Your Pet's Next Meal Could Have This Disturbing Ingredient

These days, the possibilities of what to feed your dog or cat seem endless. There are the classic brands like Purina, Iams, and Science Diet serving up beef, chicken, or fish flavors. But there's also plenty of vegan options for your pet, with grains or lentils as the base (per New Food Magazine). Star chef Rachel Ray even has her own dog food line, with chicken or beef and brown rice veggie blends.

The diversity of plentiful options stems from a single fact: Most pet owners want to do the best they can to care for their furry friends, and providing them with a tasty meal is one way to do so. (Never mind the scare last year in the U.K. when people falsely sounded the alarm that pet owners were withholding certain nutritional values their dogs needed by feeding them vegan food and could be charged a fine, per The Scottish Sun.) But earlier this year, scientists analyzing a sample of common pet foods discovered that disturbing ingredients may be lurking within the mixtures, unbeknownst to pet owners.

Something in the water

Using DNA scanning to determine what was really in 45 different pet food products, researchers in Singapore found that about one-third of pet food they sampled contained shark meat, including meat from the blue shark as well as the silky shark, which is a species listed as vulnerable to extinction, according to their study in Frontiers in Marine Science.

While some of the samples in which shark meat was found generically listed "fish" or "white fish" as an ingredient — which technically isn't incorrect — others didn't even try to cover up the secret ingredient, listing "tuna" or "salmon" instead, according to Smithsonian Magazine.

Nor is this the first study to find shark meat prevalent in pet food. In 2019, U.S. researchers found 70% of pet food products sampled contained the shortfin mako shark, which is endangered (via Conservation Genetics). That study similarly found one in eight beauty products sampled contained blue shark, scalloped hammerhead, and blacktip shark.

The problem with shark meat

The study published in Frontiers in Marine Science found common brands like Fancy Feast, Whiskas, and Sheba were among the brands that contained vulnerable shark species, according to Mongabay. Although this is not technically illegal and shark meat is edible (per The Spruce Eats), the authors of the Singapore study "argue that many pet owners and lovers would be alarmed to find out that they are likely contributing to the unsustainable fishing practices that have caused massive declines in global shark populations."

According to a 2021 study in Nature, overfishing has caused sharks and ray populations to decline by 71% since 1970. (Which is ironic, because besides a few species of the most dangerous sharks in the world, not that many sharks kill humans, despite people tending to think they are a huge threat.) Sharks are apex predators at the top of the food chain that help promote and sustain healthy ecosystems, but declining populations has led to declining seagrass beds and coral reefs, according to the study's press release.

A potential solution?

In their study, the authors cut the pet food industry some slack and gave them the benefit of the doubt. Writing in Frontiers in Marine Science, they said the shark meat being used could be the discarded carcasses produced by the shark fin industry. Per Discover Wildlife, as many as 73 million sharks are killed each year for shark-fin soup, which doesn't even begin to utilize the majority of the usable meat from the kill.

"However, we are skeptical that this is the sole reason that sharks end up in pet food," the authors wrote. "More likely, their presence demonstrates the high fishing pressure to which sharks are increasingly subjected."

The authors argue for the pet food industry to be required to provide more clarity on their labels and distinguish which fish is used. After all, if there's hidden shark meat in your pets' dinner, what other ingredients could be lurking within?