What Is Safe Cat Food?

The concept of safe cat food (or unsafe, for that matter) probably never entered most pet owner's minds. That is, until recent years, with the widespread cat food recall of products manufactured in late 2006 and early 2007.

The recall of 2007 was very public, and with good reason... it was the largest pet food recall in history to date (see cat food recall list). It also appeared that the reason the toxin was added to the food was profit motive.

Melamine (used in plastic manufacture) was added to ingredients used in making the pet food. The ingredients found to be tainted were wheat gluten and rice protein, imported to the US from China.

The melamine was added to the ingredients in order to make it appear that the protein levels were higher than they actually were. This completely challenged our notion of "safe cat food" and changed our thinking.

Yet, there have been other cat food recalls (dog food and other pet foods too), both before and since. They are much less well-known, but cats and dogs have become sick, including developing kidney disease, and/or died from contaminated pet food.

The 2007 recall just happened to be a wake up call for a lot of pet owners. Some people were surprised (and shocked!) to find that the company they trusted their cat's lives with doesn't actually make the food their cat eats every day.

The pet food recall of 2007 involved primarily wet food, but there were some dry foods also recalled. Also, it wasn't just products designated as cat food or dog food that were involved. Products known by various names, such as snacks, morsels, or treats were also contaminated.

On our quest to find the best cat food, I suggested that we try to answer some variation of a number of questions regarding healthy cat food.

These questions include where and how your pet's food is manufactured, what the ingredients are, and some more questions about organic cat food and similar offerings.

Here, we'll look at something even more basic and ask "what is safe cat food?" We'll also ask one more question, and it's an important one:

Do you trust your pet food manufacturer to make safe cat food?

OK, so we'll ask a lot more questions, but stay with me.

We put a lot of trust in companies every day and make assumptions about the safety of the products they produce. We trust car seat and stroller manufacturers, automobile manufacturers, home builders and airlines.

This trust also extends to an assumption that we're feeding our kitties safe cat food. Sometimes, however, our trust is misplaced, and these companies let us down.

In the case of tainted cat food, unfortunately, this can be deadly, and heart breaking.

Who Makes Your Cat's Food?

Who makes the food your cat eats, and how is it manufactured? This, it turns out, is a complex question. Asking that question, however, is a good start towards ensuring the production and marketing of safe cat food.

An immediate reaction by some is to say "don't feed your cat junk." But, how do we, as responsible pet owners, define junk?

In addition, it's not only the store brand or cheap cat food brands that are at risk. Some of the high priced, premium pet foods are made in the same plant, with the same equipment as food that may have lower quality control (the "junk").

What You Can Do

So, what's the solution? What can you do to help ensure safe cat food is delivered to your door, and that you and other pet owners are feeding the safest food possible to your pets?

In addition to ensuring that we feed only safe food, how do we ensure that our cats get the right nutrition? Are the companies that offer natural, premium, or organic cat food any safer than the ones on grocery store shelves? Are they really any better quality?

The first thing you can do is educate yourself on the pet food industry. Learn about the practices in the industry, and the manufacturing processes used by the company that makes the food you currently feed your kitty.

Learn who the major players are in the industry, how they do business, and about the trade association known as the Pet Food Institute.

If you want to switch foods, research the companies you're considering. Learn about cat food labels (and what they really mean), and the regulation in the industry (or lack thereof). Keep on top of cat food recalls by following the FDA's notices.

In addition, you can:

  • Encourage companies that use organic, natural, and locally sourced ingredients.
  • Boycott any of the pet food manufacturing companies that don't follow what you consider safe practices.

Unfortunately, there are no guarantees:

There are manufacturers that advertise themselves as premium cat food companies. They sometimes use the terms "human grade" in their literature. They promote themselves as "natural."

How do you know, however, whether or not "premium" means safe? How do you know that a manufacturer claiming to market organic cat food, or natural, actually is? Do you know what "human grade" means?

If you look into the cat food recalls over the last 10 or 15 years, you might find some disturbing things. For example, if you examine the melamine cat food recall list, you'll notice there are a number of manufacturers on that list that might surprise you.

These manufacturers are sourcing their ingredients or products from potentially unsafe sources. They also may not be double checking the ingredients and the finished products to ensure safety.

While refusing to buy these pet foods does not guarantee your cat's safety, you can at least be certain that you eliminated a known risk.

Over time, I would certainly expect some of the companies involved in the recall to change their practices. The risk of bad publicity from law suits alone should be enough to motivate them, even if they're not concerned about your pet's health.

Encouraging Cat Food Safety

Below are some needed changes, and some things you can do and focus on not only for your own cat's future, but to ensure that the pet food industry makes changes that promotes the production of safe, healthy cat food.

  • Stricter controls on cat food manufacturing, and more transparency by the cat food "manufacturer" (the name on the label, which is the responsible party, but not necessarily the actual physical manufacturer of the pet food product).
  • More inspections. The debate over industries self-regulating has its points on both sides. The tragedy of the pet food recall of 2007 (and truly the last 15 years or so), however, has prompted many to call for regulation by governing bodies.
  • Elimination of source ingredients (meat, fish, poultry, fruits, vegetables, grains, etc.) and manufactured products from countries which allow poor quality control or have sub-standard manufacturing laws or enforcement/inspection.

    In the case of the 2007 Menu Foods recall ("the melamine incident"), the health problem stemmed from contaminated vegetable proteins imported from China. So much for vegetables (and a vegetarian diet) being safe.

    As a side note, some companies offer vegetarian or vegan cat food. Most experts say that a vegan diet for an obligate carnivore (the cat) is, at worst, a possible health risk. So that's probably not the answer.

In addition, promoting the following can not only improve our chances of having safe cat food in the marketplace, but also:

  • Reduce environmental impact (go green!).
  • Help to reduce the control that big business has over the food supply in general.
  • Promote small business and support green business initiatives.
  • Improve the health of your cat.

Encourage cat food companies to establish, publish, and enforce best practices for safe cat food manufacture, storage, shipment, and sale. These should be imposed on all pet food manufacturers, suppliers, shippers, and any company in the supply chain.

Encourage cat food manufacturers to obtain meat, poultry, and fruits and vegetables from local farm sources and smaller, well run farms.

Encourage cat food manufacturers to source meat only from sources that do not use antibiotics or hormones.

Encourage cat food manufacturers to source vegetables, fruits, and grains (and ingredients derived from these sources) from local, organic farms, or farms that use no chemical fertilizers.

Encourage cat food manufacturers to use fish only from wild caught sources.

Encourage any company in the supply chain (from source, to shipping, to final delivery to the consumer) to use environmentally friendly, sustainable business practices.

Is Homemade Cat Food Safer?

Perhaps not. Many people have turned to mixing up their own cat food recipes in an attempt to feed their cats better food. Depending upon who you ask, this may or may not be a good thing.

Without ensuring that your recipe meets proper nutritional guidelines, you may be unknowingly harming your cat. Make sure you get your vet's approval before switching your cat to a 100% homemade diet.

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