Does Pet Food Contain Horse Meat?

Updated August 4, 2021

Warning: this post contains descriptions of animal cruelty.

Images of racehorses being slaughtered at abattoirs have put the racing industry in the spotlight. And rightly so. But there’s also a connection that’s much closer to home.

Where do you think the meat from these places ends up? Some definitely goes overseas for people, but a large part stays right here as pet meat. Possibly in your local pet food store.

I’m not saying any specific brands contain horse meat, but how can we tell? It has to end up somewhere. And under our current ‘anything goes’ pet food system, nobody knows where.

Pet Meats Today

The recent news has gone a long way to explaining why pet-grade meat is so much cheaper. Despite this price difference, I’ve always said that we should buy meat fit for humans because it’s safer. Well now we have a new reason.

You might say: “at least it’s not getting wasted,” and I’d agree up to a point. However I’ll bet that if you asked pet owners whether they were comfortable buying horse meat, a large majority would say no. But they don’t get a choice.

Worse than that, at least some of these pet food abattoirs have shown themselves to be the worst kind of places. Only last month, one featured in Sydney was found guilty of aggravated animal cruelty. Here are some of the things the RSPCA found:

  • Emaciated, lice-infested cattle
  • Animals unable to get up for some time
  • Untreated wounds and infections

Many of these animals needed immediate euthanasia. And yet, there they were waiting to become pet food, infections and all.

Pet Food Rules Today

It still shocks pet owners that Australian pet food laws are completely different for animals and people. These are just the sort of things that took me to the Senate Pet Food Safety Inquiry last year. I went with a clear message, to ask for six things:

  1. Labelling to include all ingredients including preservatives
  2. Minimum standards for pet food ingredients
  3. Declaration of treatments such as irradiation
  4. Clear distinction between balanced foods and treats
  5. Transparent adverse event reporting and investigation
  6. A body enabled by legislation to enforce recalls as a last resort

Right now you get none of that.

Point one means that you can never be sure just what animals have been used to make your pet food. Even when it says ‘beef’ or ‘lamb’ or ‘chicken’.

Point two means It doesn’t have to be made from healthy animals. Or even recently alive ones.

What the past week has shown us is this: buy Australian and you’re in the dark. Even the biggest animal lover can’t be sure what they buy or where it comes from. All we’ve got is trust, and once again, it’s let us down.

A year has now passed since the pet food inquiry, and a little bird tells me we’ll soon hear something. Let’s hope it’s good news. Is it too much to ask to know what it is we’re buying?

Update 2021: Well sadly I was wrong: the federal government took the recommendations, and proceeded to ignore them. This is despite the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia actually asking to be regulated! Mindboggling.

Even more sadly, a large number of deaths and serious illnesses in Victoria were associated with, you guessed it, horse meat sold as beef.

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here.

6 Replies to “Does Pet Food Contain Horse Meat?”

  1. Hi Andrew,
    Thank you for this interesting article (although I am a bit slow on finding it!) I am extremely interested in the supply chain of dog food, dried, fresh, canned and roll… where does it all come from, how is it processed and why is it labelled chicken, lamb, beef, turkey but never horse? Let’s face it, thousands of horses, pleasure horses, sport horses, racehorse are destroyed every year by ‘doggers’ but we never see the word ‘horse’ meat on any labelling. I am an owner of both horses (mainly ex racehorses) and dogs and have had several of both species put down over the years, mainly due to old age. The horrendous conditions and the treatment of horses at the knackery and abattoirs is beyond comprehension for a first world country such as Australia and we should be addressing the ‘supply line’ from racetrack to dog bowl. Of course deceased horses need to go somewhere, we can’t bury them all lovingly in the backyard but surely a streamline, more humane system could be established to give horses and less terrifying death.
    I would be very interested in further information on this if you could pass on some links.

    1. Hi Tania. Thanks for some great comments – I don’t have anything more to say but I would be very interested in any other information from other readers.

  2. Great piece! I have my thriving kelpie on a locally made (Victoria) Vegan dog food that I know meets and exceeds AAFCO standards.(fully tested in independent labs in the USA)

    It’s balanced and complete, made of raw ingredients that are human grade and mostly organic! It eliminates the irradiation issue and the cruelty!

    I don’t feed my cats a vegan diet but wish i could… some people do and if they eat the cat food of the brand I use they would indeed get all the nutrients required but they wont so thats that 😀

    I can’t see how we can love one animal yet allow the exploitation, abuse and the slaughter of another… not once we understand we don’t need to.

    Thanks for another thought provoking and insightful offering.

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