FOOD & TREATS

What Are The Risks of Dog Food Made in China?

Market in China
Anna Smith
Written by Anna Smith

The recent uproar about dog food came about after dogs have become ill due to a certain dog food made in China. A class lawsuit was filed as a general trend among the affected dog foods point towards Beneful, a product of Purina which utilizes a factory in China and also imports ingredients from them. The issue with tainted dog foods is not a recent one with several recalls made in the past decade alleging the contamination of dog food products with chemicals and substances which are not supposed to be in pet foods at all.

So the major consideration now is why do these things keep happening if the government is taking steps to avoid such events?

The appearance of these lawsuits involving pet food poisoning is definitely a cause of concern especially since the problem has already been dealt with for more than five years now. What seems to be the problem is that government investigations have not yet pointed out the main cause of the contamination even though there are some studies that have shown several ingredients to be the culprit.

The US FDA did not even directly point towards melamine and cyanuric acid to be the main cause in the 2007 pet food recalls. What they did was to suspend the import of several products from China over issues such as false documentation over glycerin as well as the presence of “trace” amounts of antibiotics in some pet foods.

Why do we have to import dog food from China?

This is definitely one of the main questions that have to be asked when it comes to the issue of these contaminated dog food from China.  Well, the major reason why we need to do so is that the country produces a large amount of white meat as waste.  This is particularly true when it comes to chicken meat.

The Chinese love the dark meat better and so there is a large amount of white meat that is not being consumed and even thrown to waste. The government therefore, thought that it would be helpful to the environment and cheap to just purchase these “waste” products from China. Chicken production definitely is one of the major contributors to the production of solid wastes and by outsourcing these products, the US thought that they will be doing the environment good.

Cheap labor

The second reason why most countries import from China is the cheap cost of labor and materials. The actual cost that pet food companies in the US would have to pay China is actually just a fraction of what it could cost if the products were to be made in the United States. Materials are also much cheaper such as vitamin premixes and packaging materials. China is one of the major producers of Vitamin C, Vitamin A, B-12, Vitamin E and taurine which are important components and ingredients in pet foods.

According to reports, China imports 90% of the supply of Vitamin C in the US alone. Taurine is not readily available in the market and the only major producers are Japan and China, with Japan only having a limited market. Aside from that, the largest vitamin C factory in the US had already closed in 2005.

What are the issues?

Starting in 2004, there had been several issues regarding dog foods produced in China. In these cases, not only one single substance or chemical had been linked with the problematic dog food. The government also had a difficult time pointing out what substance actually caused the pets to become ill because even though they tested for various contaminants, the foreign substance was not previously known to be included in pet food.

Even veterinarians were puzzled with the symptoms that the affected dogs manifested compared to the ingredients that were listed on the associated pet food product.

Below are some of the ingredients that have been linked to dog food contamination:

  • Propylene glycol – This is an ingredient which is used to provide moisture in dog food and hence, can commonly be found in wet food products. According to some of the lawsuits filed against pet food producers, the involved dog food contained a high amount of this substance which led to the ailment of pets. Some have even claimed that it is a substance that is used for antifreeze purposes in vehicles although Purina answered that it is ethylene glycol, and not propylene glycol, which is poisonous for pet consumption.
    The FDA actually approves of this substance to be used for pet food products.
  • Mycotoxins – These are the by-products of mold metabolism in grains and can have significant long and short-term consequences on your dog’s health. These occur in corns, wheat, rice, and other types of grains even during the growing process. Some of the implicated mycotoxins are Aflatoxin and tricothecene mycotoxin which can be produced by storing grains in humid conditions.
    Aflatoxins are known to be cancer-producing while tricothecene affects the immune system. Grain products are added to pet foods in order to increase bulk without costing the producers a lot of money.
  • Cyanuric acid – This was also found together with melamine in several dog food products in 2007. Some studies concluded that the reaction of melamine and cyanuric acid was what caused renal failure in the affected dogs. The two created melamine crystals which blocked passages in the kidneys although some say that it could have other biological effects on the body due to the large amount of necrosis that was found.
    Cyanuric acid also helps to seemingly increase the protein content of dog food and this is probably why it was found in several products.
  • Melamine– This substance was first detected in 2007 when thousands of dogs died due to renal failure. Melamine is used for producing kitchenware, fire-proof fabric, molding, glue, countertops, laminates, and other construction purposes. Factories in China, however, used this ingredient to improve the protein content of dog food due to its high nitrogen content. It was added to wheat products to make the dog food appear to be of higher quality due to its high protein content.
    This ingredient was also used by some milk manufacturer in China to increase the protein in infant formula which led to the death of six babies and hundreds of thousands more to become ill. The Chinese government imposed the death penalty on some of the persons involved in the production of the contaminated baby milk formula.
  • Antibiotics– The detection of “trace” amounts of antibiotics in several dog food made in China in 2010 has led to the blocking of some imported pet food from China. This was after the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets reported about the presence of several antibiotics in pet foods containing chicken. Some of the antibiotics involved were: tilmicosin, sulfaclozine, enrofloxacin, sulfaquinoxalin, and trimethoprim.
    The FDA however, cleared that these antibiotics were present in such small amounts that they did not pose any significant health risks for the dogs. Although these antibiotics are prohibited for poultry use in the US, they are actually approved and are widely used in China.

