The Cat Sneezes
This posting is going to be a little different from most, for me.
On another posting, I had put forth the health issues of my cats and what was involved in their sickness as something of a mixed “heads up” and “plea for more ideas”. Well, it worked.
The end of that “public kitchen science exploration” was a fairly good working thesis that what is causing the “problem” is NPN (or Non Protein Nitrogen) in the form of urea-formaldehyde (or just formaldehyde; or both) in approved feed for ruminants (in places like France) and aquacultured fish (in places like Asia, but imported as a contaminant in ‘byproducts’ and similar processed additives labeled ‘fish’ into the USA). This ‘feed’ is in the gut of the animal being farmed when it is slaughtered. Those “guts” end up in the “byproducts” as does the Formaldehyde or Urea-Formaldehyde from their approved feed.
This is not good for some cats.
Those byproducts then go into the food cans that you buy and feed to your cat. Some cats, mine among them, react rather a lot to formaldehyde in the food (assuming my thesis is valid and we can show that formaldehyde does end up in the food cans and bags).
The breakthrough moment came when a gentleman in France said his cat had similar symptoms, but not on the “fish” that made mine sick; rather on ruminant based feeds like beef. In France, formaldehyde can be put in ruminant feed, but not in aquaculture fish feed. In Asia it can be used as a “binder” in fish feed pellets. (That ends in up in Pacific coast USA cat foods). That symmetry is rather exquisite.
So, what is the nature of this posting? Two things. An open letter to pet food manufacturers and advice to pet owners from someone dealing with the issue right now along with a request for communal action to show that it really is formaldehyde in the food cans and probably in the dry foods as well.
Open Letter to Pet Food Makers
Please test your ingredients for the presence of Formaldehyde or Urea-Formaldehyde contamination. In good faith, you have bought “byproducts” that I’m sure you believed to be “clean” and “pure”, but they are not. You may be completely unaware of it, but urea-formaldehyde is approved in many countries as a “Non Protein Nitrogen or NPN” feed additive. In France, it can be added to ruminant feed. In many places is Asia, it can be used as a ‘binder’ in fish feed pellets.
The problem, I believe, is that such feed is still in the digestive system of those farmed animals when they are slaughtered. The feed and the internal organs of the animal all end up in the “by product” bin. That then ends up in your ingredients, and thus, in your cat or dog food.
And some animals are fairly sensitive to formaldehyde, even to the point of dying. My cat is one of them. She was very close to dying when I figured this out. Formaldehyde simply does not work well for many animals as a food. It is, after all, used in embalming fluids and laboratory preservatives and has been indicated as part of “sick building syndrome”; probably not what you want associated with your product.
I would suggest that you test your ingredients for the presence of these contaminants and inform your suppliers that they are unwelcome. Further, NPN such as urea-formaldehyde, tests as “protein” in the standard “crude protein test”. This gives an incentive to your suppliers to send you bad ingredients. There is a ‘true protein test’ that looks only for peptide bonds and will tell you the actual protein content in your suppliers ingredients. Please use the “true protein test” on your suppliers ingredients and only pay for the real protein you are buying, not for plastics resins and fertilizer chemicals. This will help you to discourage such contamination, since it removes the incentive to included NPN in the “byproducts” or to feed the fish or ruminants just prior to slaughter to increase mass and “protein” content on the present tests. It also ought to reduce your costs, since you will not be paying “protein prices” for nitrogen fertilizers or embalming chemicals.
I have reserved several cans of product from several vendors that cause my cat to become ill. When it is possible to do a controlled test, I will have these tested for formaldehyde and related materials. No, I don’t intend to sue anyone. I believe that you, in good faith, bought ingredients that you did not know contained these contaminants. However, at this point you have been given notice. In 6 months I will be collecting additional samples for testing. What happens then will depend on the results of those tests.
So please, take this opportunity to test your ingredients for unwanted contents of “ruminant feed” or “fish feed” that are not approved for the species that will be eating your foods. And take appropriate action.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
E. M. Smith
What you can do
First off, you can make a similar letter and send it to your pet food supplier. Customize it for your particular circumstances. Feel free to cite my experience if your cat is showing no symptoms, but make it clear that you care about your pet and what they are eating and that formaldehyde is not considered a good ingredient, even if a contaminant.
Second, if you have a sick cat, please post what foods cause the issue for your cat and where you are. Geography matters, since each country has different rules and different sources for materials. We can, together, create a map of what is good where, and what is not.
And Third: Read labels even on the cat or dog food. Both the front and the back.
Finally, if you have a cat that is “having issues” as described here, try feeding them a food that does not contain the likely suspect “by products” for your location. Find out what food makes your cat most healthy, and let us know. For my cats, it looks like raw fish, raw chicken, and the non-fish canned foods. For France, it looks like the “fish” is ok, but the ruminant foods are contaminated. It may take few tries, but we can identify what works.
