There is an UPDATE at the bottom! Byproduct “smoking gun” chain of: ‘reasonable’ plausible contamination route; identified from wiki page information. Also, FWIW, “Fancy Feast seems to have changed the formula for “Gourmet Chicken” and it now contains fish. It no longer is acceptable to my cat.
The story continues on a followup posting here:
Remember this story about contaminated cat and dog food?
Well, IMHO, “He’s BAAaaak!”
I have 2 cats. One is an indoor Siamese, the other is an outdoor American Tabby.
About 4 months ago, the Siamese was near death. She had adopted us, so we are unsure of her age, but thought it was about 9. That’s young for a cat to be dying. She had lost a great deal of weight, had poor thinning matted fur, a persistent sinus “infection” with sneezing and mucus that would not resolve, even with antibiotics, and sporadic problems with eating poorly and / or constipation, diarrhea, and watery sunken eyes.
One night I spent most of the night holding her in a towel to keep her warm and trying to decide if we ought to just “put her down” or not.
I decided to give her the best “exit” a cat could want, and gave her the special foods a cat loves, but usually does not get. Our salmon (not from a cat food can, the stuff we ate). Chicken roasted and minced just for her, with juices and pan fat (cats MUST have a decent amount of fat to live). You get the idea.
She improved some.
I went back to “wet” cat food.
She got worse.
Thus began a search for “the issue”…
The “outdoor cat” is younger and likes to catch his own food some times. We briefly had some rats under a brush pile. Happy cat. No more rats… We also have a dove population that nests under the eaves of the back porch. He seems to get about 1 out of 4 or 5. The Doves are expanding their flock (and we keep the hawks away that were getting 2 out of 2…) so they seem to be “ok” with the cat tax…
Why does this matter? Because some times he would sniff the food, eat a bit, then go out and get some “good food”. We thought it was just pickyness, until…
I started a systematic testing of various types and brands of cat food, vs the Siamese health. For a while I was cooking chickens and grinding about 3/4 chicken with 1/4 rice. This was OK but I was a bit worried about taurine levels and general vitamins. I could not get the cats to eat the cat vitamins I bought. But she recovered somewhat more.
The first thing I did after that was to just go buy some canned Friskies and some of the fancy brand, on the assumption that more money might mean better ingredients. That was Fancy Feast. I fed a broad mix of flavors, but had to stay in the “loaf”, “gourmet”, or “pate” groups of texture since she could not chew chunks any more. It had to be soft and ground up. She got somewhat better, but still had ups and downs.
I noticed a pattern.
When fed the Friskies “Ocean whitefish and tuna” she was worse. When not fed the “Ocean whitefish and tuna” she was somewhat better. We shifted away from Friskies entirely and over to the fancy brand. (I don’t think there is anything wrong with Friskies per se, I needed to pick one brand and went with more expensive). She got even better, but still had “sneezy bad days”. Death, however, was not on the agenda. That was about 3 or 4 months ago, I’d guess.
But she still was not “better” or “normal” all the time.
The End Game
This past 2 months I’ve done controlled feedings of one type of food at a time, and only from one vendor at a time. Always “Fancy Feast”. (No slam on Friskies, I just needed to pick one. I went for more expensive. My conclusion is that it is ‘fish by-product’ related, not brand per se.) Batches of “Salmon”, “Chicken”, “beef”, “mixed grill”, etc. were fed and observed. My conclusions are based entirely on when the cat was ill (her sneezing and mucus rises inside 24 hours, lethargy and bowl issues about 48 hours). Having, I think, worked it out, I’ve now gone back to trying some other brands. For example, we have fed some “9 Lives” chicken with no issues observed, though it was only 2 days. (Update: Now 6 days and still fine. I’m even more convinced it is a “fish byproducts” issue, not a brand issue. See the UPDATE at the bottom.)
