Pet Food: What's in a Can? Millions of cans of dog and cat food have been recalled after several animals died after eating contaminated food. Tony Buffington, a professor at Ohio State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, reveals the typical makeup of pet food.
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Pet Food: What's in a Can?

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Pet Food: What's in a Can?

Pet Food: What's in a Can?

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And now to a health threat for pets. Sixty million cans of dog and cat food have been recalled because of possible contamination. Nine cats and a dog have died from kidney failure after eating the product made by a Canadian company, Menu Foods. Investigators are focusing on wheat gluten as the likely source of contamination. That got the explainer folks at wondering what else is in a can of pet food. We're joined now by professor Tony Buffington of Ohio State University's College of Veterinary Medicine. Welcome to the program.

Professor TONY BUFFINGTON (College of Veterinary Medicine, Ohio State University): Thanks, glad to be here.

YDSTIE: We know the focus is on wheat gluten, but what else goes into pet food?

Prof. BUFFINGTON: Well, in the canned pet foods that we're talking about, they're mostly meats and meat by-products, vitamins and minerals. They're pretty much what the animals would get in the wild.

YDSTIE: Actually tell us, what kind of meat sources are you talking about? You're talking about the whole animal.

Prof. BUFFINGTON: Much of the animal, usually minus the parts that we find in the grocery store for our own use. And pretty close to, as I said, what animals eat in the wild, which the first thing they do is usually go for the intestines and the heart and lung and those organs, and then they will eat some of the muscle meat and some of the bone. And so that's pretty much fairly comparable to what's in canned pet foods.

YDSTIE: And why do they use this wheat gluten, which is the product that is under investigation right now?

Prof. BUFFINGTON: Yeah, that's an interesting thing. In canned foods, those kinds of things are used in - generally used in small amounts to create gravies and those kinds of things that are appealing to those that are purchasing the food.

YDSTIE: What's the deal with gravy? Is it marketed for the pet or for the pet owner?

Prof. BUFFINGTON: It's marketed for the pet owner.

YDSTIE: Not to eat, mind you, but because they feel good about their pet having gravy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. BUFFINGTON: Hopefully not, but that's who makes the purchase. I mean, animals have no awareness of any of that.

YDSTIE: Are you satisfied as a veterinarian with the way that most pet food is made?

Prof. BUFFINGTON: Yes. I think the quality of the satisfactory major manufacturers of pet foods in the United States is as good as the human food we have available to us from the point of view of safety and controls for manufacture to avoid unfortunate situations like this that happened with Menu Foods.

I mean, if we think back, we've heard much more about food contamination in the human food supply in the last year or two than we have about the animal food supply. And just further on to that point, I think it's worth emphasizing that this is one particular size of one particular kind of canned and pouched food. I know we've had people call that they were worried about other sizes, other manufacturers, other types, dry food, and this is a very isolated instance. And so people, if they're not feeding one of the foods that's on that list, just don't have to worry about it.

YDSTIE: How about you? Have you thrown any pet food away in the last week?

Prof. BUFFINGTON: Oh, heavens no. We didn't happen to have any of those foods that I'm aware of in the hospital, and so it just wasn't an issue for us.

YDSTIE: Tony Buffington of Ohio State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, thank you very much.

Prof. BUFFINGTON: My pleasure. Thank you.

YDSTIE: And you can go to our Web site,, to find links to the Slate explainer on pet food and a list of the recalled products. That's at

(Soundbite of music)

YDSTIE: DAY TO DAY is a production of NPR News with contributions from I'm John Ydstie.


I'm Madeleine Brand.

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