By Lisa Wade McCormick
July 18, 2007
Professional dog breeder Lisa M. is ensnarled in a frightening mystery.
The case centers on her beloved Newfoundlands and why these gentle giants have experienced so many baffling reproductive problems in the past year.
Lisa has searched tirelessly for clues about whats caused her healthy dogs to suddenly stop getting pregnant or -- if they conceive -- to deliver deformed and dead puppies.
These are dogs that have all delivered healthy puppies before, says Lisa, owner of Lighthouse Newfoundlands in Grafton, Ohio. Ive been a full-time breeder since 1998 and Ive never experienced as many problems as I have in the past year. Its horrible.
The first signs of trouble surfaced last November.
Lisas dog, Vella, had a litter of four puppies.
Two were healthy.
But two were mummified fetuses.
Thats like a miscarriage in the dog world, Lisa says. It looks like a mass of bone; the puppy is not alive. Breeders occasionally will have mummified fetuses. Ive never had it happen, though.
Twice in Two Months
But now its happened twice in just two months.
In January, 2007, Lisas dog, Juliet, had nine puppies.
Five were healthy. Three were mummified fetuses.
And one was deformed.
That puppy had its elbow stuck to its side; it didnt live, Lisa says. And having three mummified fetuses in one litter was unbelievably horrible.
All this was just so unusual for me. It just wasnt right. Like I said, its never happened to me -- or my dogs -- before.
Her dogs never had trouble getting pregnant, either.
I bred four of my dogs and a friends dog in February. None of mine got pregnant. I usually get two or three, but never zero for four.
My friends dog had three puppies, but two died (two days after delivery). One of the puppies had a deformity a cleft palate.
Similar Problems Nationwide
A ConsumerAffairs.com investigation reveals Newfoundland breeders across the country have experienced similar problems with their dogs.
We talked to professional breeders in Idaho, Texas, and Pennsylvania whose dogs have encountered such puzzling reproductive issues as:
• Puppies that wouldnt grow and had to be euthanized. This same breeders dogs also had two mummified fetuses -- in two different litters -- and some of her females stopped getting pregnant;
• Having several misses -- or failed attempts -- at getting pregnant. This breeder also had a dog that delivered a deformed puppy, which had to be euthanized.
• Failing to get pregnant -- in the past two years. This breeders mom also raises Newfoundlands and one of those dogs delivered two dead puppies.
Whats causing these problems?
Lets consider some of the likely suspects:
• The Newfoundlands health The breeders say all their females are in excellent physical condition and have previously delivered healthy puppies. They also say theyre using the same sires and those males are in excellent health;
• The dogs ages -- Veterinarians say the prime age for dogs to deliver healthy litters is two to five. The breeders say all the dogs are in that age range;
• Genetic problems The breeders say none of the dogs are related, a factor that could pose genetic issues;
• Changes in breeding protocols The breeders say nothing in their breeding program has changed.
This whole thing is totally, horrendously insane, says Wendy C. of Blanchard, Idaho, who has bred Newfoundlands for seven years. Its just about ruined my breeding program.
Theres another suspect in this case. One any good sleuth would follow.
Its the dog food the only common denominator among these Newfoundlands.
All the breeders fed their dogs Purina Pro Plan and Purina One.
And theyre convinced thats the culprit in this case.
Why am I certain its the food? Because nothing else has changed in my breeding program, says Lisa, who has 14 Newfoundlands. These are the same dames and the same sires. Theyve all had healthy litters before.
"I keep my kennels clean, I dont over-vaccinate, I dont add supplements, I dont use pesticides, I follow all the regular worming protocols ... nothing, absolutely nothing, has changed.
The food is the only thing that makes sense. Its the only thing we all have in common.
At first I thought it was the water, but that cant be. There are too many us across the country having the same problems with our dogs. It just has to be the food.
The breeders say theyve fed their dogs Purina products for years and never had any problems. But Wendy and Lisa suspected something was wrong with the food last summer.
We both fed our puppies Purina One large breed puppy food, Wendy says. And all our puppies had horrible diarrhea. They were squirting water out of their bottoms. It was awful.