FWIW, the outdoor cat serves as my control for individual sensitivity issues. He will eat full meals of the “good stuff” and only eats small meals of “the bad stuff” (i.e. suspect canned cat foods) and asks for something else first, before giving up and eating some of the ‘other stuff’ from outdoors. He, too, is looking somewhat healthier and has fluffier fur and generally seems less distressed (though he was never sick like the indoor cat, IMHO because he could go hunt down something else if he only had ‘bad stuff’ in the food dish). His opinion of what’s “bad stuff” often matches what makes the other cat ill.
The indoor cat has roughly doubled her weight, and has nearly no ‘sneezing issues’ on the best foods. (Where “best” is not a brand, but is a type: those with no seafood component). The wet drippy eyes are now normal bright Siamese eyes. Her fur is now full and becoming more lush. She has resumed grooming (and has presented a hair ball or two… so we ‘vacuumed the cat ;-)'; against her will, I might add… and is generally just a much happier cat. She no longer sits looking longingly at the lap, or dragging herself slowly and painfully into the lap; she leaps up on the couch and hops into the lap…
Where to go from here
There is Something Bad in the seafood products from several makers. I suspect that the “Chinese Contaminant” problem is back, perhaps with a different ingredient that is not yet being found by testing. The Chicken and the Beef products seem to be OK (IMHO because we are a net producer of both and do not import byproducts from China…)
At this point I’m doing the ‘slow expansion’ out into other brands, but have had no problem with Fancy Feast as long as it is restricted to the Chicken, Beef, Turkey and related types. Trout seems to have been OK too (but it was only fed as part of a rotation before I decided to toss all the fish out for a while). I need to do another trial with trout, but only after the indoor cat has had a full recovery. Since the USA produces a lot of farmed trout, that it would be OK would be reasonable. We have a lot of trout byproducts to use. The salmon seemed to be a somewhat mixed bag. Mostly OK, but not as OK as the non-fish.
I’ve tried “9 Lives” and their chicken seems to be OK. I’ve also tried Science Diet Kitten in chicken and it didn’t show any problems. I don’t think this is a “maker” issue, I think it is a source issue…
At this point, I am planning to feed only non-fish canned food, with a possible trial of trout, for some time to come; AND I’m working up my own personal home made cat food. I will avoid ALL commercial canned cat food in seafood or “mixed grill” or mixed who knows what’s in it types. (Though even the “single type” kinds often have other types of ingredients on the list. For example, “9 Lives Chicken” lists fish on the ingredient list, but fairly low in the list.)
Both cats seem to just LOVE trout, salmon, and chicken sashimi… And with chicken at 69 cents a POUND whole and Fancy Feast at more than that for 3 OUNCES; and trout at $2.x / lb at Costco, it looks like fresh is even cheaper than the canned stuff. Heck I even got pink salmon at $2.50 / lb a couple of weeks ago (whole fish). Canned cat food runs about $3 / lb for the big cans, close to $4 / lb for the fancy stuff.
But the bottom line for me is this:
You can not trust the pet food makers to protect their product or your pet. Once is a horrible mistake. Twice is a pattern. I’m not waiting for three times…
My present “home canned” recipe is very crude and needs lots of work. It is: Roast a chicken, strip it from the bones. Mix with 1/4 cooked rice and run the whole mix through the grinder (including juices and fats). Can at 10 psi (240 F) for one hour. Same process for fish. I’ve also made this with raw chicken or fish and done the cooking during the canning process. The cats prefer the raw form, but sometimes you want something on the shelf at 1 am when the cat demands a snack…
Any ideas and pointers to recipes appreciated.
I’m also planning to feed a fair quantity more roast chicken, and fish sashimi to the cats. There is a local fish market that often has some “odd fish” for cheap and I’m lucky enough to be on the Pacific coast where from time to time Pink Salmon sells dirt cheap. I’ve also bought farmed ‘catfish nuggets’ very cheap. Boiled, the meat and skin falls off the bones and the cats like it.
