When our story went to air (1990)....
Over the past several years, dog food companies have
developed premium dog foods for purebreds. Some of the foods — developed
to improve the health of these dogs — contain a chemical preservative
many breeders believe may be causing serious disorders in purebreds.
It's called ethoxyquin. Some say it can make dogs very
sick. In the 10 years before our story aired, there was an increase in
immune system disorders in some dogs — everything from minor skin
irritations to deformed litters. Some people are blaming ethoxyquin for
their dogs' ailments.
Ethoxyquin was originally developed as a rubber
stabilizer. The Monsanto corporation later refined it for use as a
preservative in animal feeds. Most dog foods contained very little of
the chemical. But in the late 1980s, many companies that were making
high performance foods began adding extra ethoxyquin. The foods contain
more fat than regular dog foods, and the companies found the chemical to
be a cheaper, more effective way to extend the shelf-life of their
product. Not long after, some breeders were finding their dogs were
developing unusual disorders.
One breeder in Massachusetts, who has bred dogs for 30
years, found that her collies started developing problems. They
developed skin lesions, allergies they never had before, lack of
pigmentation in their nose, runny eyes, poor coat quality, listlessness.
She switched foods, but the problem worsened. Bitches
were giving birth to deformed and still-born litters. Her prized stud
dog was bleeding from the mouth. His throat looked like raw hamburger.
He was leaving bloody paw prints in the snow.
Test results concluded the dog had been exposed to a
The breeder switched her dogs to a food without
ethoxyquin. The results were dramatic. She wrote an article about what
happened, and soon received dozens of letters and phone calls from dog
owners with similar experiences.
Another breeder lost 70 puppies and adult dogs before
her vet suggested she take her animals off food containing ethoxyquin.
The health of her dogs improved, but she was bitter. She and her husband
began to do research on ethoxyquin. Other breeders came forward with
An internationally recognized expert in blood disorders
in animals, Dr. Jean Dodds, said she noticed an increase in auto-immune
disorders among dogs. She traced the problems to a change in diet. The
change was the addition of ethoxyquin as the major preservative for most
of the premium commercial pet foods. She found when she took animals off
food containing the chemical, their problems cleared up. Her subsequent
research found that ethoxyquin works as a trigger in some animals that
sets off auto-immune diseases. She says purebreds are especially
The only long-term study done on dogs was conducted by
Monsanto, the company that first refined ethoxyquin for use in animal
feeds. The study was done in the 1950s and 60s and, by today's
standards, seems unsophisticated. When the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration began receiving calls from concerned dog owners, it took
another look at the study. The FDA decided not to intervene. It
concluded that since ethoxyquin had been in use for 30 years, the
complaints from dog owners carried no weight. Monsanto stood by its
Dr. Dodds says no study done in the 1950s is valid now
because scientific and medical requirements for conducting a study are
different today. The absence of any studies proving ethoxyquin causes
disease, leads some members of the veterinary community to not share
concerns about the chemical. Some find the anecdotal evidence not
compelling, and see ethoxyquin as simply the cause of the day. Dr. Dodds
insists the increase in environmental challenges today may have caused
things that were safe 20 years ago, to be unsafe today.
There are no special regulations in Canada controlling
pet food. So, products sold here are the same as in the U.S. That means
most dog food sold in Canada contains extra ethoxyquin. Natural
alternatives to the chemical include Vitamins C and E, though products
using them as preservatives have a shorter shelf-life. Some experts fear
eliminating ethoxyquin will only increase the risk that food will go bad
and people will end up feeding spoiled food to their pets.
Many breeders want ethoxyquin tested again. In an
attempt to calm the fears of some dog breeders, Monsanto announced the
launch of a new long-term dog study run by a private laboratory.
Although the FDA's official position on ethoxyquin is that it's safe, it
has recommended that another government agency conduct new tests.
Labels on dog food aren't much help. Some dog foods do
list ethoxyquin as an ingredient. But a label that doesn't list it, is
no guarantee that the product is free of the chemical. Your best bet is
to talk to the people at your local pet food store.
Since our story (update)
In July 1997, after assessing the results of the latest
study on ethoxyquin, the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine asked that
the maximum amount of the preservative be voluntary reduced to 75 parts
per million in complete dog foods. The FDA says the earlier limit of 150
ppm "may not provide an adequate margin of safety in lactating female
dogs and possibly puppies." But the study showed ethoxyquin levels of
150 ppm had no adverse effects on reproduction.
Pet food still isn't regulated in Canada. The Canadian
Veterinary Medical Association has a voluntary certification program for
pet food. It certifies the food, and its seal goes on the bag to say the
food meets nutritional standards.
The CVMA says it has no position on ethoxyquin. The Pet
Food Institute, representing pet food manufacturers in the U.S.,
conducted a study designed to show that ethoxyquin is effective at
levels between 30 and 60 parts per million.
The results of the study are currently being analyzed,
but the Pet Food Institute says there is no safety issue with ethoxyquin
at the 75 ppm level. It also says that all manufacturers complied with
the FDA's request to limit ethoxyquin to that amount.
[Editor's Note: We present this article as information
about Ethoxyquin. We do not support or promote further testing on this
chemical. Not only should there be enough data available from those who
have already used it, but no animal should have to suffer in order for
product manufacturers to increase shelf life of their product.]
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