Why not avoid all these chemicals and choose food that’s actually good for your dog? We have a great list of organic dog foods that will help your dog thrive and be happy.

Signs that your dog may have eaten contaminated food

According to the FDA, there are several signs or symptoms that you should look out for after giving your dog pet foods. They can range from just simple ones to more life-threatening ones as well. The most common dog food product that have been cited as causing these symptoms include chicken or duck jerky as well as jerky treats which are wrapped in fruit, yam, or sweet potatoes. Remember that these symptoms can appear within hours or even days after the ingestion of the pet food and so it is important to be in constant lookout regarding their health.

  • Decreased Appetite
  • Lethargy or Decreased Activity
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea either with Blood or Mucus
  • Increased Water Consumption
  • Increased Urination

Veterinarians who have handled the cases of affected dogs reported problems varying from gastrointestinal problems, liver failure, and increased glucose content in the urine, tremors, hives, convulsions, skin irritations, and widespread cancer.

Sick dog

Pet owners who have filed a complaint against pet food companies reported having their pets collapse several times and finding internal bleeding before their dog died. The Food and Drug Administration recommends taking your pet to the vet immediately when you see any of the above-mentioned symptoms in your dog. As much as possible, chicken or duck jerky treats are also to be given in small amounts as they are not also considered to be a healthy source of nutrients for pets.

What seems to be the problem with China’s pet food production?

There are a number of reasons why pet food contamination is one of the most widespread problems in China.

First, the country does not have a clear set of rules governing pet food products. What they do have is a department that handles approval for foods that are recommendable for human consumption.

Secondly, the local administration of food regulations does not seem to be as strict as the national government intended it to be. Quantity over quality seems to be the prevailing ideology in local governments without much consideration over how the food is produced.

The United States is different, however, and you can read exactly what regulations are in place in our article dedicated to helping readers find good quality dog food.

Thirdly, the country is suffering from a wide range of environmental pollution and even human food is contaminated. If the human food production is faulty, how could you expect pet food production to be any better?

The Chinese central government however, was not negligent in addressing reports of dog food contamination in their country. China’s Vice Premier himself admitted that such cases are an embarrassment to the Chinese government. The country had implemented new standards and even created a separate government agency that will assess and gather information about food producers.

They have also provided for rewards and benefits for those who will report companies that practice bad production practices. The country had also imposed the death penalty for those who will be found responsible for food contamination especially in cases where human death is involved.

What can you do to avoid this products?

Even though there had been reports and lawsuits against pet foods made in China, the government had not issued a recall for the most recent complaints. It is the pet food manufacturer themselves who have decided to pull out Chinese-made products in their brand as a response to the increasing complaints by consumers.