While it makes me just a bit nervous to feed raw chicken to the cats, both have tolerated it with NO issues at all (and with great relish, wide eyed looks, and begging for more ;-) I do have to mince the skin (especially the neck skin that is tough) for the indoor cat. It is not very hard to scrape the meat off the bones of a raw chicken and the cats like all the parts, so I’ll be making less chicken soup with the “backs, necks, tails, and such” and feeding more of it to the cats. Frankly, at less than $1 a pound when the Fancy Feast costs about $.60 to $.80 per 3 ounces, I’m seriously wondering why I’m not feeding them fresh chicken all the time. Yes, they need the vitamins and the taurine that is in organ meats, but the ‘fish eyes’ and chicken livers ought to cover that…
If your cat is ‘less than stellar’ check what you are feeding them. If it is a canned fish or seafood product, or a dry food with “fish meal” in it, well, try some chicken sashimi and see if your cat perks up …
UPDATE Oct 10:
The “outdoor cat” has continued a slow weight gain and his fur is better than it had been. His demeanor is also more settled and calmer than when we were feeding some of the suspect food.
The “indoor cat” has been substantially normal for the last couple of weeks. She now “asks” to go outside by looking at the front door and waiting (something she had stopped doing) and positively bounded toward me down the sidewalk at her last entry into the house from outdoors. I can’t remember the last time she was that active. Sneezing and snivels seem to be entirely gone. Fur continues to improve and she now seems happy and content (where before she was clearly distressed).
From this wiki page:
This page is about the various kinds of “crap” that can be added to feed to raise the nitrogen (and thus the “crude protein”) percentage without being protein. The generic term for all these things is “Non-Protein Nitrogen” or NPN.
With my comments interleaved, We have:
Non-protein nitrogen as a feed additive
Further information: Non-protein nitrogen
Ruminant animals can obtain protein from at least some forms of non-protein nitrogen (NPN) through fermentation by their rumen bacteria, hence NPN is often added to their diet to supplement protein.
First off, we simply have to realize that there is a wiki page dedicated to this. That tends to mean it is not irrelevant…
Second, notice the tense. “NPN is often added”. So there is not a question of “is there or is there not NPN in feeds”. The only question is what additives and in which feeds.
Nonruminants such as cats, dogs and pigs (and humans) cannot utilize NPN. NPN are given to ruminants in the form of pelleted urea, ammonium phosphate and/or biuret. Sometimes slightly polymerized special urea-formaldehyde resin or a mixture of urea and formaldehyde (both are also known as formaldehyde-treated urea) is used in place of urea, because the former provides a better control on the nitrogen release. This practice is carried out in China and other countries, such as Finland , India and France.
So it is supposed to be done only for ruminant animal feed. OK, the same factory can have two bins of material, one adulterated and one not, and it is perfectly “legal”. And exactly how hard would it be to change a label and make more money?
FWIW, I am particularly sensitive to formaldehyde and tend to get red eyes, sneezy drippy nose, mild bronchitis, a “dull feeling” and sometimes sleepy headache feelings when around too much of it.
I first discovered this in the context of new furniture and new carpet in businesses. As Director of Facilities at one of them, I developed a “solution”, literally. Treating the new surfaces with a 50% dilution of commercial white vinegar, misted, then waiting 1/2 hour; followed by a similar misting with 50% dilution of commercial ammonia solution, with a 1/2 hour wait; then ventilating the space. Sometimes it takes 2 treatments. On one occasion after a large new “build out” I ran the heater on high for the weekend as a “bake out” (that is the actual facilities jargon for the process… that there is jargon for it says a lot.) The “bake out” works better for thick materials like pressboard where the ammonia and acetic acid vapors have a harder time penetrating.
So there is ample evidence for formaldehyde as “bad” and for individual increased sensitivity to it. At this point, my major suspect would be formaldehyde and related compounds, rather than melamine, based on the present use in feed and the known tendency for individual animals (i.e. me) to react to it. (There were other folks reacting to it too. It’s not just me, but it is a sub-population. It is part of “sick building syndrome”.)
