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Monday, March 2, 2015

Is Beneful Harming Our Dogs?

I'm going to briefly touch base on a topic that we've been getting a lot of calls about. It seems that there is a class-action lawsuit being brought against Nestle-Purina because a gentleman feels that their "Beneful" dog food caused the illness or death of his three dogs. He claims that Propylene Glycol and mycotoxins in the food are the culprits. In spite of the claims, Propylene Glycol  is safe for dogs to consume at recommended levels according to veterinary nutritionist, Dr. Jennifer Larson. Mycotoxins certainly could be harmful, but I have seen no data to support the claim of mycotoxins in Beneful.

Before I go any further, I want to be clear that I have no financial investment in Purina or Beneful. I do carry Purina diets at my hospital, but they have not contacted me to defend them, and I get no special favors or perks from them other than getting my personal dog food at reduced cost (every pet food company offers that same deal to vets).

What concerns me is the general alarm among people because of this lawsuit. I certainly get that  the prospect of feeding our friends a dangerous food is horrifying. However, please keep in mind that Beneful is an extremely popular food, which means that hundreds of thousands of dogs are eating it. Many of these dogs are going to get sick and/or die from something. That doesn't necessarily mean the food is at fault.

At my hospital, we track pet food recalls and post them on our Facebook page to help warn our clients when a food might be dangerous. We subscribe to reliable, unbiased data to get this information. It is dangerous, in my opinion, to make decisions based on unfounded accusations, your neighbor's opinion, or social media.

With regard to the whole "big pet food companies are evil" notion, here is my opinion after spending over thirty years researching and practicing ways to keep pets (including my own) as healthy as possible (as posted on our Facebook page):
 There are a lot of opinions out there, and people are understandably concerned for the welfare of their pets. Please keep a few of things in mind: 1.Dogs (unlike cats) are omnivores, not carnivores. 2.Just because someone brings a lawsuit, that doesn't mean their claim is legitimate. 3.There has been a tremendously successful MARKETING campaign by certain "boutique" and "natural" pet food companies promoting grain-free dog foods. I hate to break the bad news, but these companies are looking to make a profit just like Purina, Iams, or any other company. That doesn't make them, or their products bad, it's just something to keep in mind. I have spoken with several nutrition specialists on this topic, and they all say that there is NO specific benefit to grain-free diets for most dogs. Again, grain-free is fine, but corn, wheat, etc as dog food ingredients are fine as well! Here is a direct quote from a respected veterinary nutritionist, who does not work for any pet food company as far as I know: "There are a lot of myths and misconceptions out there. Some people hate by-products (which can be a great ingredient, very nutrient rich) and some people hate grains (I still don't get why potato starch is so much better than corn starch), and some people dislike meals (a rendered product) and only want meat... The thing is, you cannot tell the quality of an ingredient by its name. There are very good meals out there but some of them are not so good (meaning that their digestibility is bad), and the same goes for meats, by products, vegetable products... 

My usual recommendation is to choose a diet from a reputable company, ideally that has undergone AAFCO feeding trials (all diets should have an AAFCO statement, and this will tell you if the diet has been through trials or it has been formulated to meet the requirements for that specific life stage), and feed it to achieve a good body condition. 
Many diets fit this bill, and it is usually possible to find a diet that is also acceptable to owners with different feeding philosophies." - Cecilia Villaverde, BVSc, PhD, DACVN, DECVCN

I don't know about you, but I'm going to believe the opinion of a respected professional who spends her life studying animal nutrition over a grieving dog-owner who wants someone to pay because he has lost a pet, or the social media rumor-spreaders. These decisions are too important to make based on anything less than the best available information.