Elise Maitland’s adopted collie-Labrador mix Michigan was a beloved member of the family for a dozen years, but one day the poor dog suddenly lost control of his bowels. Blood began oozing out of him. Vets couldn’t diagnose Michigan’s health problems until a year later, when the pooch died of kidney failure caused, it turned out, by the melamine contained in the Ol’ Roy dog food he was fed.
Chinese manufacturers added the plastic to the feed to make it appear higher in protein, and it ended up in more than 150 different dog-food brands, which were eventually recalled in 2007, the largest pet-food recall ever. Maitland was eventually part of a $24 million class-action lawsuit in 2011, along with thousands of other pet owners, and received a few hundred dollars for the loss of Michigan, which provided little comfort.
“[It] did not even pay the vet bill, let alone [buy] a new pet,” Maitland told reporters at the time.
Her story appears in the new book “Big Kibble: The Hidden Dangers of the Pet Food Industry and How To Do Better By Our Dogs” (St. Martin’s Press), out now, by Shawn Buckley and Dr. Oscar Chavez. The authors are principals in the Irvine, Calif.-based fresh pet food company Just Food For Dogs, though insist their mission with their book isn’t to drum up business for themselves but rather to raise awareness of what is really in commercial kibbles.
“The fact that we can feed a 30-pound, four-legged member of our family on less than one dollar a day should — and increasingly does — make many people worry,” Buckley and Chavez write. “What must happen in the supply chain and processing today for so-called food to be this cheap?”
There’s very little oversight into what goes into pet feed, the authors write. A bag of dog food needs to contain only 25 percent of the meat listed, so long as the packaging contains a descriptor such as “dinner,” “formula,” or “platter.” If one of these descriptors is used and water is added for processing, as is the case with canned food, the food must only contain 10 percent of the specified protein. And, the authors write, diseased, or disabled animals — is allowable, as are additives like melamine, peanut shells and dehydrated chicken feces.
“We’re using our four-legged family members . . . as walking recycling machines,” Chavez, an adjunct professor of veterinary clinical nutrition at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, told The Post. “Everyone has this illusion that [the pet-food industry is] super tightly regulated and controlled. And that’s just not the case.”
Veterinary nutrition is a relatively new field. Cornell University, with one of the top vet schools in the country, does not require students to take a course in animal nutrition to graduate. Plus, large pet-food companies actively court veterinarians and their loyalty, donating huge sums to schools and providing discounts to students.
In recent years, some vet schools have implemented policies calling for more transparency around gifts from food companies, but they still have a strong hold on many vets. “We are the last health-care profession that on a mainstream level is recommending ultra-processed nutrition as daily sustenance,” says Chavez.
So, what’s a pet owner to do? The authors say fresh cooked food — like their own brand, competitors like the Farmer’s Dog and PetPlate, or which owners make themselves, with attention to proper nutrition and supplementation — is key. And the notion that human food is terrible for dogs isn’t quite true, the authors note. That doesn’t mean Fido should live on table scraps (feeding a dog fatty excess cuts of meat can lead to pancreatitis) but sharing some of our healthy food, like, say, a snack of apple slices, is OK.
While freeze-dried and raw foods are better and less-processed than kibble, the two say, the popularity of raw foods has been implicated in an increase in doggie heart problems in recent years. As for regular old kibble, Chavez and Buckley say there isn’t a single brand they’d feed their pets. Says Buckley: “It is a little like saying, ‘Give me a recommendation for the good potato chips.’ ”