Anytime a puppy has diarrhea like that, theres something wrong. Its very dangerous. They can dehydrate and die.
The breeders suspicions about the food heightened in March. Thats when Menu Foods recalled 60 million containers of melamine-tainted pet food.
Melamine is a chemical used to make plastics and fertilizers; it is not approved for use in pet or human food.
Thousands of dogs and cats nationwide suffered kidney disease or died after eating the melamine-tainted foods.
We panicked when we heard about the recall, Wendy says. The Purina we fed our dogs wasnt on the recall list, but we were still certain something was wrong with it. Maybe that melamine from China got into the food and Purina didnt know. Thats possible.
Lisa says news of the melamine-tainted food confirmed her worst fears about the reproductive problems with her dogs.
I read all about the effects melamine can have on pregnancies. And I learned that too much melamine can affect pregnancies.
I also belong to a chat room with 2,000 subscribers and did my own research with them. Thats when I found out that so many of us who were using Purina were having problems.
At the Mountain Ridge Kennel in Blanchard, Idaho, Wendy fights back tears as she recalls the reproductive issues her Newfoundlands have faced in the past year and a half.
Its just been devastating. Ive been having beautiful litters for seven years. Ive always had huge, healthy puppies.
But that changed last summer.
I had two back-to-back litters and had to destroy 14 of those puppies, Wendy says. They wouldnt grow. They looked like mutants; it was hideous. They only weighed six to 10 pounds instead of 25 to 30 pounds at eight weeks. They were so thin. They looked like skeletons with fur.
The gruesome problems didnt stop there.
Wendys dogs also had two mummified fetuses in two different litters.
Plus Ive had females who have had four narrow puppies. Those are puppies that die. Somewhere along the way (during gestation) they were depleted. They werent what they should be at full-term. I believe its because of the poisonous food I unknowingly fed them.
Some of Wendys other dogs also stopped getting pregnant.
I bred three of my dogs (to deliver) at the end of February. I didnt have one litter. How unusual is that for me? Ive always gotten everything Ive bred. Im a full-time breeder. This is what I do.
Wendys not only grappled with the emotional toll these problems have taken on her dogs.
And her family.
She also struggled with the financial repercussions theyve created.
Ive only had four healthy puppies since December 2005. Normally, I have 40 healthy puppies a year. This has just about bankrupted me.
Her voice cracks and tears fill her eyes.
Ive buried at least 20 dogs in the past year, says Wendy, whose puppies sell for $1,200 to $1,500 each. This has cost me more than $25,000. I couldnt sleep because there was no money to pay the bills. My long distance has been cut. Ive lost my insurance. Im facing foreclosure and will probably lose my house.
This just about killed me. Purina doesnt understand how much all this has devastated fulltime breeders like me.
Puppy Born Without Tail or Rectum
In Texas, another Newfoundland breeder wonders why her dogs have experienced so many unusual medical problems.
Ive had several missed breedings in last few years, says Brenda M. of Blanco, Texas, These are all females that should not have missed.
Brenda has raised Newfoundlands since 1995.
And for the first time in her career, she had a dog deliver a deformed puppy.
It happened 18 months ago to her dog, Ramona.
The puppy was born without a tail or rectum. It was awful. It was alive when it was born, but I had to euthanize it.
Ive had litters before with stillborn puppies. But in all the years Ive done this that was my first deformed puppy. It was freaky and unpleasant.
Ramona also faced another inexplicable medical problem one not related to her reproductive system.
She unexpectedly died last month of cirrhosis of the liver.
Our vet could not find any reason for her to have such a severe case of cirrhosis of the liver. She was only five. She was too young to die from liver disease.
I dont know if her death was related to the food, Brenda says, referring to Purina One shed fed Ramona for years. But I dont trust dog food companies. Theres a huge doubt in my mind about the safety of pet food and that it might have contributed to Ramonas death.
Could it also have caused her dogs reproductive problems?
I am very suspicious of Purina. Everything thats happened is suspicious.
No Litters in Two Years
Across the country, two Newfoundland breeders in Pennsylvania say their dogs have also experienced bizarre reproductive problems.
