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A Vet's Point of View on the Pet Food Recall (2007)
A Guest Editorial

March was a rough month for us vets. Monday morning, the 19th, dawned to a deluge of frantic calls demanding answers. Um…what was the question? Most of us didn’t even know…yet.

I was asked questions like, “How do I know if my dog’s food is on the list?”, “What kind of tests does he need?” and the worst: “Is she going to die?”

It’s hard enough to say “I don’t know” under normal circumstances. This version went more like, “I have absolutely no clue.”

As one of my colleagues said, “I felt so stupid coming into work on Monday after a blissful weekend of … family time knowing absolutely zero about the recall. My clients probably thought I was a horrible vet.”

But how was this off-duty vet to know? So you understand, vets received no special notice before the announcement—made, by the way, on a Friday. As all news people know, the last day of the week is when you release an item you’d prefer to bury, not one you need to broadcast.

At this point, we know more about the now-infamous pet food recall that spawned the frenzy. Yet most vets on the ground continue to have more questions than answers regarding the toxins found in the affected pet foods, the pattern of exposure to our patient population, the practical considerations of treating this intoxication (poisoning by a toxic substance) and the reporting mechanisms required to aid in their investigation.
In other words, we’re still pretty clueless.

Where are the emails and bulletins from the pet food companies? Why has no helpful clinical information been provided to the distributors? Why were so many vets (busy reading their journals instead of watching the weekend news) blasted that Monday morning without so much as a warning?

Vets are hard-working people. We toil long in our lives, laboring to keep our animals comfortable and healthy—and yet things like this still happen. It comes as a blow, then, when all of our expertise and our acumen, channeled purposefully in the task of helping pets, yields the potential for their death and disease instead.

Sure, the pet food recall has shown us all how little we know about our food supply. Whether it goes into our pets’ food bowls or onto our own plates, we’re far less informed than we ever thought possible. But vets? We’re supposed to know about these things. People depend on us. Pets rely on our insider’s knowledge.

But, after the recall, we vets now understand how tenuous a grasp we’ve had on the information we get from pet food companies. We’ve trusted, just as you’ve trusted, in the veracity of their statements, in the wholesomeness of their foods, in their commitment to quality.

So, as a vet, I’ve got to confess that I’ve never felt more frustrated…and betrayed…and outraged.

My patients? In at least one obvious case, they’ve suffered. One chronically ill patient seemed to start feeling funny the Thursday before the recall. We prescribed her usual medications instead of requiring hospitalization. By Sunday, she was in acute renal failure after eating recalled pet foods for the previous month. Would a day have made a difference? Perhaps.

Any way you look at it, the time lapse in reporting the contamination was deplorable.

I can understand that some pet foods outsource their production. I can even understand purchasing contaminated grain unknowingly, but I cannot forgive the failure to report immediately the possibility of toxicity—to the public at large and to the vets they enlist to help sell their products.

How about one simple fax to every vet in the country? That’s not as hard to do as it sounds. They certainly know how to get to us when it comes to selling their food.

It’s bad enough that the manufacturer bought contaminated grain from a supplier. It’s bad enough everyone in the know sat on their hands for a month. Did they also have to display their disregard for pets so flagrantly as to fail to provide proper support for the vets who recommend their foods and to the people who feed those foods to animals they care for?

As a vet, I feel terrible. But however you see it, the pet food companies are directly to blame for the widespread mishandling of this crisis. These companies need to get serious about our pets. Better yet, if they don’t care enough to understand their importance, they should get out of the pet business altogether.

 

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 42: May/Jun 2007
Dr. Patty Khuly practices in Miami, Fla., and blogs at dolittler.com. dolittler.com
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