Cyanuric acid has also been used as NPN. For example, Archer Daniels Midland manufactures an NPN supplement for cattle, which contains biuret, triuret, cyanuric acid and urea. FDA permits a certain amount of cyanuric acid to be present in some additives used in animal feed and also drinking water.
So the FDA is not going to be your guardian on this issue. And buying your feed from ADM and other reputable manufactures is no guarantee either. It also looks like we can add India, Finland, and France to the list of places where things might be sourced with “issues”.
Also notice the ever lengthening list of chemical names we’re stacking up here? Melamine, biuret, triuret, cyanuric acid, urea, formaldehyde treated urea, polymerized urea-formaldehyde resin, pelleted urea, ammonium phosphate, …
Clearly the notion of a ‘non-melamine’ contaminant is supported as very plausible, given large bins of ‘NPN contaminated’ feed sitting around the feed makers factories as ‘ruminant’ feed.
Melamine use as NPN for cattle was described in a 1958 patent. In 1978, however, a study concluded that melamine “may not be an acceptable nonprotein N source for ruminants”，because its hydrolysis in cattle is slower and less complete than other nitrogen sources such as cottonseed meal and urea.
So this also adds the possibility of non-hydrolyzed NPN accumulated in the “byproducts” added to cat food as a potential ‘source”. If you can feed the stuff to an animal who’s guts (and contents) can end up in your cat food, exactly now sure are you that none is getting into the cat food? (I really want to know if NPN can be in farmed fish food… if it is, then the ‘fish byproducts’ would almost certainly contain some. And as we saw, the FDA will say that’s fine…)
In China, it is known that ground urea-formaldehyde resin is a common adulterant in feed for non-ruminants. Domestically it is often sold under the euphemism “protein essence” (蛋白精) and is described as “one kind of new proteinnitrogen feed additive”.
OK, it is a widespread practice in China to adulterate the non-ruminant food. So we take, oh, farmed tilapia guts, NPN contaminated, and put them in cat food and?… Yes, speculation, but informed speculation. They widely farm fish in China. This citation shows widespread use of NPN adulterants in ‘non-ruminant’ feed. It’s not a leap of faith to think that an animal fed NPN will have some in it’s guts at slaughter time. And that would end up in the “byproduct” bucket.
However, urea-formaldehyde resin itself has been suggested as appropriate for use in feed for some non-ruminants in at least one UN FAO report, suggesting its use as a binder in feed pellets in aquaculture.
And BINGO! we even have the UN FAO saying to “go for it” specifically in feed pellets in aquaculture.
It sure looks to me like we have a pretty straight line of evidence connecting the practice, approved and demonstrated as happening now, of NPN in non-ruminant feeds, to the approved use in aquaculture, to the fish byproducts. The only ‘leap’ left is putting the fish byproducts into the can and putting the cat food label on it. And what does that label say? “Fish” and “byproducts”…
At this point I have to say that I think I have a hot, smoking, gun and I’m watching the trigger be pulled.
But there is more:
There is at least one report of inexpensively priced rice protein concentrate (feed grade) containing non-protein nitrogen being marketed for use in non-ruminants dating back to 2005 . In a news item on its website, Jiangyin Hetai Industrial Co., Ltd. warned its customers of low-priced “PSEUDO rice protein” for sale in the market by another unnamed supplier, noting that the contaminant could be detected by analyzing the isoelectric point. It is not clear from that report whether the contaminant in that case was melamine or some other non-protein nitrogen source or whether any contaminated rice protein concentrate made it into the food supply at that time.
On 18 Apr 2007, an ad was posted on the trading website Alibaba.com selling “Esb protein powder” in Xuzhou Anying’s name. The product is said to be protein in nature and suitable for livestock and poultry feed, yet claims a crude protein content of 160-300%. It also mentions in passing the product makes use of “NPN” which is an acronym for non-protein nitrogen. Similar ads were placed on other websites, some dated as early as 31 Oct 2005. Products with similar descriptions were also sold as “EM bacterium active protein forage” by Shandong Binzhou Xinpeng Biosciences Company  and “HP protein powder” by Shandong Jinan Together Biologic Technology Development Company.
