Top 4 Risks of Meat-Based Dog Food

When comparing different dog foods, it can be tricky to know which is best for your pup. Which diet will help them thrive and achieve their highest quality of life? Here, we take a look at some of the health risks of a meat-based diet that are seldom touched upon in the meat-centric pet food industry. 

#1 Carcinogens

A 2012 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry identified 2-Amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo[4,5-b]pyridine (PhIP), a rat carcinogen, in the fur of dogs consuming commercial meat-based pet food. The PhIP levels were comparable to the levels of PhIP present in the hair of humans who consume meat (PhIP is present in the hair of human omnivores but not in the hair of vegetarians). Additionally, the World Health Organization has declared red and processed meats carcinogenic. Meat-based kibble, which is cooked at high temperatures, falls under this category.

#2 Chronic health conditions

In his 2016 study, Dr. Andrew Knight examined the nutritional soundness of commercial meat-based cat and dog food.

Commercial pet food brands may commonly be associated with a variety of hazards. These include significant quantities of abattoir products condemned as unfit for human consumption, such as '4-D' meat (from animals that are disabled, diseased, dying or dead on arrival at the slaughterhouse), labelled using terms such as 'meat derivatives' or 'by-products.' Due to expensive labour costs, plastic ear tags are not always removed. Old or spoiled supermarket meat, sometimes without removal of styrofoam packaging (which increases labour costs), may also be used.

Additional potential hazards associated within commercial meat-based diets include free radicals, trans fatty acids, and other toxins from restaurant grease used as a fat source, hormonal residues, chemical preservatives, and the degradation of sensitive nutrients such as enzymes and vitamins—due to the temperatures, pressures and chemical treatments involved in processing. 

Given these potentially hazardous ingredients, Dr. Knight says it's not surprising that several controlled studies have discovered increased risks of various diseases in dogs and cats on meat-based diets. These include kidney failure, liver, musculoskeletal, and neurologic diseases, birth defects, and bleeding disorders.

Dr. Richard Pitcairn, DVM, author of Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, shares his own experience with chronic health conditions in dogs fed a meat-based diet: 

Very often dogs are presented to the veterinarian with persistent, chronic, and difficult to treat, conditions. These are not the straight-forward problems like vomiting from eating spoiled food, or having an infectious disease like Distemper or Parvo virus. 

The evolution of agriculture and factory farming has resulted in an incredible contamination of our food supply. When dogs and cats have been tested for the chemicals that have accumulated in their tissues, the amounts that have accumulated is higher than what is in we humans, which is already quite high. This is highly significant as these toxic chemicals include ones that, for example, cause cancer. It is now estimated that of all dogs over the age of two, that 50% of them will develop cancer in their lives

The food sources that contain, by far, the highest amount of toxic chemicals are meat, bones and other animal products like cheese, milk, etc. Those that get the highest amounts of these chemicals are the ones eating at the top of the food chain — eating the animals that eat the plants. In our country these are human beings, dogs and cats.

Once I realized this I began advising clients with dogs, having these chronic disorders, to change the food the dogs were eating to a plant-based recipe as in our book. Results outweighed expectations. Many dogs noticeably improve in their condition with this change alone. 

#3 Recalls, contamination, and poor quality control

The majority of meat is produced in factory farms, where livestock are injected with growth hormones and antibiotics, fed sub-optimal diets, and live in unsanitary conditions. Pet food manufacturers use 4-D meat, or meat from animals that are "dead, dying, disabled, or diseased," which the FDA states is "a potential health hazard to the animals that consume it and to the people who handle it." These slaughterhouse byproducts (which include all body parts deemed unfit for human consumption, including skin, tendons, brains, intestines, reproductive organs, tumors, etc.) are ground up at rendering plants along with other cheap sources of meat (such as spoiled grocery store meat, roadkill, and euthanized animals) to form the base of pet food.

The American Veterinary Medical Foundation maintains a database of pet food recalls. In the month of February 2018 alone, 38 products were recalled for contamination, primarily from either pentobarbital (a euthanasia drug) or Salmonella contamination. These contaminants cause a variety of adverse symptoms in dogs, including vomiting, coma, and death.

"When considering dietary choices for companion animals, the hazards of meat-based diets, and any health problems experienced by animals maintained on them, should be considered," says Dr. Knight. "These include contamination with Salmonella, Listeria, and a range of other potentially pathogenic microorganisms — some of which may also cause disease in human cohabitants (particularly, where immunosuppressed); the prion proteins which cause transmissible spongiform encephalopathies, such as bovine and feline spongiform encephalitis; and mycotoxins (fungal toxins)—notably aflatoxins produced by Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus, and vomitoxin produced by Fusarium moulds.

"Occasionally, very serious problems occur, leading to major recalls of pet food brands. Within the U.S., 11 such recalls occurred between 1996 and 2010. These resulted from chemical contaminants or misformulations: three aflatoxin, three excess Vitamin D3, one excess methionine, three inadequate thiamine, and one adulteration with melamine and related compounds. In addition, there were two additional warnings concerning a Fanconi-like renal syndrome in dogs following ingestion of large amounts of chicken jerky treat products. Similar concerns about Fanconi syndrome in dogs have recently been raised in the UK."

#4 Allergies

According to experts at Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University, "The most commonly reported food allergies in dogs and cats are chicken, beef, dairy, and egg (and fish for cats)...What surprises many pet owners is that grains are actually uncommon causes of food allergies – most pets are allergic to animal proteins." Food allergies can cause a variety of symptoms in dogs, including (but not limited to) rashes, dry and itchy skin, loose stool, constipation, gas, vomiting, eye discharge, and fur loss. Exposure to allergens over time is a health concern, as it compromises the immune system.

How do I know if a plant-based diet will be safe for my pet?

Unlike meat-based diets, plant-based diets offer nutrition for your pet without the slaughterhouse. This means that the formula is likely cleaner, free of harmful toxins, and allergy-friendly. Look for a diet that is nutritionally complete and uses ingredients that you trust. For more information on plant-based diets for dogs, check out the resources below:

Everything You Need to Know About Vegan Dog Food

Vegan Dog Nutrition: The Basics

Top 5 Vegan Dog Myths and Facts


Hooray for healthy, sustainable, and cruelty-free dog food! Since 2005, v-dog has seen thousands of dogs absolutely thrive on our nutritionally complete vegan formula. Our kibble is free of byproducts, fillers, and common allergens, making it a safe and healthy choice for pups of all shapes and sizes. Learn more about what we do here!

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