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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Animal & Veterinary

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by Linda Bren
FDA Veterinarian Newsletter 2002 Volume XVI, No III

This material appeared in the May/June 2002 issue of the FDA Consumer.

The low levels of sodium pentobarbital that dogs might receive through their food are unlikely to cause any health problems, according to an FDA study.

Pentobarbital is an anesthetizing drug used for dogs and other animals, such as horses and cattle. Because it is also widely used for humane euthanasia of dogs, cats and other animals, the most likely way that pentobarbital could get into dog food would be in rendered animal products. Rendered products come from a process that converts animal tissues to feed ingredients.

During the 1990s, the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) received reports from veterinarians that pentobarbital seemed to be losing its effectiveness for anesthesia in dogs. Based on these reports, the Center decided to investigate the theory that the dogs were exposed to pentobarbital through dog food, and that this exposure was making them less responsive to pentobarbital when it was used as a drug.

CVM developed and used a sophisticated process to detect and quantify minute amounts of pentobarbital in dog food. Upon finding pentobarbital residues in some samples of dry dog food, CVM scientists conducted further tests that led them to conclude that dogs eating dry dog food are unlikely to have any adverse health effects from the low levels of pentobarbital found in the dog food samples tested.

CVM scientists also developed a test to detect dog and cat DNA in the protein of dog food. Since pentobarbital is used to euthanize dogs and cats at animal shelters, finding pentobarbital in rendered feed ingredients could suggest that pets were rendered and used in pet food. Test results indicated a complete absence of protein material that would have been derived from euthanized dogs or cats. As a result of their study, CVM scientists assume the source of the pentobarbital in dog food is cattle or horses euthanized and then rendered.

After finding that the low levels of pentobarbital that dogs might receive through food are unlikely to cause them any adverse health effects, FDA officials did not think that further research into the issue was necessary. CVM officials say they plan to publish the study findings in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

CVM's studies and a summary report of the results are available on the CVM home page.

Linda Bren is a Writer-Editor with the FDA Consumer.