Although Federal Food Safety laws prohibit it, some pet foods contain the rendered (cooked) remains of diseased animals or animals that have died ‘other than by slaughter’. A new study shows that deadly brain diseases known as prion diseases “might pass from one species to another more easily than previously thought.” This study clearly shows that FDA Compliance Policies allowing rendered diseased animals into pet food ingredients put pets and people at tremendous risk.

Mad Cow Disease or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) is a deadly prion disease. So is Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease; the human version of prion disease. The expected life span of a human with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease is 1 year after diagnosis. Chronic Wasting Disease is the prion disease found in deer and elk, Scrapie is the prion disease found in sheep and goats, Feline Spongiform Encephalopathy (FSE) is the prion disease found in cats, and mink have found to be susceptible to a prion disease as well. To date, no prion disease has been discovered in dogs (though it is doubtful much research has been done to find one).

The science that the Food and Drug Administration has gone with for years is one, it is difficult to spread a prion disease between species. All animals including humans seem to have barriers to prevent the infection of, as example, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE mad cow disease) to cats; it has been believed that, as example, cats cannot contract BSE or it is extremely rare. The FDA’s science as well, goes with the assumption that if a prion disease is present, it resides in the brain and spinal column alone. However, with this new science, the belief that cats or humans cannot be infected with other species specific prion diseases and that the disease resides in the brain is out the window.

The article about this new study that caught my attention was on MyHealthNewsDaily.com. The title, “Brain Diseases May Spread from Animals to Humans More Easily than Thought” led me to purchase another review of the French study from ScienceMag.org ($15.00 for those that are interested – in the January 2012 edition titled The Risk of Prion Zoonoses).

As mentioned previously, prior to this study, it has been believed that a prion disease resides solely in the brain and perhaps spinal column of infected individuals. Because of this, the FDA several years ago required that the brain and spinal column of cattle – not be fed to cattle. An animal might not show signs of the disease, but just to be on the safe side – it has been believed that by preventing cattle from consuming the ‘risk material’ (known by the FDA as Specified Risk Material- brain and spinal column) from other cattle, the US is effectively controlling the risk of spreading mad cow disease.

But, this new study found something different. This study took several prion disease strains – including the BSE strain that causes the human Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and Chronic Wasting Disease in deer – and infected mice with these strains. Under the former belief system, the mice would not have contracted mad cow disease or chronic wasting disease. At death, none of the mice showed any sign of clinical disease. For mice that lived beyond 500 days, a “small minority” showed detectable prion disease in the brain. However, almost all of the mice (after death) showed positive evidence of prion disease in the spleen, lymph nodes, tonsils, and other gut-associated lymphoid tissues. The barrier of protection that one species has had to another species prion disease was crossed. The mice did indeed obtain prion disease from other species; the disease was found in the lymph nodes, spleen and other tissues of almost 100% of the research mice.

A frightening concern, as stated in the ScienceMag.org article, is that a healthy individual (human) could acquire a prion disease from a blood donation and/or tissue donation from a believed to be healthy donor (the disease would not have been diagnosed and the donor would not show clinical signs – yet the disease could be residing in the donor’s lymph nodes, tonsils, ect. undetected).

If reviews of this study warns that healthy humans can transmit prion diseases to others via blood donations, imagine the risk of transmission that downer animals/sick animals present via rendered pet food ingredients? By the way, rendering does not destroy the prion disease.

Now enter the significant pet food concern. Putting aside the possibility that healthy, slaughtered animals could have a prion disease residing in the spleen, lymph nodes, tonsils, and other gut-associated lymphoid tissues…diseased animals and downer animals (downer animals are animals that cannot stand and are highly suspect of a prion disease) are commonly processed into pet food ingredients. The common pet food ingredients by-product meal, meat and bone meal, animal digest, and animal fat can ALL be sourced from diseased animals and downer animals. These common pet food ingredients can as well be sourced from dead animals (not slaughtered USDA inspected and approved). These common pet food ingredients can also include suspect tissues – rejected for use in human food. And, these common pet food ingredients can include road kill such as deer (Chronic Wasting Disease).

No warning exists on the pet food label. The pet food purchaser could be unaware that Brand X of dog food or Brand Z of cat food contains the spleen, lymph nodes, tonsils, and other lymphoid tissues of a sick/downer animal. Downer animals – allowed to be included in the pet food ingredients meat and bone meal, animal digest, and animal fat – pose the most significant risk. Early signs of a prion disease include the inability to stand/walk; a downer animal. The sick/downer animal spleen, lymph nodes, tonsils and other tissues could easily be the host of an undiagnosed prion disease.

The FDA website clearly warns that these types of animal feed ingredients cannot be fed to ruminants because of the risk of spreading mad cow disease; the FDA does not allow these types of ingredients into cosmetics because of similar risk. But the FDA believes these very same ingredients are safe to feed to dogs and cats.

Besides the prion disease risk to cats (there has been no known diagnosis of a dog contracting a prion disease), what if a child eats that pet food?

Sick, downer or dead other than by slaughter animals should never be processed into ANY animal food ingredient. Never. If your pet food contains the ingredients by-product meal, meat and bone meal, animal digest and/or animal fat – the pet food could contain the rendered remains of sick/downer animals and pose a risk of prion disease.

Please – call your pet food manufacturer and ask if all meat and fat ingredients have been USDA inspected and have passed inspection. If the pet food meats have not been USDA inspected and approved, don’t buy it. Some manufacturers will tell you this information is proprietary, some will tell you meat ingredients ‘come from a USDA inspected facility’ (meat was ‘rejected from a USDA inspected facility’). Don’t fall for their smoke and mirrors response. You need to know specifically – if all meat ingredients (whether chicken, beef, by-products, or meal) has been USDA inspected and approved. Tell a friend.

Note: At the recent AAFCO meetings, they asked for topics of discussion to be submitted for the next Pet Food Committee meeting (August 2012). I will be submitting the topic to remove the pet food ingredients meat and bone meal, animal digest, and animal fat from use in pet foods/treats based on this new science and the risk it poses to pets and humans. More news on this effort soon.