Pet food: Researchers finding unexpected dangers

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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) We may worry about our pets' health as much as we do our own and we trust the pet food manufacturers and their labels to help us make wise decisions for them. But what do we really know?

Researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno have also been pondering that question and they've begun looking for answers.

Initial results of a pilot study are, well, worrisome.

"In our first 100 samples that we analyzed,16 of those samples had mercury concentrations that were well above the maximum tolerable limit," says Dr. Sarrah Dunham-Cheatham.

Most of those high mercury levels were found in fish-based cat foods, tuna certainly. That came me as little surprise.

Tuna is known to contain mercury. That's why adult humans are advised to limit consumption to a couple cans a month. But consider how much your cat is getting.

"The cat is eating the same can of food, one or two cans of food, every day, every meal because that's their favorite food and that's compared to human consumption of two cans per month to 30 or 120 cans per month. We're looking at a huge difference of how much mercury that can is consuming."

And it's not only food labeled as tuna. It's shown up in products with salmon, white fish and shrimp. And it's not only cat food.

"We're finding it in dog food and cat food, wet and dry."

That's not all. Genetic testing in some samples casts further doubt on pet food labeling.

"A well known, common brand of pet food labeled 'Duck and Potato' we found to contain sheep, which was not listed on the ingredients label."

That could be a serious matter for some animals with certain sensitivities.

With preliminary results like this, a full study would seem to be warranted, but attempts to find funding from either government or industry have failed.

Dr. Mae Sexauer Gustin says she thinks she knows why.

"I've been doing research here for 25 years. I do mercury research and that word sends people up the wall. If you're going to fund me, I'm going to say what I find, good or bad."

And, it means questions, she believes, that no one in the industry or government wants to answer.

"They'd have to pay attention and regulate it."

So, the researchers are turning to the potential source with the biggest stake in finding the answers--the pet-owning public--through crowd sourcing.

"We think it's important. We'd like to know the answer to these things and we think this is the best way to go."

You can learn more and follow their research on their Facebook page.

In the meantime, both say their best advice is to feed your pet a variety or foods and cut down, if you can, fish-based formulas, especially tuna.