latest recalls should prompt owners to consider the current foods and treats that their companion canine and felines consume every day.
Pentobarbital is a thiobarbiturate anesthetic, which is a class of drugs derived from barbituric acid. It has uses both in human and veterinary medicine as a sedative. It is most commonly used in veterinary medicine when performing euthanasia, as only small amounts are needed to severely suppress breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure which ultimately causes a lack of oxygen and nutrient delivery to vital organs, organ system malfunction, and death.
Generally, pentobarbital is used for life-ending procedures. It is also sometimes used for sedation, although this use is less common because there are safer and more effective drugs available that don’t have the same potential for severely depressive effects. Pentobarbital is chemically related to phenobarbital, which is a commonly used anti-convulsant drug that helps control seizures in both cats and dogs.
If your pet consumes pentobarbital in food or treats, there are a wide variety of adverse and potentially life threatening health responses that can occur. Larger volumes of pentobarbital will lead to more severe clinical signs, including salivation, vomiting, stool changes (soft to liquid stools, blood, mucus, urgency, explosive), decreased appetite, lethargy, neurological abnormalities (tremor, seizure, vocalization, unusual eye movements), difficulty walking and standing, collapse, coma and death. If your pet shows any of the above or other signs of illness after consuming food or treats, immediately call your veterinarian.
Pentobarbital should definitely not be included in pet food or treats, so how is it ending up in our pet’s food? It most likely entered the pool of ingredients that formulates pet foods as a result of animals being euthanized with the drug. It is well known that generic “meats” and “meals” can contain euthanized animals. So if a pet food contains “animal by-product meals” then generally any animal that is not a bird can be in the food, including animals that were euthanized like horses and dead zoo animals.
The current pentobarbital crisis isn’t the only time that concern for the drug being found in pet foods has been raised. During the 1990’s, the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine received reports from veterinarians that pentobarbital, an anesthetizing agent used for cats and dogs, seemed to be losing its effectiveness on dogs. Based on these reports, officials decided to investigate a plausible theory that the dogs were exposed to pentobarbital through dog food, and that this exposure was making them less responsive to pentobarbital when it was used as a drug.
The concern for pet parents is the lack of oversight that would permit such a poisonous chemical to enter the supply chain for pet food ingredients. As most commercially made pet foods and treats contain feed-grade ingredients there are allowances for toxic substances to end up in edible pet products that would not or are less likely to be found in better quality pet and human grade foods.
So how can you keep your dog and cat safe from pentobarbital? You can take steps to keep your pets safe from pentobarbital exposure by feeding food and treats that are made with human-grade ingredients instead of feed-grade ingredients. Read your pet food label, if it includes “animal by-product”, “meat meal” or any other ingredient that does not identify the animal protein source (chicken, beef, lamb, etc.) for the meal or meat, leave it on the shelf and out of your pet’s bowl.
Mycotoxins are a very dangerous and potentially lethal set of toxic substances that are generated by certain types of molds. Unfortunately for pet owners everywhere, these substances can occasionally develop as a result of the ingredients in dry food having gone bad or having aged poorly. There is generally no way to test a dry food for the presence of these toxins. However, it is good to know about them and what to do if you suspect your pet has ingested some of these potentially fatal substances.
A number of toxins can arise in pet food during its production, storage and transportation. Most of the toxins are produced by various molds that grow in the food, or in certain ingredients of the food, and are generally referred to as mycotoxins. Mycotoxins can grow in corn, corn meal, wheat, millet, nuts and other certain types of food. Corn, wheat and millet are all lower grade fillers that are commonly found in commercially produced dry pet foods.
Some mycotoxins are highly dangerous to pets, aflatoxin is one of these. Aflatoxin generally cause neurological problems and it can kill pets (and it has), though some pets are more sensitive to the substance than others. It should be noted that aflatoxin is already present in the raw foodstuffs before they are made into pet food. Vomitoxin is another, more common mycotoxin. As the name suggests, it tends to cause digestive disturbances, and while it can kill vulnerable individuals, it usually only makes them sick for a short period of time following consumption.
If your pet has ingested mycotoxins, they may display any of the following symptoms including lethargy, vomiting, heart palpitations and cardiac arrest, jaundice, liver damage, tendency to avoid or fear sunlight and heavy breathing or panting while resting. If you notice any of these symptoms, particularly if you notice two or more of them in conjunction at the same time, there is a chance your pet has ingested mycotoxins. Because these toxins require a certain quantity to be in your pet’s system in order to cause death and other major health issues, you may be able to stop the buildup of the toxins before any severe issues arise. Take your pet to the veterinarian as quickly as possible.
One of the best ways to determine if your pet has ingested mycotoxins is to test the food that they have eaten. Mycotoxin responses will be quite quick, so you should check the food they have been eating over the past few days. Take a sample of the food to the veterinary office, where they can run sample tests.
If your pet has ingested a non-lethal level of mycotoxins, your vet may recommend certain cleansing agents or drugs that will help flush the toxins from their system gradually. You will need to change your pet’s diet immediately. If your pet has ingested a potentially lethal level of mycotoxins, your vet will suggest emergency cleansing techniques and may have to keep your pet for several days to monitor them closely. Once they are given the all clear, you will also need to change their diet as well.
It’s unfortunate to hear about animals being sickened or killed by contaminants entering the edible pet product supply chain. In many cases the death and serious illness of our pets could be avoided if companies using these low grade ingredients would prioritize using better quality ingredients in their food instead of choosing massive profits at the risk of our pets. Such horrible occurrences can benefit pets on a worldwide basis by creating a wakeup call among owners who may be otherwise unaware of or complacent about the quality of the foods and treats entering their pets’ bodies on a daily basis.