This is Part II of an article by Sheltie Nation member & guest author Ann Compton. You can read Part I here. (Ann is an accomplished Animal Journalist with more than 20 years specializing in canine topics. Currently, she writes a weekly column on animal care for one of Connecticut’s newspapers.)
This year’s widespread pet food recalls came as no surprise to some industry watchers, who have predicted a disaster such as this for quite some time and wondered what it would take to make manufacturers sit up and take notice. The shame is that it took the lives of more than 4,000 dogs and cats to date. More than 100 brands’ products have been recalled since this past March.
Even more astounding is that initially, no one could isolate the reason for the illnesses overtaking the nation’s pets. A variety of questionable ingredients were floated and speculation abounded, up to and including intentional poisoning, before the Food and Drug Administration was able to identify the cause as wheat flour containing the chemical melamine, sold as wheat gluten imported from China.
Some pet food companies are crying “foul,” claiming they didn’t know wheat flour was used in their food. Others have vowed to improve quality control—sorely lacking in most cases and long overdue.
The trouble is that most pet food companies outsource the manufacture of their products. Menu Foods, the culprit in most of the recalls, is a primary manufacturer of canned pet food. Typically, the food is produced from a recipe given to the manufacturer by the pet food company, who assumes its recipe is followed.
Therein lies the problem. Many pet food companies do not manufacture their own food, and have little or no oversight into how, or with what, it is actually made. Manufacturers supply the ingredients; in some cases, pet food companies don’t even know the sources for them.
If there is any good news from this tragedy, it is that companies will be pressured to manufacture their own food or, at the very least, control the ingredients through audits or quality controllers in the manufacturing plants. Natura Pet Food, makers of top quality natural brands Innova, California Natural, and Evo, has pledged on its website to buy or build its own facility for the manufacture of its food.
While all this is ongoing, however, what should you, the consumer, do to assure the safety of the food you buy for your pet?
Pet food bags should list an expiration date, as well as the telephone number of the company so that if you do have a problem or a question on any aspect of your animal’s feeding, you have someone to call. This is also why it’s important to keep the bag your food comes in, even if you transfer the food to another container.
Check the website of your pet food company. Most list whether they manufacture their own food, as well as any precautions they have taken to ensure their food is safe. If they don’t, ask—or switch to a food that does supply this information.
Be alert to your pet’s eating habits. If your dog suddenly turns fussy and refuses his food, there’s a reason. He may not immediately become sick. Stop feeding the food and call the manufacturer to check on whether there have been any other reports of problems. Contact your vet to alert him to your pet’s symptoms and see how to proceed. Switch your pet to another good quality food, but don’t feed more than one brand at the same time. This makes it more difficult to identify a problem and isolate the cause.
There are three basic ways to feed your dog: a commercially prepared food, whether dry or wet; a home-cooked diet, or a raw food diet. Most of us opt for the first, although the second two alternatives are excellent. If you choose a home-cooked diet, be sure to consult one of the many excellent recipe books available on what your pet needs in terms of nutrients to make his meal balanced and complete.
There are prepared packaged supplements that can be added to home-cooked diets to make them nutritionally complete for convenience’s sake. The same is true of raw food diets, available prepackaged at local natural pet stores.
A good list of resources for both home-cooked and raw food as well as other helpful information may be found at www.dogaware.com. However, before you transition your pet to a completely different type of diet, check with your veterinarian and follow up immediately should your pet experience any type of problem.
Finally, if you think your food may be tainted, there is an up-to-date list
of identified contaminated pet food on the Food and Drug Administration’s website at www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/petfood.htm.
Unfortunately, in years past, there has been little oversight of the pet food industry and few standards enforced. Certainly, the tragedy of thousands of lost and sick pets will implement much needed changes. In the meantime, it’s important to be your pet’s advocate. Be an educated consumer; it’s the best safeguard you have for your pet.
Thanks to Ann for the great reminders about being vigilant about our furkids health!