Chemicals in pet food can lead to bad behaviour, says top vet

Campaigners warn dog and cat owners of the health risks caused by additives in major brands
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The Independent Online

Millions of animal lovers are putting the health of their pets at risk by feeding them brand pet foods that are packed with additives and chemicals, according to a new campaign that will be launched tomorrow.

Spearheaded by TV vet Joe Inglis, the Campaign for Real Pet Food will warn that the increasingly common behavioural issues in children, associated with some food additives, are also a problem with family pets.

Food allergies and intolerances are being cited as causes of bad behaviour, such as hyperactivity, and illness in pets, warns the vet, whose concerns are backed by experts including clinical animal behaviourist Inga MacKellar, and dog behaviourist Carolyn Menteith.

Pet food manufacturers use general phrases, such as "meat and animal derivatives" and "EC permitted additives", in ingredient lists that hide the real content from pet owners.

Mr Inglis, who has his own line of natural pet food, said: "Some big brands are hoodwinking the public with the food that they put out and labelling in such a way so that pet owners cannot make an informed choice. Profits are being put before the welfare of pets and it's irresponsible to be using all these artificial additives in pet foods when there is so much anecdotal evidence that they cause harm."

The term "EC permitted additives" covers a list of about 4,000 chemicals. Artificial colours such as E102 (tartrazine) and E110 (sunset yellow) have been shown to cause hyperactivity in children. And colours such as Blue 2 have been shown to have the potential to cause tumours, as have antioxidants including BHA.

Mr Inglis added: "Over the 12 years I've been a practising vet, I have seen a substantial rise in cases of problems caused by poor diet, including allergies and intolerances, and behavioural issues linked to artificial additives in food."

The campaign has already secured the support of celebrities including Dragon's Den entrepreneur Deborah Meaden. The businesswoman, who has 23 pets, including two dogs, said: "With so much emphasis on 'we are what we eat', it's about time we knew exactly what we were feeding our pets, too."

The designer Bruce Oldfield, who cooks fresh cod, potatoes and vegetables daily for his dogs, also attacked pet food manufacturers. "I'm pretty careful what I put into my own body, so I think it's outrageous that the pet food industry should be allowed to act in a less than transparent way," he said.

A spokesperson for the Pet Food Manufacturers' Association, however, said there was no evidence that pet food caused behavioural problems in animals.

"The use of additives in pet food is strictly regulated by the EU," he said. "The authorisation process is rigorous and food/pet food additives are regularly reviewed to ensure safety. Consumers want reassurance on additives, but not full listing. There is no peer-reviewed scientific evidence currently available, or that we are aware of, to suggest a link between behavioural problems in pets and additives in pet food."

But in an attempt to prove the case against mass-produced pet food containing additives, Mr Inglis plans to run a trial with a group of 30 hearing dogs for the deaf later this year. Half will be fed on a natural diet during their training, over several months, and half will be given food with additives. The dogs will be assessed for any differences in behaviour and performance.

An owner's dilemma

It was about an hour after agreeing to give a home to a six-week-old kitten that it dawned on me he might be hungry. I nipped to the supermarket for a bag of chicken-flavoured kitten food and then realised I'd stumbled into a personal ethical minefield.

I don't eat meat, don't wear leather and don't eat dairy. Of course, that means avoiding the meat industry's side products, such as pet food. God knows what goes into cat food. When Andrew Tyler of Animal Aid visited factory farms about a decade ago, he says he saw cut-out tumours and infections passed down a chute for the pet companies. Things may have improved, but pet food is still whatever's left over.

It's also "like feeding your cat McDonald's three times a day", as one vet told a friend. Cats, however, are carnivores. While some animal rights groups advocate a vegetarian diet for a cat, I disagree. They would decimate the bird population.

So what to do? The long search for the ethical compromise solution came up with the Almo Nature brand, which I order on the internet once a month. I buy only the organic chicken dry food, supplemented with their tins of sea-caught fish. It's a bit pricier, but I'll probably save on vet's bills. Cats are killers and want to eat flesh, and if you own one you have to accept that.

Andrew Johnson

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