02.The problems with fresh pet meat
The use of sulphites as preservatives in fresh pet meat and pet rolls are not covered in the new standard for pet food. The RSPCA says that there are safety issues relating to sulphur dioxide and sodium and potassium sulphite preservatives – which can cause thiamine deficiency, which can be fatal.
Fresh pet meat is found in the refrigerated section of supermarkets and some pet food stores. It comes in the form of meat, ‘steaks’ and rolls. And while these sound like a wholesome alternative to the tinned and packaged stuff, there are concerns from the experts CHOICE spoke to.
Neck says “pet meat does not equal pet food”, adding that these products do not provide the adequate nutrition required by cats and dogs. While animals in the wild would eat fresh meat, they would also be eating the whole animal including, bones, hide and internal organs.
What’s of greater concern is that the use of sulphites as preservatives in fresh pet meat and pet rolls are not covered in the new standard for pet food.
The RSPCA says that there are safety issues relating to sulphur dioxide and sodium and potassium sulphite preservatives – which can cause thiamine deficiency, which can be fatal. Norris says “Thiamine (Vitamin B1) deficiency can occur when dogs and cats are fed on a diet containing sulphite preservatives.
Thiamine deficiency causes severe neurological symptoms and can be fatal. For decades, sulphite preservative-induced thiamine deficiency has been frequently recognised by the Australian Veterinary profession.”
Norris goes on to say that thiamine deficiency can also occur when sulphur dioxide containing foods are fed in conjunction with foods not containing sulphur dioxide. “This is because the sulphur dioxide in one food can destroy any thiamine present in the other food being fed at the same time.”
CHOICE contacted a number of fresh pet meat manufacturers to ask about this issue. We asked if they use sulphites in their products? If they did, we asked if they test for adequate thiamine as per the AAFCO (American Association of Feed Control Officials) thiamine guidelines to ensure adequate thiamine throughout the shelf-life of their products. We received quite a mixed bag of responses.
VIP pet foods, which also manufacture under the brand names of Paws Fresh, Platinum and Prota, responded saying that some of its fresh pet meat range does include sulphites, but conducts regular testing to ensure the adequate levels of thiamine are met. Country Cuisine Pet food, confirmed that it does not use any preservatives nor does it source meat that has been treated with preservatives. Paringa Pet Foods produces a range of preservative-free and fresh foods, however, it says that it tests to ensure it is exceeding the guidelines.
Woolworths and Coles also produce fresh pet food under their private labels. After contacting Coles several times a spokesperson confirmed that their product was subjected to regular testing for adequate thiamine levels. Woolworths however, despite CHOICE contacting the company several times, did not provide a response.
Last year, Queensland newspaper The Courier-Mail bought a selection of fresh pet meat brands from supermarkets and had them independently tested. Despite claims from manufacturers about the levels in their particular products, the testing revealed many products had far higher levels than what had been claimed. One product was found to have 435 times the sulphur dioxide levels than what was claimed on the packet.
So, if you're not willing to take the risk, but still want to give your pet fresh meat (in conjunction with a complete and balanced diet), our experts suggest buying human-grade meats instead to avoid the problem entirely.
All the experts that CHOICE spoke to expressed their concern about a small but growing trend for some pet owners to put their pets on a vegetarian or vegan diet. None of them say this is a suitable diet for cats and dogs as cats are true carnivores and dogs are largely carnivores that eat some omnivorous foods. Neck says, “It’s not right, you can't put your beliefs onto an animal that is not suited to that diet. If you want a vegan pet, get a rabbit or a guinea pig."