Canine Label Wars: Santa Checks His List Twice. You Should Too.

Image Doctor Dog

Yet another disturbing case has surfaced this morning about how a lack of industry standards is making it tough on canine caregivers and dog lovers everywhere to make informed, educated, and safe decisions. CBC News published an article this morning about Costco selling, and continuing to sell, a jerky–treat product that has been linked by a veterinarian to renal failure and death, in as little as three weeks of starting to ingest the products.

What does this mean for us? I would like to believe that no canine-caregiver would ever intentionally feed, or harm a dog by feeding it something toxic or known to be toxic. Obviously animal cruelty cases exist, but what about the population of caregivers who are genuinely proactive, who try to ensure that they understand the products they are supplying for their canine?

The easiest way is to read the labels on everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. I grew up in a family who was taught to read and understand labels when we were at the grocery store. Later, as I grew into a young teenager pulled in many directions by brands, slogans, and promises for goods, this practice translated from food-related items, to all kinds of consumer goods. It seems simple that the quality of whole products are affected by its parts and that understanding these differences should be straight forward, but things get messy when governmental regulations, standards across countries, and the drive to make a profit are injected into the equation.

Let’s start with food and edible products: First off, never take the front message of the package at face value. Turn it over and get right into the nitty gritty of the ingredients list. Read everything, even the small print at the bottom just to make sure you know the whole story. The front of the package is there to sell you; the back of the package is there to inform you. Natural, Organic, Pet-Friendly, not tested on animals, etc. are widely used terms that draw us in, but these terms rarely give us the whole story. In the CBC article, the jerky treat in question has a label on the front that says “quality checked in Canada certified laboratories” but, in actuality, the testing had been done in China. While this statement was likely not completely fabricated, the more complex the story becomes, the higher the chance that brand messaging isn’t revealing all the details.

To truly “read” the ingredients, make sure you understand what the ingredients in the products are for. I use this rule of thumb: If I cannot understand the first five ingredients on the list, the product goes back on the shelf. Ingredients higher on the list compose a larger percentage of that particular product than ingredients lower on the list. Simplicity is best.

For non-edible products such as stuffies, bowls, balls, puzzles, and ropes, the same due diligence applies. Look at where the product was made. Why does this matter? Each country has different policies when it comes to manufacturing processes. Companies manufacture or source in other countries because it is profitable to do so, and it is up to those companies to ensure that their own countries standards are upheld in the final product. While many industries have developed tests and standards, the pet industry is not one of those yet. How do you get around that? Shop Local!! Many companies are very proud of their heritage, of their products, and the high-end “ingredients” or “parts” that go into making their final products. Again simplicity is best. Single ingredient balls (e.g. high grade rubber) manufactured in Canada will likely have less variation in all aspects of the product than a toy composed of multiple ingredients (e.g. rubber and plastic) that was manufactured in one country, assembled in another, and sold in yet another.

There is no easy answer for canine caregivers as we navigate the ever-expanding world of pet-related products except be vigilant and read the labels, stay educated, and let others know when you have found that amazing product! Whistleblowing on poorly constructed products and/or unsafe food is how recalls get started, and how we can all help keep our dogs safe!