Well, it sure looks to me like the “issue” has been fairly wide spread and active. People are not exactly afraid of retribution if they are advertizing.
Proteins, unlike most other food components, contain nitrogen, making nitrogen measurement a common surrogate for protein content. The standard tests for crude protein content used in the food industry (Kjeldahl method and Dumas method are used for official purposes) measure total nitrogen.
So the standard methods of testing is just test crude nitrogen, not actual protein. Now I know what “crude protein” on the label means. It means “test does not find adulterants and shows them as protein”
Accidental contamination and intentional adulteration of protein meals with non-protein nitrogen sources that inflate crude protein content measurements have been known to occur in the food industry for decades.
Re-read that part a couple of times. known to occur…for decades. This is not what you say about something that is a non-issue…
At least one pet food manufacturer not involved in any recalls, The Honest Kitchen, has reacted to the news of melamine contamination by announcing that it would add melamine testing to the suite of quality control tests it already conducted on all ingredients it purchases.
In at least one other segment of the food industry, the dairy industry, some countries (at least the U.S., Australia, France and Hungary), have adopted “true protein” measurement, as opposed to crude protein measurement, as the standard for payment and testing: “True protein is a measure of only the proteins in milk, whereas crude protein is a measure of all sources of nitrogen and includes nonprotein nitrogen, such as urea, which has no food value to humans. … Current milk-testing equipment measures peptide bonds, a direct measure of true protein.”
And there is an easy way to test for “the good stuff”, but it is only used in the milk industry so far (probably because a few dead babies is an even worse headline than a few sick cats, IMO). By extension, a simple “aw shit” test would be to do a “crude protein” test and a “true protein” test. The difference between the two ought to be the “crap not protein” (though it would be prudent to calibrate this by doing both on a known clean piece of meat to assure effectiveness).
Measuring peptide bonds in grains has also been put into practice in several countries including Canada, the UK, Australia, Russia and Argentina where near-infrared reflectance (NIR) technology, a type of infrared spectroscopy is used.
Notable by it’s absence from this list is the U.S.A.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recommends that only amino acid analysis be used to determine protein in, inter alia, foods used as the sole source of nourishment, such as infant formula, but also provides: “When data on amino acids analyses are not available, determination of protein based on total N content by Kjeldahl (AOAC, 2000) or similar method … is considered acceptable.”
And the UN FAO thinks you ought to be careful and thorough with baby formula, but cats? Not so much…
OK, I’m a firm believer in Hanlon’s Razor (“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”). So I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt that nobody was being malicious here. There sure does look to be one heck of a lot of stupidity, though.
But it is also clearly that case that, with no one acting maliciously nor fraudulently, we can easily have NPN “enriched” feed being fed to farmed fish (legally) and their byproducts (including some undigested feed in the gut) ending up in the “fish byproduct” that goes into the cat food can. All this can be tested to FDA guidelines and inspectors can be standing all over the place assuring nobody is putting melamine powder in the cat food or ingredients; and I can still get NPN in my cat’s dinner.
All this while following the “industry standard good practices”.
So, until further notice, no “fish byproducts” are going to be in my cat’s diet. Period.
But just to make it clear: “Human grade” might not be enough, and it might not be just your cat that is at risk:
The original Xuzhou Anying wheat gluten was “human grade,” as opposed to “feed grade,” meaning that it could have been used to make food for humans such as bread or pasta. At least one contaminated batch was used to make food for humans, but the FDA quarantined it before any was sold. The FDA also notified the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention to watch for new patients admitted to hospitals with renal failure. There have been no observed increases in human illnesses and little human food has tested as contaminated, however the FDA still has not accounted for all of the Xuzhou Anying wheat gluten.