My cat has ‘sneezy drippy’ episodes in about 24 hours after eating “bad” or “suspect” foods. If fed these foods for more than a day, she begins to have digestive system issues that can include ‘runs’ and ‘constipation’ along with occasional “hurking” (a non-vomiting attempt to expel stomach contents) or vomiting. Eventually (a few days) she gets sunken drippy eyes, weight loss, appetite loss, lethargy and approaches death. When fed ‘good foods’, she has doubled her weight back to near normal, has bright eyes and little digestive issues, eats a great deal more, and has much more energy. Her stool is more normal and regular as well. The reaction is “dose dependent” and if fed a broad mix of foods she can have the odd “off day” that seems to make no sense until you start monitoring the feeding history.
For my cat, this began close to 2 years ago. My vet diagnosed “sinus infection” and we went through a couple of rounds of antibiotics. Her mucus changed from greenish to whitish, but did not stop. (indicating a secondary bacterial infection that was cleared, but some basic problem that was not resolved.) the vet suggested pulling a few of her teeth on the presumption this would potentially remove a source of infection via the tooth roots. I’m very glad to have found it is food related prior to having a toothless cat…
It would be “worth it” to print a copy of this posting and present it to your vet if your cat is “‘having issues” that involve sneezing, mucus, “sinus infection” and weight loss. Especially if the vet is advising pulling teeth since the antibiotics did not cure the “sinus infection”…
For me, on the west coast of the USA, the major suspect ingredient is “fish”. This is sometimes on the label as just “fish” ( the “9 Lives” Chicken contains “fish” as a minor ingredient and after about a week on this food as the only food my cat becomes mildly ill and starts sneezing again). Some foods, like “Friskies Ocean Whitefish and Tuna” have much more and she becomes ill much faster. I recently bought 3 cans of “Natural Value” cat food that did not have “fish” on the front; they were things like “Beef” and “Chicken”. These caused my cat to become ill in 2 to 3 days. On reading the back of the label, it lists “Fish Protein Concentrate” . You can not depend on the front of the label to tell you what is in the can.
You also can not depend on brand. Fancy Feast Chicken Pate works just fine for my cat. The fish varieties from Fancy Feast do not. “Friskies Ocean Whitefish and Tuna” makes my cat ill, but the “Friskies Mixed Grill” lists no fish on the ingredients list and seems to be OK. (I’m starting a feeding trial now). And it is likely to vary by geographic region and source of ingredients. As noted above, in France where formaldehyde is “OK” in beef feed, but banned in fish feed, it is the beef that causes “issues”. Your geography matters. The west coast of the USA is a fast boat ride from China; the east coast “not so much”…
What the Cat Thinks Matters
The cats ( I have 2 ) recognize the good vs the bad food. I don’t know if this is by smell, or just remembering what made them sick. In either case, let your pet tell you what foods they want, and what foods are unwelcome. As mentioned above, in France the formaldehyde can be in ruminant (i.e. beef and lamb) byproducts while in Asia it will be in fish byproducts.
My cats do very well on raw fish and chicken (as much as it distresses me to feed it to them. I would really rather give them commercial canned food). They relish this “sashimi”. I will be giving them more of it. I’m also looking for “home made” cat food recipes, so if you have any, lets share.
In all cases, if your cat is not doing well, try changing their food. In particular, try giving them some more natural and non-processed foods (and don’t just see the word “Natural” on the label and trust it like I did…) Feeding my cats some “people food” of fish and chicken was part of how I figured out that the cat food was the issue.
And finally, if you, or someone you know, has the facilities to test foods for the presence of formaldehyde or urea-formaldehyde (either as a distinct chemical or as the slightly polymerized resin used in some feeds) please take a few cans of food (or some dry food) and test it. I will be looking for a “friendly mass spectrometer” available for my use or a “neighborhood formaldehyde test kit” or, worst case, figuring out how to do the quantitative chemistry myself ( I love chemistry, but quant, not so much ;-) but if some one of you is a cat lover and has access and skills to do the test, please do so and post the results here. We, as a community of cat lovers, have a lot of resources available to us. All we need to do is share the load and find the answers… so consider that you, too, might have something to contribute to our furry friends. Maybe they can not test for formalin, but we can do it for them…
I will be looking into formaldehyde test kits, but so far they are several hundred dollars and aimed at testing air quality. It will take me a few months to get to an answer. Someone who does this kind of work (chemical testing) for a living could have an answer in days and make thousands of cats lives better… So maybe, just maybe, this is your chance to be a hero. “Hero Chemistry Geek” has a certain charm to it, yes?