Pet food not immune to mad cow threat

Published Jan. 12, 2004|Updated Aug. 27, 2005

Question: Can my pets get mad cow disease from pet food?

Answer: A U.S. Food and Drug Association spokesperson told this column that, to date, there have been no reports of pet food tainted by contaminated beef, but the possibility exists should there be a major outbreak of mad cow disease in this country.

According to Dr. Peter Constable, a food-animal veterinarian and specialist in internal medicine at the 'University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine _ Urbana, mad cow disease or bovine spongiform encephalopathy can be transferred from one species to another. People who eat beef contaminated by "prions," the infectious agents that cause mad cow disease, may be susceptible to a mad cow variant called Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Similarly, cats that eat prion-tainted food may develop feline spongiform encephalopathy, which is deadly. In 1986, during England's outbreak of BSE, about 100 cats died. Dogs were not affected.

Ann Martin, author of Foods Pets Die For: Shocking Facts About Pet Food (New Sage Press, Troutdale, Ore., 2003; $13,95) says there are no legal safeguards to ensure that pet food will not be contaminated by mad cow disease. Currently, bovine brain and spinal cord tissue, though not used for human consumption, are present in most pet foods. "If mad cow occurs again in a bigger way," Martin says, "our pet foods are at risk _ a disaster waiting to happen."

Martin also points out that all nonambulatory cattle are supposed to be tested for BSE, but there is some question as to whether or not they are. But, even if these animals don't have BSE, they may still be sick. Ann M. Veneman, secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, recently announced that no longer will meat from nonambulatory cattle be considered for human consumption, though they could still be used in pet food.

However, Stephen Payne, director of public relations of the Pet Food Institute, a Washington, D.C., trade association representing the pet food industry, contends that the cats infected with BSE in England did not eat manufactured pet food, though the English Ministry of Agriculture is still not sure exactly what these cats did eat. "I'm confident that pet foods are safe. There is no risk," Payne says.

Dr. Dan Carey, director of technical services at the IAMS pet food company, Dayton, Ohio, points out that years ago his company stopped using bovine brain and spinal cord tissue, meat from nonambulatory cattle or meat from cattle that had died on farms. "This is why educating the public about these sorts of things is good. I encourage people to call their pet food company and ask questions."

Cat's humor is all wet

Question: After my cat, Ruggles, drinks her water, she proceeds to dump the bowl over. What do I do?

Answer: Your kitty gets her kicks from watching water run and likes your reaction when she causes the great kitchen flood. In any case, this is Ruggles' idea of a good time.

Try a weighted nonspill bowl or a drinking fountain for cats, both available at pet stores and in pet catalogs. Or invite Ruggles into your bathroom when you take a bath. She may enjoy watching the tub fill.

If your cat spills the bowl every day at a regular time, preempt the spilling by scheduling some feline playtime. Fill a shoebox or small gift box with Ping-Pong balls; your cat will enjoy tipping the box just as much as she does her water dish.

Write to Steve Dale at Tribune Media Services, 435 N Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611, or send e-mail to Include your name, city and state.