I’m so comforted that the FDA is “protecting me” by asking the CDC to tell them if a whole slew of folks check into the hospital with kidney failure… Maybe a little more up front testing and a little less hospital watching is in order? Hmmm? (And maybe we just ought not be feeding plastics and resins and formaldehyde to animals in the first place…)
Maybe I need to find a kosher butcher… They don’t allow any of this crap in the feed.
Finally, for “Per” who seems to think anyone even thinking of putting melamine in food would be scared off by a quick threat of punishment:
Reports of widespread melamine adulteration in Chinese animal feed have raised the possibility of wider melamine contamination in the human food supply in China and abroad. Despite the widely reported ban on melamine use in vegetable proteins in China, at least some chemical manufacturers continue to report selling it for use in animal feed and in products for human consumption. Said Li Xiuping, a manager at Henan Xinxiang Huaxing Chemical in Henan Province: “Our chemical products are mostly used for additives, not for animal feed. Melamine is mainly used in the chemical industry, but it can also be used in making cakes.” 
Doesn’t seem real worried about putting melamine in ‘cakes’… So I’d expect ‘fish food binder’ that is an approved use would be a ‘no brainer’ (in more ways than one…)
On 31 May 2007, the International Herald Tribune reported that melamine has also been purposely added as a binder to fish and livestock feed manufactured in the United States and traced to suppliers in Ohio and Colorado.
So it isn’t just a China story. Looks like the world has plenty of stupid people in it on both sides of the ocean.
In the United States, five potential vectors of impact on the human food supply have been identified. The first, which has already been acknowledged to have occurred by FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture officials, is via contaminated ingredients imported for use in pet foods and sold for use as salvage in animal feed which has been fed to some number of hogs and chickens, the meat from which has been processed and sold to some number of consumers: “There is very low risk to human health” in such cases involving pork and poultry. On 1 May 2007, the FDA and USDA stated that millions of chickens fed feed tainted with contaminated pet food had been consumed by an estimated 2.5 to 3 million people.
The second potential vector is via contaminated vegetable proteins imported for intended use as animal feed, which has apparently been acknowledged to occur with regard to fish feed in Canada,
So contrary to the assertions that this is a ‘non-issue’ because the pet food industry has been so diligent about it; it looks to me like an ever blossoming issue spreading further and wider as folks continue to try feeding plastic manufacturing chemicals and resins into part of the food chain and thinking it won’t get into other parts…
Finished? Done? I think this is just getting started…
Sidebar: Aquaculture and formaldehyde binders
Think the aquaculture feed binder formaldehyde issue must be a small one? These folks make binders, and provide an alternative formulation. this page also says:
The mostly widely used binders are urea formaldehyde, wheat gluten and gelatin.
So it’s in the “big three” and listed in the #1 position. (Though it is not clear if position has rank meaning).
They go on to note:
Urea formaldehyde is a synthetic binder with no nutritional value. Fish or shrimp cannot digest it. Instead it adds nitrogen (false protein) to the diet that ends up as ammonia in the ponds.
In the process, formaldehyde is bound to the NH2 group of urea to form a polymer. However, the formaldehyde can also bind to other amine (NH2) groups in other products such as melamine or amino acids. Formaldehyde is a cross-linking agent which inactivates, stabilizes or immobilizes proteins. Urea formaldehyde has been shown to react with the amino group of N-terminal amino acid residue and the sidechains of arginine, cysteine, histidine and lysine residues. Furthermore, urea formaldehyde is not permitted either in the EU and the USA, leaving only wheat gluten and gelatin as real options in these regions.
Gee, why am I not happy at the idea of this in my cat’s food dish…
Notice in particular that it only lists the EU and USA as forbidding it, and it is not digested in the pond. So all those shrimp aquaculture operations in the east with all those shrimp byproducts to get rid of…
All in all there seems to be ample evidence for NPN getting into “fish” or “seafood” and other byproducts.