Pet Food Ingredients

It’s Killing Eagles but the FDA says it’s safe for pets!

(Originally published September 2008. Updated August 2014.)

Just when you think you’ve seen it all and nothing would be too surprising to learn or read about the pet food industry, you stumble across something that causes your jaw to drop. I stumbled across something that proves once again – you can’t be too careful about the food and treats you give to your pet. Here is what I stumbled on…

First – a little background information. Back in 2002, the FDA released a report of their 2 year study/testing finding pentobarbital (the drug used to euthanize animals) in pet food. Their findings were that many brands of pet foods – purchased right off of store shelves – contained the euthanizing drug pentobarbital. With that finding, the FDA began an 8 week test to see if levels of pentobarbital in pet food could be harmful to pets. The FDA testing showed that the amounts of pentobarbital in pet food would not harm pets (their study only tested dogs). You should know that the FDA ran their testing on 42 twelve week old Beagles – and again the testing was only for 8 weeks.

Point number one – pentobarbital WAS found in many pet foods yet was determined by the FDA not to be harmful to pets. And one more time – the testing to determine this only lasted 8 weeks even though pets might be eating this euthanizing drug in food their entire life.

So, to the point of this post – I just stumbled upon a US Fish and Wildlife report that pentobarbital is considered an environmental hazard“responsible for the deaths of over 140 Bald and Golden Eagles in recent years – as well as numerous other wildlife and dogs.” Other wildlife named in the report were California Condors, Vultures, Hawks, Wood Storks, Gulls, Crows, Ravens, Bears, Lynxes, Foxes, Bobcats, and Cougars.

This report stated the reason the wildlife was exposed to pentobarbital is from access to euthanized carcasses of farm animals and small animals in land fills. “Poisonings due to accidental feeding of tainted meat to captive animals have also been reported.”

In big bold letters the report stated “Poisoning of eagles or other wild birds, even if accidental, violates Federal law!” This report also stated that Veterinarians and livestock owners have been recently fined for ‘involuntary killing’ of eagles. “Veterinarians must inform clients that a pentobarbital euthanized carcass is poisonous and requires proper disposal. The client needs to know that the carcass can poison and kill scavenging animals, including federally protected species, other wildlife, or even pet dogs.”

Point number two – Even though the FDA determined through their eight week test that pentobarbital in pet food was NOT harmful to our pets, the US Fish and Wildlife Agency is saying that pentobarbital euthanized carcasses is killing wildlife, including endangered species. Do we have a conflict between Federal Agencies?

As I wondered about the ‘conflict’ between the FDA and the US Fish and Wildlife Agency, I continued to dig a little further, and that’s when I found the jaw dropper…

From Code of Federal Regulations, Title 21, Volume 6, Sec. 522.900:

“Special considerations. Product labeling shall bear the following warning statements: ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARD: This product is toxic to wildlife. Birds and mammals feeding on treated animals may be killed. Euthanized animals must be properly disposed of by deep burial, incineration, or other method in compliance with state and local laws, to prevent consumption of carcass material by scavenging wildlife.”

And “Limitations. Do not use in animals intended for food. Federal law restricts this drug to use by or on the order of a licensed veterinarian.”

Does this federal law include pet ‘food’? It should. No pet ‘food’ should include a euthanized animal (no animal food should include a euthanized animal).

Personally, I think the FDA should again test pet food for pentobarbital and ANY dog food, cat food, dog treat, or cat treat (and any other animal feed for that matter) that contains even the slightest bit of the drug – the manufacturer should be heavily fined. With respect to our national treasures – the Bald Eagles and Golden Eagles…“The laws provide for substantial fines and prison sentences in criminal cases. For example, the maximum fine for violating the Eagle Act is $100,000.00 for a person or $200,000.00 for an organization and one year in prison.” Under Federal Law ‘intent’ in not required for conviction – criminal convictions require the violation be ‘knowingly’ committed. With respect to our pets…we’ve got a ‘knowingly’ committed act. The guilty pet food manufacturers knowingly purchase ingredients that contain pentobarbital. Yet no one fines them for breaking the law.

Eagles are a national treasure. I’ve been blessed to see a wild Eagle once (so far) in my lifetime. But our pets are a treasure as well. They enhance our lives. They might not be a national symbol – but they are a family symbol. They ARE family.


Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,

Susan Thixton
Pet Food Safety Advocate
Author Buyer Beware, Co-Author Dinner PAWsible
Association for Truth in Pet Food

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August 8, 2014

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22 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “It’s Killing Eagles but the FDA says it’s safe for pets!”

  1. Carol Moyer says:

    i was wondering why your articles don’t have a link to be able to post it on Facebook? I really like to pass some of your info on.

    • Susan Thixton says:

      At the very end of the article – just below all the signature information (specifically just below Find Healthy Pet Foods in Your Area Click Here) you’ll see icons for Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest. You can click on any of those icons to share.

  2. Mary Anne Kennard says:

    Aaaaahhhh! I am so frustrated over the horrible ingredients in pet food. I also lost a pet dog from lymphoma and I know it was from her food. I now have two dogs and feed them the best food that I can afford, ( $63 a month), but it still isn’t the quality I wish it was. Short of making their food, which would be very difficult for me due to a disability, I don’t know what to do. Thank you Susan for educating the public and fighting the problems caused by the greedy pet food industry.

  3. camille mccallion says:

    How do we know which foods contain the drug? Is it on the label? Or just the ingredient MEAT should give a clue? thanks

  4. Helen says:

    What can we do about all these horrible news we keep learning about? All I read about are all these awful problems, but what are our solutions? I want to be informed about ways to rectify all these problems. Can we sign petitions? Write letters to senators? Please someone offer solutions. I want to be part of the solution.

    • Susan Thixton says:

      I wish I knew what the solution is – no easy answer on this. I published this article originally 6 years ago – things have not changed since. Regulatory authorities dig in their heels and refuse to acknowledge that not only is euthanized animals in any animal food illegal per federal law – no one even considers the non-existant nutrition provided by these types of ingredients. It’s a crime (in more ways than one). When it all gets developed, our certification of pet food program will be the solution. At least we’ll know from foods that go through the certification process. Soon.

      • Brenda Wright says:

        Isn’t it true that any petion you get started on the white house wed page or .gov and get so many signatures they have to take action or look into it? Im sure there’s some thing we could do!!!!!! I Love my 4 fur Babies!! and 3 Grand Fur Babies!!!!!!

  5. Christine says:

    I’m very eager to find out what things you’ll be testing for and whether pentobarbital makes the list. I found this line especially interesting in the Fish and Wildlife document, “Rendering is not an acceptable way to dispose of a pentobarbital-tainted carcass. The drug residues are not destroyed in the rendering process, so the tissues and by-products may contain poison and must not be used for animal feed.”
    If you did find pentobarbital in kibble, it would be fantastic to bring one of the many experts listed at the bottom of that document along with you to the AAFCO meeting to testify as to the toxicity of the drug and severity of the punishments given for even accidental poisonings.
    It make perfect sense to me that the levels of pentobarbital would be far lower in a kibble made with rendered meats but made primarily of corn/wheat etc than in a fresh carcass, but lifelong exposure would eventually add up to toxic levels, hurting organs like the liver slowly but surely.

  6. Meg says:

    Why would pet food manufacturers even put pentobarbitol in food? What does it do that gives the product any benefit (that translates to money….)? It would certainly be interesting to know whether officers, managers, shareholders of any food manufacturer who allows this type of additive (along with the many other awful ingredients including GMOs) feed their own pets with their food!
    Keep up the good fight , Susan – I appreciate having someone who focuses on just this one very important area and shares the information! I have suggested to my vet practices they subscribe, and use it to post warnings and recalls to help their clientele as well (so far they haven’t, though :(.

    • Laura says:

      As far as I’m aware they aren’t directly putting it into the food, it’s in the meat that they’re using for the food, e.g., livestock, cats, dogs, etc.

  7. Gitta says:

    Not sure we can compare the Pentobarbital concentration in one euthanized animal, which leads to acute poisoning and death with the chronic ingestion of probably much lower concentrations found in pet food.

    Pretty much every chemical that is allowed in our food and drinking water is proven to be toxic at certain concentrations. They are supposedly safe because of the difficulty proving that minute amounts (in endless combinations) are harmful. Sadly the system is designed to give every chemical the benefit of the doubt until is proven and proven again to be unsafe.

