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What Should You Do If Your Dog's Food Is Recalled?

Dog food recalls are serious.

In 2007 and 2008, the largest pet food recall in history occurred. More than 150 brands of dog and cat food were pulled off of shelves because of concerns that they may be contaminated with melamine and cyanuric acid, industrial compounds that can cause kidney failure when they are consumed together.

Pet food recalls can happen with no warning. You may be happily cleaning the kitchen after your dinner when you hear a news report from the living room announcing that your dog's food, the very one you gave her 30 minutes ago, has been pulled from the shelves. While there have not been any more recalls of the magnitude of the one in 2007, smaller recalls happen fairly frequently.

What Is a Food Recall?

A food recall happens when there is a concern that a certain dog food or treat may have been tainted with something hazardous to the health of dogs that consume it. Recalls may occur because of possible contamination with bacteria, foreign objects, chemicals, or other dangerous substances.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for monitoring the nation's food supply, both human and pet. When a recall occurs, it may be voluntary on the part of the company because they found possible contamination in their in-house spot testing, the FDA may have requested the recall due to concerns over test results or consumer reports, or the FDA may have ordered the company to recall the product.

It's normal to feel panic when your dog's food has been recalled. It's important to stay calm, and follow the steps below to help ensure the best possible outcome.

Check to See If the Specific Bag of Food or Treats You Have Is Affected by the Recall

Just because an announcement is made that your dog's brand of food or treats has been recalled does not mean that the specific items you have in your home have been affected. Recalls always apply to certain lots of product. This is because the problem that caused the recall was likely to have happened only during certain time periods, when specific batches of the product was being manufactured. When a recall happens, the affected lots will be announced. The exact name of the product(s), lot numbers, "best by" dates, package sizes, and UPC codes may all be given to help you identify whether or not you have potentially contaminated food or treats in your home.

It is a good idea to routinely monitor pet recall lists because not all of them will be reported on in the news. The following websites are great ones to bookmark and check frequently:

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) keeps an up-to-date list of recalled products here:

For a website that only lists pet products, you can use the American Veterinary Medical Association recall page here:

Stop Feeding the Food

If you find out that you have product in your home that has been affected by a recall, stop feeding it to your dog immediately. Under normal circumstances, you don't want to make quick diet changes because they can lead to gastrointestinal upset. However, in the case of a food recall, do not give any more of the affected product. You may do one of the following things to decrease the chances of vomiting or diarrhea developing due to a quick food change:

  • Give your dog a half-and-half mixture of boiled, lean hamburger and rice instead of dog food for a day or two. Then, begin gradually mixing in progressively larger amounts of the new food product over the next week or two.
  • Begin the new food, but mix in some canned pumpkin to help mitigate the effects of the quick diet change. Use plain pumpkin, not pumpkin pie mix.

Keep a Small Amount of the Recalled Food

You should throw away the majority of the recalled food or treats that you have. However, keeping a small amount in a plastic bag in the freezer, where it will be preserved but your pet can't get to it, is a good idea. If your pet becomes ill and a sample of the food is needed for testing, you will have it available.

Watch for Signs of Illness

Watch your dog closely for any signs of illness. The recall alert will describe the signs that you should watch for depending on the system affected by the potential contaminant. If you see any signs that your dog may be sick, take her to the veterinarian immediately. Tell him or her about the food recall, and provide the sample of food that you reserved.

Call the Manufacturer

If you have recalled dog food or treats in your home, you should call the manufacturer to report it. You may need to leave a message. The company may refund your money for the product. It's also good to have a report started so that, if your dog does become ill, you can follow up with the company.

A Note on Homemade Diets

When you hear about dog food recalls and the potential for contaminated food to injure your dog, it may seem like the safest thing to do would be to cook your dog's food yourself. However, this is not usually a good idea. There is a delicate nutritional balance that is necessary to maintain your dog's health. If you do decide to use a homemade diet, make sure you consult your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist to obtain a recipe and follow it exactly.

Knowing what to do when you hear about a dog food recall can help you feel calmer and more in control. It can also aid you in decreasing the chances that your dog's health will be negatively impacted by a contaminated food source.

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