Food for thought: What have you been feeding your pet?

CLEVELAND - FOX 8 investigates a little known Ohio law with a shocking truth: deceased animals including your dog or cat can legally be used in pet food.

DanaMarie Pannella is an associate attorney with Holland and Muirden, a firm seeking and advocating for better protection of animals.

"We get lots of calls claiming that pet food has either injured or killed their pet," said Pannella.

Ohio Revised Code (ORC) 941.14 refers to the disposal of dead or destroyed animals. It lists legal ways to discard deceased animals including burial. In November, FOX 8 reported how many of those dead animals end up in landfills.

"It's legal to dispose of animals as raw rendering material and what that means is it's meat unfit for human consumption," said Panella. "That material is legally allowed to be sold to dog kennels and pet food manufacturing facilities, so essentially your dog and cat could be eating euthanized dogs and cats."

According to ORC 953.26, pertaining to the processing of animal parts and by products regulates the sale and transfer of, raw rendering material, which is unfit for human consumption. The law allows the sale of raw rendering material to pet food manufacturers and others.

A spokesperson with the Ohio Department of Agriculture told FOX 8, officials who vet rendering facilities say euthanized pets are not in pet food, based on inspections they conduct.

Christine McCoy is the owner of the Natural Pet Enrichment Center in North Royalton and says she holds the food in her store to the highest of standards.

"Diseased, dying, disabled and dead -- those are the four Ds that can be put in pet foods today," said McCoy.

Documents obtained from the Ohio Department of Agriculture show some of the companies licensed in Ohio to purchase raw rendering material. According to the information provided, some supply materials for major pet food corporations. A list of materials includes carcasses and other items.

"The company names were sometimes unclear as to where and how that meat is being collected," said Pannella. "What is being collected and how it's being used? Who it's being sold to?"

"Many pet foods have animal byproducts or animal fat, or rendered products in them," said McCoy. "It doesn't describe what the animal is; you have a right to know what you are feeding your pets."

A spokesperson for the FDA sent the following statement:

"The FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) received approximately 8,060 complaints for pet foods (including pet treats), between Jan. 23, 2013 and Jan. 23, 2018. This includes reports received through FDA’s Safety Reporting Portal, as well as through the District Offices and a small number other ways, including our adverse drug event reporting forms."

"Pet food reports received over the past five years include illnesses and/or product problems without reported illness, such as the presence of foreign material, or mold in the product. Among the wide variety of pet illnesses reported to FDA’s CVM, gastrointestinal signs (such as vomiting and diarrhea) are reported most commonly. In some cases, the product fed may not have been responsible for the reported signs; complaint numbers are provided without the demonstration of a causal association to the reported product."

According to Pannella, many pet owners do not file complaints with the FDA when their pets get sick because they simply don't have the information they need. It starts with saving the bag that your pet food came in. The two things you need to look for are the production code and the barcode. The FDA's website states the packaging contains important information needed to identify where and when the food was made.

"We've seen reports over the last couple of years of pets who have gotten sick from eating pentobarbital that's contained in pet food," said Pannella. "What that is, is essentially a euthanasia drug."

Just last year the FDA recalled several brands after samples tested positive for the euthanasia drug.

The FDA addressed the issue of pentobarbital in pet food to FOX 8 via the following statement:

"Please note that 19 years ago, the FDA collected dry dog food samples to determine whether products contained pentobarbital. The sampling was not representative of the entire pet food market because the sample collectors specifically sought out dry dog foods with certain animal-derived ingredients. The sampling method and the age of the data generated by the survey means that the data cannot be used to draw inferences about dog food being produced and sold in the U.S. today. The FDA has not surveyed pet foods for the presence of pentobarbital since that time. However, there is currently no tolerance for pentobarbital in pet food, meaning its detection renders the product adulterated (therefore, the substance should not be present in pet foods at all)."

When it comes to the health and wellbeing of pets McCoy says the more owners know the better.

"Once you have the knowledge there's really no going back you have to feed better," said McCoy.