I havent had a litter in two years, says one of the breeders, who didnt want to be identified because she was afraid of legal action by Purina. Thats real uncommon for me. These are proven breeders.
Her mom also raises Newfoundlands.
And one of her dogs recently had a litter with two dead puppies, the daughter says. They were stillborns; they didnt have fur on them and had been dead a while.
That dog was a repeat breeder who had two healthy litters before. I took her in for a culture two days after delivery (of the deceased puppies) and everything was negative. The dog was absolutely clean.
These breeders fed their dogs Purina One wet and dry food for more than 20 years.
And weve had excellent results up until last year. But now, we really think theres problem with the food. Otherwise, wed still be feeding it to our dogs.
To solve any mystery, though, a good sleuth needs solid evidence.
A smoking gun memo.
Or scientific data that proves the case.
But thats missing in this whodunit.
They breeders dont have any clinical analysis to support their convictions.
They didnt test the Purina they fed their dogs.
They didnt have autopsies performed on the deceased puppies.
And they didnt have lab work or ultrasounds done on the females that failed to get pregnant or delivered deformed or deceased puppies.
If all of us knew then what we know now, we would have done all sorts of things to prove our case, Wendy says. But along the way, we went through so much devastation and heartbreak that we didnt think of it.
I didnt relate the problems to the food until I started reading about the effects melamine has on pregnancies.
Why didnt she have autopsies performed on the deceased puppies?
If I had known about melamine and the effects it has on humans and dogs, I would have, Lisa says. But these dogs were born in January three months before Menu announced the recall.
I know what happened to my dogs, though. Ive been a breeder a long time. I know something is going on with the food. Nothing else has changed in my breeding program. The only common denominator is the Purina.
Interesting Case But Premature to Blame Purina
Veterinarians we interviewed agree the cases are interesting.
And warrant further investigation.
But they warn its premature to blame Purina for the Newfoundlands reproductive problems.
They say more testing is needed before any allegations can -- or should -- be made about the dog food.
I believe these cases are too poorly defined to try to make any sort of statement regarding the likelihood of diet as the cause of the the problem, said Dr. Margaret Root Kustritz of the University of Minnesotas College of Veterinary Medicine. She is a nationally recognized expert in theriogenology, which is animal reproduction.
I know of no such problem specific to Newfoundlands. I know of no data in the veterinary literature documenting loss of pups from dietary causes in apparently healthy (female).
Dr. Root Kustritz asked other animal reproduction specialists about the Newfoundlands problems.
I have gotten two responses, neither of which noted any increase in such problems in Newfies in their areas. That means eastern Canada, the upper Midwest, and the Pacific Northwest are not seeing a problem recognized by theriogenologists or their clients.
She added: I believe this mystery is suffering from a lack of diagnostic testing. Breeders will tell you all these tests cost money. They do. So does repeated loss of pups.
Dr. Jennifer Larsen, a veterinarian and trained nutritionist with Davis Veterinary Medical Consulting group in California, said there are a number of reasons why dogs fail to get pregnant.
Or have reproductive success.
Those factors include timing, semen samples, genetics, viruses, and the environment.
Nutrition also plays a key role.
Reproduction is a demanding physical state and you have to be careful about the diet you feed, said Dr. Larsen, who owns Newfoundlands. But to find out whats going on nutritionally (in these cases) would take some scientific investigation. If they (the breeders) were unable to participate in that, than were just speculating.
Dr. Larsen also said previous reproductive success doesnt guarantee the same results in the future.
The way genes are resorted can result in a bunch of different effects. Its like people who five or six children and not all of them look the same.
Past success or good luck has nothing to do with future good luck or success.
Dr. Larsen, however, said these cases should be more thoroughly examined.
Its unfortunate whats gone on. And there are a lot of pieces to the puzzle that need to be put in place.
At this point, its premature to say its the food. But I hope these breeders work with their veterinarians to try and figure out whats going on. That could help advance knowledge in this field.
Lisa consulted her veterinarian, Dr. Lori Hunt at the Center West Animal Hospital in Westlake, Ohio.
