If you go on the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine website, you’ll find dozens of pet food recalls just from the past year. For example, in 2021, media organizations across the country reported that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said that more than 130 deaths in dogs occurred and hundreds of other pups got sick after eating pet food from one manufacturer.
The pet food maker had received a warning letter from the FDA after inspections revealed “apparent violations” of federal law that were shared across its plants. The company issued a voluntary recall of “specific expiration dates of certain dog and cat food brands” because “they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella.”
Most, thankfully, aren’t as serious as that case, but it highlights the fact that knowing how to respond to recalls and how to find out about them are necessary for the responsible pet owner.
Recalls and what to do
So how do pet products get recalled and how can you ensure your dog doesn’t fall victim to problematic or tainted pet food?
“Recalls are when a product is considered by the FDA to be in violation of its laws,” says Anne Norris of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. “It automatically initiates legal action.” She says recalls happen in three ways: the company pulls the product on its own after realizing problems, by formal FDA request or by an FDA order under the agency’s mandatory recall authority.
Anne says that recalls are classified into three categories. Class I is a situation where there is a strong likelihood that use or exposure to a product will cause serious health consequences or death. Class II is when a product may cause temporary or medically reversible health issues or where the probability of serious consequences is remote. Class III is a situation where the product in question is not likely to cause adverse health consequences.
Dana Brooks, who is president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Pet Food Institute (PFI), says the FDA has never forced a mandatory recall. The PFI is made up of members who are pet food and treat manufacturers throughout the United States.
“Most recalls happen when a company identifies a problem in the manufacturing process that can lead to an issue, such as a mislabeled product or ingredient imbalance,” she says, pointing out that most pet food makers have a safety plan that regularly evaluates and identifies safety hazards that have the potential to occur, such as bacterial contamination due to Salmonella or E coli.
Getting recall information is easy
With the World Wide Web at our fingertips, it’s never been easier to know about pet food recalls. The FDA works with industry and state partners to publish press releases and other public notices to try to get information to pet owners in a timely manner. The government agency only announces Class I or Class II recalls to the public. Luckily, the FDA makes it easy to find out the latest in recalls. You can sign up on its website to get email alerts.
When it comes to the manufacturers themselves, Dana says, “They’re required to publicly share when a dog or cat food is recalled, which means they must contact their ingredient suppliers, distributors, retailers and any customers in their database.”
“Most recalls happen when a company identifies a problem in the manufacturing process that can lead to an issue, such as a mislabeled product or ingredient imbalance.”
If your dog’s food is recalled
If you find out your dog’s food or treats have been recalled, government experts say to immediately stop feeding the product and make sure you check the lot number and UPC code on the label to confirm if your specific bag is part of the recall. (All recalls on the FDA’s website list exact UPC codes and lot codes.)
If it is, watch your dog closely for any symptoms. Dog food symptoms from food poisoning are much like humans: vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, fever, dehydration, nausea and occasional blood. This can be life-threatening, especially in dogs who are very young, old or have compromised immune systems.
PFI experts also suggest calling the pet food company directly for advice on what to do next. The retailer where you purchased the food should also have information on how to handle the recall and your concerns.
Be an advocate for your pooch
Of course, you don’t have to wait for a recall if you’re concerned about the pet food you purchased. Dana says most of her members welcome customer complaints and concerns on any topic, including issues like unsealed packaging, strange smells or symptoms your dog exhibits after eating the product in question. “When a food doesn’t meet expectations, this information helps them identify trends and possible issues with food safety,” she says. “It helps them improve product quality.”
If you find the company is not responsive, the FDA has a page on its website where consumers and veterinarians can submit concerns about pet food products, which FDA officials investigate (www.safetyreporting.hhs.gov).
Some things you can do at home, particularly in regard to reducing bacteria infection, is to inspect the packaging (can, bag or other) to make sure it hasn’t been damaged and opened in any way. Wash your hands, clean the food preparation area before and after use and always wash your dog’s food and water bowls regularly. Refrigerate leftover wet food and make sure dry food is sealed and put away. You don’t want mice, insects or your dog to be able to get into it.
Pet food recall facts
Since the beginning of 2018, the FDA has recalled 134 brands of pet food, with 19 recalls since the beginning of 2021. The numbers have remained steady each year, even though the pet food market is exploding with more and more new brands hitting store shelves.
The recalled manufacturers involved range from some of the most well-known foods and companies to lesser-known smaller brands. In looking at FDA data, many of the recalls are due to Salmonella and Listeria contaminants as well as elevated levels of vitamin D. Sterility issues are also cited as a factor. Many of the recalls were initiated by the companies themselves.
Dana believes transparency is a requirement for manufacturers in the pet food industry. With a more knowledgeable consumer base and the humanization of pets as family members, “pet owners are increasingly wanting more information and assurances from their favorite brands,” she says. “[Manufacturers] have to talk about their food safety culture to make pet owners feel confident when they set out the bowl at mealtime.”
As dog owners, officials with the FDA say we have the right to expect that the food we’re feeding our pets is safe. After all, it’s the least we can do to help ensure our furry family members live long, healthy lives.
Keep Your Dog Safe: Get Informed!
To see the latest pet food recalls: fda.gov/animal-veterinary/safety-health/recalls-withdrawals
To receive FDA alerts about pet food recalls: public.govdelivery.com/accounts/ USFDA/subscriber/new
To submit a concern to the FDA: fda.gov/animal-veterinary/report-problem/how-report-pet-food-complaint