Some of the most recent to take off products made in China from their stores are PetCo and PetSmart which are deemed to be two of the largest brands in the US. But, even with the pull-out, you can still never be sure that the ingredients on your pet food product did not come from China itself. So even if the food packaging says “Made in USA,” chances are it could still contain several ingredients that were imported from China. So here are some steps to avoid contaminated dog food:

  • Ask your veterinarian regarding home-made specie-appropriate food for your dog. This is the best way to approach your dog food issues since your vet can prescribe a certain menu that will suit your pet’s dietary needs. Aside from that, you will be buying the raw ingredients yourself and will be making the food itself so you can be assured that you are using fresh and safe foods for your dog.
    What is good about freshly prepared dog food also is that the nutrients are more bio-available compared to canned and other processed foods. We all know that preservatives kill the nutrients that are contained in them and so what could initially be of high nutritional content could already be nutritionally deficient after months on the shelf.
  • Look for pet food companies that make use of local products. If you are worried about the origin of your pet food, the best way to know it would be to call the company itself. You can ask whether they are outsourcing some of the ingredients in their pet food and ask which countries they buy it from. If they say that some are from China, then you should look for one that is purely sourced from the US.
    Processed pet food may be a problem as most vitamins and minerals come from other countries. Your best option would be to look for those that provide raw, organic foods and those that make and deliver the pet food the same day.
  • Look for pet food products that make use of human-grade ingredients. This is the best way to determine if the product is definitely safe for your pet. A lot of processed pet food packages in the market actually make use of meat and vegetable by-products which include fur, hooves, and animals that have died by various diseases. These are the most common sources of food contamination whereas human-grade foods are definitely one of the cleanest and most well-maintained products in the market.
  • Look for pet food products that list meat as their first ingredient. High quality pet foods contain high quality protein sources which mean that they contain meat. Your dog needs a high quality protein diet since that is what their bodies and their metabolism requires. The first thing that you should see on the ingredients list should be animal meat whether it is beef, chicken, turkey, or veal. If you want to avoid grain-related toxins then you should stay away from those that contain wheat, corn, soy, or rice.

Or if you really want to be sure about what’s going into your dog’s meals, why not put on the chef’s hat? Please read our article containing great dog food recipes you can make in the comfort of your home.

The recent complaints about dog food made in China should definitely make a pet owner more way in purchasing pet food products in the market. Not only will it save you from the loss of your beloved pet, it will also help you save from future medical expenses.

China has a problem when it comes to the implementation of food safety and production but this does not also mean that the whole country has a faulty food producing mechanism. There are still good pet food producers in China which make use of good practices and the best manufacturing equipment. This is especially true with foreign-owned pet food companies.

Natural food for dogs

What you can do for now is to stay clear of those products which have been registered complaints about, namely chicken and duck jerky products. Try to cook your pet’s food yourself in order to assure that you are providing them with safe and nutritious food as well.

Look for pet foods that contain human-grade ingredients as well as those that use ingredients which are mainly sourced from the US. As the government had not still identified and prohibited the import of the Chinese products to the US, it would be to your best interest if you can select and purchase products which are produced locally and freshly made.

About the author
Anna Smith
Anna Smith

Anna Smith resides in beautiful Santa Monica, CA, where she works as a Pet Nutrition Expert in a leading retail pet store. She is responsible for nutritional strategies for different breeds and development of new products on the market in compliance with Association of American Feed Control Officials. Anna's passions are education about proven methods and best practices in the industry and her dog Max, who is always well-fed.

  • Emily Parks

    No brainer…we shouldn’t buy dog food from any country that have substandard products. China has been taking the flak because it has repeatedly produced harmful food products both for humans and animals. It’s still better for pet owners to prepare home cooked meals for their dogs and add a bit of quality dog food for adequate nutrition.

    • Anna Smith

      I would have to agree, Emily. It pays to check the label not just for ingredients, but also for where the item was produced.

  • Sarah Johnson

    It’s relatively easy to make your own beef jerky, instead of buying your dog commercial treats. For one thing you’d know exactly all that goes into your dog’s treat and for another you wouldn’t run the risk of your dog catching an ailment or another from substandard dog treats. It’s really a better alternative!

    • Anna Smith

      Making your own beef jerky sounds like a great project, especially now that we’re in a new year. This also ensures that the ingredients of the jerky are familiar with you because you have purchased them and prepared them yourself.

  • Samantha Grey

    I’ve been avoiding dog treats and dog food made in China. But there are other countries manufacturing doggy food like Mexico, Brazil, India and Canada. Is China the only country I should be wary about? Or are there other dog food manufacturers I should avoid?

    • Anna Smith

      In general, China is notorious for producing sub-standard food items that are not limited to dog food but to human food as well. These sub-standard products can harm health because the ingredients are either poor in quality or is not edible at all.

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