New federal food safety regulations may make food safer for humans in a few years but what about pet food? Well, in theory, it's already regulated as tightly as food processed for human consumption, which may be part of the problem.
There is a long history of pet food recalls and reports of pet deaths attributed to salmonella, molds and other contaminants in pet food but most cases are never solved, in large part because the evidence -- the sick animal and the suspect food -- are long gone by the time investigators begin their work.
The latest pet food to enrage pet owners is Purina's Beneful. A spurt of complaints over the last few months has been accompanied by a large increase in the number of people reading the Beneful reviews posted by ConsumerAffairs readers.
"I switched to Beneful about two months ago. Two weeks ago my maltipoo Buster stopped eating and started throwing up, followed by bloody diarrhea. He died within a week," said one angry reader. "Then my maltese Layla had the same symptoms everytime she ate Beneful dog food. I started feeding her home-cooked food like boiled chicken and she is 100 percent better. Buster is dead because of beneful."
Purina did not respond to a request for its response to the consumers' reports.
It's not just pet owners who are concerned. The Dog Food Advisor website gives dry Beneful its lowest rating and lists it as "not recommended." Although the site's editor, Mike Sagman, is not a veterinarian, he is a graduate of the Medical College of Virginia with a doctoral degree in dental surgery and an undergraduate degree in chemistry. Sagman says he has published more than 700 dog food reviews.
But the problems pet owners are reporting are even more serious than Sagman's review might indicate -- and, in fact, are so serious that pet owners whose pets become ill after eating Beneful should see their veterinarian quickly.
LaShanda of Silver Spring, Md., did just that when her dog became ill in November and she credits reviews posted on ConsumerAffairs by other pet owners with spurring her to take action.
"I have been feeding my dog, a 4-year-old, 10-lb Havanese, Purina Beneful dog food for over the past year. I began noticing changes in my dog’s behavior after opening the new bag and feeding it to her. During the course of the week she was on the new bag of dog food, she was listless, barely eating her food and vomited twice," LaShanda said. Things deteriorated from there, as she tells it:
"Her stomach was very upset and she refused to eat her dog food and attempted to eat grass when she was outside to induce vomiting. Her skin felt extremely hot to the touch and she was lethargic. On Tuesday, November 20th, I arrived home to find diarrhea in the bathroom and one of her eyes swollen shut. I rushed her to the emergency medical clinic where blood work was done. ...
My veterinarian believes that there is a direct relationship between Purina’s Beneful dog food and my pet’s onset of health problems. Additionally, the symptoms that he originally believed to be as a reaction to seasonal allergies, is a result of this dog food. He notated the name of the dog food, lot number, and the place of purchase for future reference for his other patients.
Fortunately, due to my quick response in seeking medical attention, after receiving medication and being on a bland diet for approximately 6 days, my dog is in recovery and seems to be stable.In the past week, two of my friends that also feed their dogs Beneful, have had to rush their dogs to the emergency vet (one had a seizure and the other couldn't stop vomiting...also they live on completely different sides of the country).
This site is what actually made me rush to the emergency vet myself and seek medical care (and could single-handly be responsible for why she is still alive). I STRONGLY urge everyone here to file a formal complaint with the FDA: http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/SafetyHealth/ReportaProblem/ucm182403.htm
LaShanda is right that pet owners should report suspected problems to the FDA (and to ConsumerAffairs) and they should also ask their vets to do the same. Many readers have also noted the batch number of the food involved in their pet's illness. That's good but even better is to save a sample of the suspect food as well, so that it's available for investigators if and when they show up.
What's a dog owner to do? Realistically, it's not practical for most dog owners to cook meals for their dogs or to buy only the highest-priced specialty feeds. But what everyone can do is keep a careful eye on their animal pals and be quick to bundle a sick dog off to the vet. Switching to boiled chicken and white rice for a few days may do the trick sometimes but seeking professional help can't hurt.
One further piece of advice offered by one of our readers a month or so ago: Listen to your dog.
My dog, an 8-year old American Dingo mix, has been eating Beneful products for nearly 5 years. Just this week I noticed she wasn't finishing her food. The next day it sat untouched. She began to look very thin and lethargic. Try as I might, I couldn't get her to eat. Even poured gravy on it. She lapped up the gravy and left the food. The next day she picked out a piece of food and dropped it near my foot. I got the message.