    It would be a step in the right direction, if the FDA had disclosed which foods contain it. Let the consumer decide. Thinking of arsenic in apple juice – it was Dr. Oz who got things going. Not the FDA. It would probably get us quicker results if Consumer Reports would run the same tests, publishing their findings. It may not get the FDA in gear – I would get a lot of consumers in gear though.

  8. Kim says:

    The fact Pentobarbital is in many dog foods is only the surface of the problem. If they get away with that, which is against federal law, then everything else to them is fair game. This means they don’t care that they are diseased, or cancer ridden, decayed,and have collars on in processing. This stuff reduces the life of our dogs at the least, and at the most kills them very young. Add to this that they show owners great looking vegetables and meats on TV commercials and put in green, dead, decaying food laced with drugs. I have lost too many dogs way to young to tumors, cancers, and I am done with it. This is why I now grow my own organic veggies (but you can buy them from local markets as well), and get my meats right from the farm so I can question and observe their practices. It is a lot of work, but once you gain those relationships and have a good plan, you can throw away dry kibble forever. For those emergency times I also dehydrate my own dog fresh food so I have food to take on trips, and in case of weather black out, etc.

    There are small farms everywhere that need your support, you just have to take the time and locate them. It does cost more, but good food does, and our dogs are like our kids just with shorter life spans. The biggest clear message we can send to the dog food manufacturers is to not buy their food until they get it right. No matter if they did I would still stay with my fresh food plan as I have seen the amazing results over the last 7 years and dry kibble is not a species appropriate diet for a dog. It is an easy and cheap way to feed a dog. We fall prey to this in our busy lives and with a crappy economy. But if you care more about your dog then the average person, then start by doing one meal a day in fresh food. Buy Susan’s books and learn. I also offer consults to help those getting starting.

    Keep fighting and supporting Susan, she needs us all.

    Kim Willis, Master K9 Trainer
    Retired VB Master Police Officer/Detective
    City of Chesapeake Community Emergency Response Team: K9 Operations
    Leader/Trainer, Operational K9 Teams, Critical Incident Therapy Dogs, K9 Trainer/Coordinator, Animals in Disaster Coordinator
    State Certified Professional Ground Searcher
    Man Tracker Level I
    North American Police Work Dog Association member, Executive Committee Member SAR Liaison
    Chesapeake Community Animal Response Team “CART” (co-founder), Supported by Virginia State “SART”
    FEMA’s National Preparedness Coalition
    Association for Truth in Pet Food member

  9. Just noticed that this was originally from ’08. So frustrating that all of this info is out there for so long, and yet our *wonderful* FDA does nothing (sarcasm intended).

    On a kind-of-related note, I was wondering if there was any new information regarding the pet food scandal in Spain concerning euthanized pets? I have been searching high and low on the internet for updates to this story and have found nothing. Seems like the story just dropped off the face of the earth…

    • Susan Thixton says:

      I agree Johanna – very strange that information in Spain did appear to just disappear. Makes one wonder who was successful at keeping that news quiet.

  10. Ellie says:

    They admit the drug is in pet food and have no problem with that fact. So the question is: How did the drug get into the pet food? I assume by finding that it is not harmful to pets they are saying that euthanized animals are being used to make pet food? How else would it get into the mix of waste materials already approved for making pet food?

  11. Sharon says:

    Susan, I was assuming the euthanized carcasses were likely farm animals, but then I saw something on the internet that got me wondering… are we also talking about euthanized PETS going into pet food??? Can you share what you know abot this?

    • Susan Thixton says:

      Though testing has never proved it – I am confident euthanized pets and euthanized laboratory animals (after their ‘work’ is done) end up in pet foods and animal feeds. And this is one of those questions that I ask every pet food expert I can. Every single time I get the same response – they are confident euthanized pets are in pet food too. To stop this and other horrific ingredients from becoming pet food/animal feed ingredients – FDA has to start enforcing the law as it is written (not as they re-write it through Compliance Policies). How do we accomplish this? I don’t know.

      It’s really horrible to consider what so many animals – pets and livestock – are eating.

  12. This article leaves unanswered one poignant question: Why is this drug in pet food in the first place?

    Could it be that the carcasses of euthanized pets and/or farm animals are making their way into the pet food supply???

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Susan Thixton's author is a founding partner of the international pet food consumer association - Association for Truth in Pet Food. Through our consumer association, Susan has advisory position to AAFCO's Pet Food Committee and Ingredient Definitions Committee.