Science and Technology: The Hazards of Heavy Metals in Pet Foods

° Сats are sensitive to mercury, the levels of which can vary widely among different fish used for pet food. According to Shawn Wittenberg, founder of Pure Cravings, depending on the waters the fish lives in and what it eats, two fish of the same species, age and size can have completely different levels of mercury. Pet Age recently spoke with Wittenberg to find out about his dedication to feline health and how Pure Cravings got involved tests every single tuna, salmon and other fish in its cat food.

How are heavy metals in pet food ingredients harmful to pets?

Heavy metals are toxic and can affect a cat’s health in alarming ways. Mercury is a neurotoxin that damages dense tissues such as organs and the brain. There are currently no state standards for heavy metals in pet food; as a result, pet food can have up to 670 times more heavy metals than human food. Cats can develop high levels of mercury through their diet, leading to mercury accumulation problems such as hyperthyroidism, neurological disorders, kidney failure and cancer. As cats age, the effects of chronic overexposure to mercury become even more severe, especially in cats over 12 years of age. Many of these health conditions are irreversible, so pet parents should take precautions to ensure pets have limited intake of heavy metal toxins, such as mercury.

Signs that your cat may be experiencing mercury toxicity include ataxia (difficulty walking without wobbling); loss of coordination; convulsions; hypermetria (involuntary movements); nystagmus (involuntary, rapid movement of the eyes back and forth); depression of the nervous system; and paralysis. If your pet is experiencing any of these symptoms, contact your veterinarian immediately for help.

Why does Pure Cravings test every single fish that goes into their canned cat food?

Mercury is a natural element that has always been in the environment; however, through the world’s use of coal-fired power, mercury levels in the oceans have more than tripled in the past 75 years. As for fish, the level of mercury in two fish of the same size and from the same school can vary more than 10 times. As a result, the only way to truly protect cats from excess mercury is to test each fish to a strict mercury limit.

We have developed our own technology to ensure that cats receive only a purist form of nutrient-dense fish. We test every single tuna and salmon, as well as every sardine and mackerel catch to a strict mercury limit of 0.07ppm. We set this limit because research shows that mercury levels below 0.07 ppm are generally safe for cats, and the veterinary community and other pet health experts have generally agreed on this as a target level for mercury in food for pets. This value is much lower than the average mercury levels found in many cat foods today. We see an opportunity to use our mercury testing technology to make a difference for millions of cats and their owners. With Pure Cravings, cat parents can be sure they are serving the healthiest and safest cat food available.

Why is it important to look at pet food ingredients through scientific evidence?

To ensure that pet food ingredients are healthy and edible, we need to use technology and scientific data. Most impurities are undetectable to our senses, so we cannot depend on visual inspections or assumptions from past experience. We must rely on scientific tools to measure the exact levels of pollutants, such as mercury, to protect the members of our feline family.

Also, there is a common misconception that you can limit mercury exposure by choosing “smaller fish,” but science has shown mercury variations in fish of all sizes. That’s why we test every single tuna and salmon and every catch of mackerel and sardine that goes into our products.

We use scientific data not only to ensure limited levels of mercury, but also to reduce negative impacts on our ocean ecosystems. All of our fish is sustainably caught in the wild using FAD-free fishing methods that have lower carbon emissions than other fishing methods.

Can you describe the process that tests for contaminants in the fish?

Traditional laboratories use cold vapor atomic absorption (CVAA) and plasma mass spectroscopy (ICP-MS) to test for heavy metals such as mercury. Although these are accurate methods, they are expensive, time-consuming, and require a laboratory environment and a skilled technician.

Pure Cravings technology is a breakthrough in heavy metal testing and is AOAC certified. With this technology, we can take a tissue sample from a fish the size of a grain of rice and inject it into our machine. In seconds, the testing method can determine total mercury concentration down to parts per billion—1,000 times more sensitive than the FDA limit for human food—with the same accuracy as the ICP-MS and CVAA methods. Using this technology, Pure Cravings tests more than 10,000 fish per day and buys only those fish that meet our strict standards, which are in line with the goals set by pet health experts.

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