Ten years ago this month, hundreds of dogs and cats began dying after mysterious crystals blocked their kidneys. The stricken pets had all eaten pet food adulterated with melamine and cyanuric acid by a China-based ingredient supplier. The reaction to that tragedy still shapes the pet food industry today.

Pet food professionals from trade organizations, major brands, equipment manufacturers and others shared their observations on the effects of the 2007 pet food recalls with Petfood Industry. Beyond increasing scrutiny of pet food suppliers and testing for safety, consumer demands and legislative requirements were influenced by the melamine tragedy, they said.

Melamine and cyanuric acid pet food tragedy

On March 16, 2007, Menu Foods, a contract pet food manufacturer, issued its first recall of cuts-in-gravy-style dog and cat foods. Dogs and cats were dying of kidney failure, but no one knew the cause. The recalls would swell to more than 60 million containers from nearly 100 brands. Superpremium and economy brands alike were involved, but they had one commonality. Most had been thickened with what formulators thought was wheat gluten.

Instead of wheat gluten, the pet foods actually contained wheat flour spiked with melamine and cyanuric acid, industrial chemicals meant to make the flour seem to have the higher protein content of wheat gluten in tests. Neither chemical is highly dangerous alone, but pathologists eventually realized the two made a deadly pair.

After eating that adulterated food, dogs’ and cats’ bodies became chemistry labs where melamine reacted with cyanuric acid to form…

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