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The safety of today’s pet foods is critically important to pet parents. The acute situation which occurred approximately two years ago with the melamine contamination caused many of us to re-assess our understanding of the safety factor of the nutrition we supply our pets.

One aspect of pet food safety many of us tend to over-look is what happens to these products as they age. Dry, extruded pet food (kibbles) is the most common type of pet food fed to pets. Fats and/or oils (animal or vegetable) are sprayed on the surface of the food in order to increase palatability, supply essential fatty acids and add a concentrated source of energy. Many of the synthetic preservatives added to fat in order to retard fat break-down and maintain freshness have been shown to have toxic effects on animals. The good news is the premium pet food industry has almost universally changed to natural preservatives, such as tocopherols (vitamin E), citric acid, rosemary and other natural ingredients. The bad news is more and more pet food companies have substituted unsaturated fats, such as chicken fat and vegetable oils, for more stable animal (beef) tallow. These unsaturated fats and oils are much more susceptible to degradation than the fats previously used.

Unfortunately, natural preservatives do not protect the fats and oil as well as their more toxic synthetic counterparts. Thus, in exchange for pet foods with no toxic preservatives, we have products that will lose freshness at an accelerated rate. The endproducts of fat breakdown are called free-radicals and they have been shown to have cancer-producing properties in many scientific studies.

Thus, it’s very important to insure that the food you purchase for your pet is fresh. A recent industry report states that the average age of pet foods on the retailer’s shelf is 5–6 months. While most natural pet foods carry a 12–18 month expiration date, it is quite likely that the natural preservatives used will not protect the food for this length of time.

Pet parents concerned about this development have two choices…make their own pet food, or make sure the pet food they purchase is fresh. Making food yourself is a difficult, time consuming endeavor. Pet food nutritionists, such as myself, spend a tremendous amount of time insuring the products we formulate are nutritionally complete and balanced according to the most up-to-date research available. As the saying goes, “Don’t try this at home…”.

A more viable alternative is to buy the freshest food available. Check the “best buy” dates on the bag and try to purchase product with at least six months left. Alternatively, there are a few manufacturers that sell products directly to consumers from their online Web sites. These products will be the freshest available.

Martin Glinsky, Ph.D., is a widely respected pet food nutritionist. Visit

Martin Glinsky, PhD

Martin Glinsky, Ph.D. (Dr. G) is considered one of the premier pet nutritionists in the country. He received his undergraduate education at Cornell University and his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Illinois, specializing in Animal Nutrition and Nutritional Biochemistry.

He has lectured extensively around the world on pet nutrition and dietary formulation and started his own pet food manufacturing company in 1980, specializing in holistic and organic pet foods. His expertise in formulating, manufacturing, analyzing and testing of nutritional products for pets is well known and respected.