Do you know what’s in your pet’s food? It could be mold, chicken feathers or euthanasia drugs

ATLANTA — Your pets might be eating poison. Channel 11′s sister station WSB-TV found many unusual ingredients in common dog and cat foods sold in grocery stores.

Things like mold, chicken feathers and even euthanasia drugs have been found in some wet and dry cat and dog foods, despite FDA rules to protect pets.

“He’s doing great. Huh? You’re doing great,” said Nikki Mael about her dog Tito. He’s one of five dogs Mael rushed to the vet in 2016 after giving them a can of dog food. Within 15 minutes, they could barely breathe.

“By the time we got to the vet, they were lethargic. It had to be the food because I didn’t give them anything else but the food,” said Mael.

One of her dogs, Tallulah, died.

Tests at a FDA lab later showed the canned dog food had pentobarbital in it. “Euthanasia solution pentobarbital, it’s been found in many, many pet foods,” said Dr. Judy Morgan, a veterinarian and a nationally known animal advocate.

Morgan said a lot of pet food companies use tainted and diseased animals for meat. “These diseased animals may have been euthanized with euthanasia solution and that does not disintegrate in that rendering and cooking process,” said Morgan.

“We don’t know what we’re buying. And to me that is unforgivable,” said pet food consumer advocate Susan Thixton. She has spent a decade researching and advocating for better pet foods after what her vet told her about her own dog Samantha. “He told me that the cancer was probably caused by a chemical preservative added to the pet food to extend the shelf life,” said Thixton.

Along with preservatives, many pet foods also contain toxins like mold. And don’t be fooled by the packaging: when it says real chicken inside, it might just be chicken feathers. “It is a hydrolyzed poultry protein product, so that a pet owner wouldn’t be able to tell that is chicken feathers in the food,” said Morgan.

The FDA regulates pet foods, but doesn’t always take action against violators and doesn’t always alert consumers about possible issues. The FDA declined our request for an on-camera interview.

“We’re not asking them to pull a rabbit out of their hat and do something that’s going to cost a lot of money. We’re simply asking for the law to be enforced,” said Thixton.

The Pet Food Institute, which represents pet food manufacturers, says the industry follows strict safety and health guidelines. They released this statement:

“Pet owners have a variety of options when selecting food for their dog and cat, and pet food makers work internally and with their ingredient suppliers to ensure safety. As providers of the sole source of nutrition for many of America’s dogs and cats, members of the Pet Food Institute (PFI) take seriously their responsibility to provide safe and nutritionally balanced pet food. This includes working closely with their supply chain, regularly auditing suppliers and setting strict specifications for ingredients.

Beyond these steps, pet food is also one of the most highly regulated food products in the U.S., including at the federal and state level. The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which is the national food safety law, ensures a proactive approach to food safety and requires all U.S. pet food makers to implement good manufacturing practices, take necessary safety precautions, and maintain a written food safety plan. Pet food ingredients are also defined and regulated at either the federal or state level.

When creating a complete and balanced recipe that provides total nutrition, pet food makers will consider a variety of factors as they select ingredients. Some considerations include nutritional content, tastiness to the pet and preference to the pet owner. The final information about the food’s nutrition and ingredients can be found on the strictly regulated pet food label, which includes a full ingredient list in descending order by weight and a nutritional adequacy statement.”

Every animal advocate our sister station WSB-TV talked to said you’re better off shopping at local boutique pet stores that offer raw and human-grade food. Victoria Park started her own boutique business in East Atlanta Village after she switched her dog Harley’s diet to combat a skin condition. “It was a matter of weeks before I noticed an improvement,” said Park.

She said transitioning your pet to human-grade food may take several tries, especially since many regular pet foods contain addictive ingredients. “They add a lot of artificial salts, sugars to get that animal addicted to that food,” said Park.

Animal advocates said all those additives combined with chemicals and toxins can lead to major health problems. “All these toxins that we’re seeing in pet food are contributing to more cancers. Mold, toxins cause liver failure in our pets,” said Morgan.

Exposure to euthanasia drugs in pet foods not only can make them sick but also can kill them. Nikki Mael’s case prompted a recall by the brand she used. But she and others said euthanized animals are still getting slaughtered to feed pets. “It’s made people aware of what is going on in dog food, but I don’t believe anything is being done as far as the FDA,” said Mael.

In the meantime, Mael is no longer buying canned dog food. “Honestly, I would say make time to make your own. You just don’t know what’s out there,” said Mael.

A woman recorded cellphone video of piles of animal carcasses waiting to be rendered in the middle of the night for pet food.