Feeding Fido is a thirty billion dollar a year business. Manufacturers know you'll reach deep into your wallet to pay for healthy dog and cat food. You expect good nutrition, but researchers are discovering toxic ingredients.
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Olive isn't picky, but her owner, Chelsea Thomas, wants the best grub she can afford for her herd
"It's hard to know what's healthy for them, because there's so many different kinds out there," she said.
Perhaps you've noticed. The pet food aisle now has more selection than most human food aisles. With labels like natural, grain free and holistic, are these really healthy options or is this masterful marketing?
"I don't know if I believe all that because how natural can dog food in a bag really be?" asked Thomas.
"Marketing departments sell comfort and security. That's their job. For us at Clean Label Project, we wanted to see what was the truth behind these labels. We achieved that using analytical chemistry," said Jaclyn Bowen, with Clean Label Project.
Eleven hundred pet food products and counting. For two years, thanks to grants and donations, about a dozen chemists in Denver breakdown your pet food. Clean Label Project tests for industrial and environmental contaminants using a five star rating system. The more stars, the cleaner the product. They look for toxins like mercury, arsenic and lead.
"In some of the products tested, we observed lead quantities exceeding fifty times those seen in Flint Michigan drinking water travesty. We've seen arsenic levels exceeding five thousand parts per billion," Bowen said.
"That's not really acceptable to me. It just makes sense, but you and I are consumers. How do we know? Because all we have is the bag," said Dr. Philip Brown with Animal Care Center.
Brown says pet foods should be tested for toxins and heavy metals. Too much exposure can be harmful. Remember, some toxins occur naturally. What's concerning is the amount.
We plugged in Olive's food. It's rated 2.4 stars out of five.
"That's not good. I rather it be four or five. We're already paying a lot of money for it. I rather get something else that's better. Not the worst though," Thomas said.
Then it was time to check the cats. It's rated 3.6 stars out of five. Purity does not come with a high price tag.
"I wouldn't have expected these because they're so cheap," Thomas said.
Folks with Clean Label Project say some pet food companies are receptive to the results.
"For other pet food brands, I'll be honest. They're scared. Frankly, they should be, because from a consumer's perspective, they treat their pets like their family. Consumers are expecting more. They expect that a higher quality goes along with a product that's making those types of claims," said Bowen.
Thomas plans to talk to her vet and change Olive's food. She's determined to find a low-cost, healthy dog food with very few contaminants.
The Clean Label Projects is a very small non-profit organization. This research is not peer reviewed, but it's in the process.
As always, talk with your vet before making any big decisions.