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Review of the 2007 Melamine Pet Food Recall

Dogs are obligate carnivores, which means that they need some sort of protein in their diet in order to survive. But did you know that not all protein is created equal? The protein that goes into dog food can come from various sources and is usually the most expensive ingredient in pet food manufacturing. This became a problem in 2007 as there was a substantial recall on pet food tainted with “fake protein” called melamine. This blog will provide a quick overview of the 2007 melamine crisis and why it is so important for pet owners to watch for recalls on certain pet foods.

What is protein?

At its core, protein is just a nitrogen based compound. This goes for protein from any source, animal or plant based. The protein content of pet food is measured as total nitrogen in food. This is why the “crude protein” listed on pet food can sometimes be misleading, as the nitrogen that is analyzed may not actually be from protein.

Magnifying glass hovering over periodic table highlighting nitrogen


2007 pet food recall

In mid 2007, a recall was issued on a number of pet food products from a variety of brands. It was reported that a chinese distributor had added a compound called melamine to wheat germ, an ingredient used in some pet food. Melamine, as a nitrogen-containing compound, was added in order to boost the apparent protein of the product, in a process termed “nitrogen doping”. Since melamine is a nitrogen based chemical, it was initially just tested as protein. Unfortunately, the wheat germ was sold to a number of North American pet food companies, which used the tainted product in their pet food without any knowledge of it’s false authenticity.

Melamine is a toxic compound, with an original purpose to be used in plastic manufacturing. Even with a FDA recall of over 100 pet food brands, there were already many animals who suffered severe kidney toxicity or died. Some other related symptoms reported of the melamine toxicity were lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Pouting Shepard mix canine with dried kibble spread around


Take home message

In this instance, it was not the specific pet food companies fault that their product was compromised but instead the pernicious intentions of the ingredient distributor. Melamine is not a compound that would normally be found in pet food and is not something that is usually tested for. As a result, there was no way for the pet food companies to know that their product was compromised until it was too late. Regardless, the 2007 melamine crisis still resulted in the illness and death in a number of pets across North America.

The best way for pet owners to ensure the safety of their pets is to be aware of recalls like this. The FDA lists all recalls on their website and are always reporting on any potential dangers to pet nutrition.

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References 

Geiger, A. and Weber, L. 2019. The influence of toxic nitrogenous compounds in canine and feline diets on nitrogen retention and cardiovascular function. Thesis.

Skinner, C.G., J.D. Thomas, and J.D. Osterloh. 20120. Melamine toxicity. Journal of Medical

Toxicology. 6:50-55.

Thompson, M.E., M.R. Lewin-Smith, V.F. Kalasinsky, K.M. Pizzolato, M.L. Fleetwood, M.R.

McElhaney, and T.O. Johnson. 2008. Characterization of melamine-containing and calcium

oxalate crystals in three dogs with suspected pet food-induced nephrotoxicosis. Veterinary

Pathology. 45:417-426.

Lund, K.H., and J.H. Petersen. 2006. Migration of formaldehyde and melamine monomers from

kitchen-and tableware made of melamine plastic. Food additives and contaminants. 23:948-955.

Cianciolo, R.E., K. Bischoff, J.G. Ebel, T.J. Van Winkle, R.E. Goldstein, and L.M. Serfilippi.

2008. Clinicopathologic, histologic, and toxicologic findings in 70 cats inadvertently exposed to

pet food contaminated with melamine and cyanuric acid. Journal of the American Veterinary

Medical Association. 233:729-737.

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