JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Pet food is an $18 billion-a-year business, but some of what's in the bowl can actually make your animal sick.
There are hundreds of pet food brands and products on the store shelves, but Sandy McCaffrey said she picked the wrong one. "Nothing warned me about what could possibly happen," she said.
McCaffrey said she got her dog, Rooney, a special bone on Christmas Day. A few hours after Rooney was chewing on it, McCaffrey said she had to rush her chocolate lab to the animal hospital.
"His heart beat was - everything was - very low; his body temperature was even low," she recalls the veterinarian telling her.
She said the veterinarian told her the fat and chemicals in her dog's bone were attacking his pancreas.
"What the veterinarian explains to me... she said, 'Oh no, they inject these bones with fat and corn syrup and different chemicals so the dogs like them'," said McCaffrey
According to The Association of American Feed Control Officials, or AAFCO, it is not against pet food standards to include fat and chemicals, or diseased animals, in pet food.
"That's why you need to pick a big national brand that has a reputation that's good," said Zack Bissel, a veterinarian at Coastal Veterinary Hospital.
A statement from AAFCO pointed out section 402 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act which states pet food containing diseased animals or an animal that died before slaughter is seen as poor quality, but acceptable.
"The inclusion of these products will not be ordinarily actionable if products are not otherwise in violation of the law, and they will be considered fit for animal consumption. This policy is based on data indicating a minimal risk of disease," it says.
Bissel calls it surprising and "not good."
"It's far from standard practice, but just like anything it really boils down to the people regulating it to do a good job," he said.
At the state level, the Florida Department of Agriculture regulates pet food and at the federal level, the FDA for Veterinary Medicine is in charge.
Bissell recommends all pet owners do their homework, including checking the company's website, reading reviews, even making a trip to the manufacturing plant.
"Granted, most people can't go to the Midwest and do that on a whim, but you know if they have an open door policy; it would imply that you know they aren't doing those sorts of behavior," he said.
Most pet companies find using diseased animals unacceptable, Bissel said, but many foods include animal byproduct, which is often found on the ingredient label as meat meal.
"It means intestine, muscle, other things like that," he said.
- Get a pet food that has protein as the top ingredients, like chicken and lamb.
- Look for the AAFCO stamp on the bag and see if it says the product has been used in feeding trials.
- Check the expiration date.
Making your own pet food is not necessarily the solution, Bissel said, because there is a lot to know about nutrition. If you don't know what your pet needs, they could end up with nutritional deficiencies that can cause health problems.
He added that the number one issue, according to veterinarians, is obesity.
Bissel said a lot of people compare their animals to another and think theirs is underweight, when in reality it is probably at a healthy weight. Since there are so many overweight pets our perception is off, he said.
McCaffrey follows many of these recommended guidelines now, she said, and her dog is doing much better after a stint in the hospital.
Still, she's left with a $1,500 medical bill after her dog's health run-in.
First Coast News