One of things I do with my breeding clients is when we have a dog thats missing, the first thing we look into is what theyre eating, said Dr. Hunt, who devotes much of her practice to canine reproduction. Nutrition can absolutely effect conception. And its certainly possible that something could be out of whack nutritionally ... maybe the manufacturer changed the formula.
But I cant say its the food. There are other people who feed that same food and they havent had this trouble.
Dr. Hunt said animals -- like humans -- sometimes develop problems that simply cant be explained.
I know the science of things and bad things sometimes happen for no reason.
Nonetheless, the Newfoundlands problems piqued her professional interest.
It certainly makes you think ... anything is possible.
Newfoundland Club of America To Explore Problem
The Newfoundlands reproductive issues also captured the attention of the Newfoundland Club of America (NCA).
I find this very odd, said Pam Rubio, head of NCAs Health and Longevity Committee. I have not heard of this before. But there are lots of things that have never happened before that crop up.
Does she suspect the food?
I would doubt it because so many of us feed Pro Plan without any problems. If its the food -- and Im still doubtful of that -- then it would have to be a change in the formula, the protein source, or an ingredient.
Rubio, however, said she would discuss this issue with members of her committee.
Ill put it out there for us to explore. If there are more cases out there, we definitely want to know and see if we can find a common cause.
The NCA cant offer breeders any financial assistance, Rubio said.
But the organization can recommend -- and help fund -- research about specific issues facing the breed.
If researchers want to do a study on this, we do have the Newfoundland Health Challenge and the Research Advisory Committee that decides who gets funding for studies.
Purina Investigates Breeders Concerns
ConsumerAffairs.com also contacted Purina about the Newfoundlands problems. Spokesman Keith Schopp told us his company had never heard of these problems until our call.
He also said the pet food giant has not changed the formulas for Purina One or Purina Pro Plan in recent years.
But we would like to talk to these breeders and get more information, Schopp told us.
After our calls to Purina, a company representative contacted the breeders and promised to investigate their concerns.
Meanwhile, new evidence has surfaced in this mystery evidence that might confirm the breeders' suspicions.
Lisa and Wendy contacted ConsumerAffairs.com on Tuesday and said they discovered some of the Purina food theyd fed their dogs when the problems first started.
Im in the process of revamping my kennel and when I got into one of the feed bins, I found some of the Purina at the bottom, Lisa says. I took back every bag of Purina I had after the recall, but I guess I didnt take back the food I dumped into the bin. With everything that has happened, I forgot the food was in there.
Lisa plans to immediately test the food.
So does Wendy, who also found some Purina in the bottom of one of her feed bins.
The breeders, however, says they dont need scientific data to convince them the food caused their dogs problems.
Their dogs -- and the awful experiences theyve endured -- are all the proof they need.
We know what we saw and we know what happened, Lisa says.
Dogs Doing Better Off Purina
They also know their dogs conditions have improved since they took them off Purina products months ago.
The difference is unbelievable, says Wendy, who makes her own dog food and supplements it with a brand called Bil-Jac. That Ohio pet food maker uses locally produced ingredients. My dogs are looking so good. My younger ones are slowly starting to gain weight now that theyre off that poisonous food. I cant see their ribs anymore. And theyre a lot more active.
Lisa makes her own dog food.
And she says her Newfoundlands are much healthier now that theyre off Purina.
Their coats are a lot shinier, theyre more active, and their skin problems have cleared up.
Twelve Happy Endings
This mystery has an even happier ending. Make that 12 happy endings.
Earlier this month, one of Wendys dogs delivered five healthy puppies.
Everyone is OK, Wendy says. Im sure its because I took (my female) off Purina. Ill never feed Purina again.
And Lisas dog, Juliet -- who had three mummified fetuses in her previous litter -- delivered seven healthy puppies over the Fourth Of July holiday.
My biggest fear has always been the lasting effect this will have on my dogs reproductive systems, Lisa says. Theres no doubt in my mind why this was a healthy litter ... Juliet was not on Purina.
Newfoundland Breeders Despair After Deaths and Deformities...