Many pet owners have long had mixed feelings about the dried food consumed by their animals, with some finding it difficult to accept veterinarians’ insistence that the apparently unappetising lumps provide the ideal balanced diet for their beloved animals.
Revelations this week – after Consumer Council tests revealed a cancer-causing ingredient in seven types of pet dried food sold in Hong Kong – have only added to these worries.
However, vets and animal-welfare specialists remain adamant that dried food should still form a major part of a pet’s diet, provided that owners choose high-quality products.
There are an estimated 286,300 households with pets in Hong Kong, according to a 2006 Census and Statistics Department survey.
Many dog owners try to save money by buying cheap food for their pets, but end up paying more to the vets, said Sally Andersen, of Hong Kong Dog Rescue.
“As a human, it’s not good living only on junk food,” she said. “It’s the same for animals: they can survive but their health will suffer.”
Some small dogs have developed kidney stones after being fed cheap dog food and highly flavoured snacks produced across the border. Although dogs might love the taste, the food was not good for their health, Andersen said. “It’s like having McDonald’s every day.”
The council’s recent tests on 39 dry pet foods revealed traces of the carcinogen aflatoxin B1, which can also cause liver damage, in four dog foods and three cat foods, including Purina One Smart Blend chicken and rice formula adult premium dog food, and Kitekat tuna flavour for adult cats.
She warned that cats could develop kidney problems if they did not drink enough water after being fed dried food.
Dogs kept in the group’s kennels were fed one third wet food and the rest dry food, she said.
Mark Mak Chi-ho, executive chairman of the Non-Profit Making Veterinary Service Society, said dried food was a healthy choice for animals as it offered a perfect balance of nutrients.
“The combination of nutritional intake for humans and pets is very different,” Mak said. “Unless you have a lot of time and are very knowledgable about what pets need in their diet, it’s hard for owners to tailor a balanced diet for pets from fresh food.”
He said dried food had been produced after scientific research to find the most suitable food for pets.
Gloria Li Suk-fun, of the Stop – Save HK’s Cats and Dogs group, agreed.
“Dried food, such as infant milk formula in the market, contains different nutrition values that are good for pets’ health,” Li said.
Feeding dried food to pets, rather than wet food, could better prevent them from developing dental tartar.
The council’s tests on dried-food products – 20 dog foods and 19 cat foods – showed the level of aflatoxin B1 in the four dog foods and three cat foods ranged between one and two micrograms per kilogram.
There are no local laws that regulate the level of carcinogens permitted in pet foods. But the level discovered by the council falls within European Union regulations’ safety limits.
Besides the carcinogen, two products – Solid Gold adult dog food and Iams chicken cat food – were also found to contain small quantities of the chemical melamine, which has been shown to cause kidney stones and kidney failure in animals.
Two more foods – Purina Pro Plan salmon cat food and 1st Choice short-hair cat food – were found to contain cyanuric acid, which can also cause the same problems when combined with melamine.
Vets said the detected levels did not cause health concerns, but that pet owners should not mix the brands as the contaminants were more toxic when combined.
Purina One, the maker of one of the pet foods found with aflatoxin B1, said the carcinogen was an “unavoidable natural contaminant” found in grains such as corn, barley and rice.
Another, AvoDerm, said it had since replaced the corn in its formula that was believed to have been the source of the carcinogen.