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Will Eating Pet Food Kill Me?

dogs, pets, safety of pet foods
Pet food is not made for human consumption. (Image credit: Dreamstime.)

There’s no official record of how many people dine on crunchy kibble or mushy canned pet food, but the act is probably as harmless as eating table scraps. Why?

Most pet food is made from food humans won’t stomach, slaughterhouse leftovers such as organs, blood, and offal like the trim from hides (an indigestible but harmless filler).

Many dry and wet dog pet foods also contain rice, wheat and other plants, not to mention added vitamins and minerals. But don’t rip into a mouth-watering can of Alpo just yet — on March 16, 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a major recall on some “cuts and gravy” style of canned pet food that caused rapid kidney failure and death in hundreds and possibly thousands of animals.

The FDA later recalled more animal edibles, tracing the problem back to wheat gluten, a component used to thicken pet foods. Scientists who tested the pet meals in question say an ingredient called melamine (a fire retardant and plastic-producing chemical) is to blame for the deaths. Though no one is certain why melamine is causing so much trouble, it can cause kidney stones. The main components of kidney stones in rats that ate the pet food, says a federal document, are melamine and uric acid (also known as urea, the main component in urine). It’s not surprising the two would buddy up, as melamine is often made from urea. The melamine that made its way into pet food sold in the United States came from a Chinese manufacturer of wheat gluten. Because melamine “looks” like protein when tested, adding it to pet food could deceptively boost protein levels — a major selling point for consumers. This, some allege, may be why it ended up in pet food. So if people eat pet food these days, is it really safe? The jury is out in light of the pet food crisis, but sticking to food intended for humans for awhile would be a wise choice.

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Dave Mosher, currently the online director at Popular Science, writes about everything in the science and technology realm, including NASA's robotic spaceflight programs and wacky physics mysteries. He has written for several news outlets in addition to Live Science and, including:, National Geographic News, Scientific American, Simons Foundation and Discover Magazine. When not crafting science-y sentences, Dave dabbles in photography, bikes New York City streets, wrestles with his dog and runs science experiments with his nieces and nephews.