Friday, November 15, 2013

These 4 steps can help you react to pet food, medication or toy recalls

Sinead the Boston terrier and her dog toy
Sinead clearly loves her toys. And I'm not sure I'd know how
to make something like this.
Watching my Twitter feed lately has been a nerve-racking experience. First, there were stories about dogs that fell ill and died after eating jerky treats. Then, there were stories about a common heartworm medication that also seemed to be sickening pets. And then, yet more dog treats were recalled.

It's enough to make any pet owner go pioneer. I started looking up recipes for dog treats I could make in my dehydrator, and I started wondering if my pets really needed to take flea and tick medications.

Thankfully, I regained my senses. After all, if I did create each and every item of food my two dogs and five cats ate, I'd have little time left for work. Plus, there are medications they need, and toys they want, that I simply don't have the ability to make in my residential kitchen. At the moment, I still need suppliers.

But, I did come up with a few commonsense tips pet owners can use in order to protect their pets from, and respond to, the recalls that are sure to come in the future. If I missed any, please be sure to add them in the comments section.

1. Pay attention to the source.

Many of the items that have been recalled in recent days have been made in other countries. China, in particular, has been associated with some of these concerns regarding meat products. China was also linked with the massive pet food recall of 2007.

I'm no chemist, and I haven't had the opportunity to check these products for contamination, but at the moment, I don't feel safe in buying any product that comes from a producer that operates overseas. But sticking to that plan means more than just looking for the "Made in the USA" label, as many producers import their raw materials from overseas and package them in this country, all while sticking to their flag-waving label.

Red-alert words include:
  • Distributed by
  • Imported for
  • Manufactured for
  • Sourced for
These are the sorts of phrases that indicate that some part of the product isn't made here. For now, I just can't buy anything that isn't made in the USA.

2. Buy from the same supplier.

When I lived in Portland, I had at least three different locally-owned pet stores I'd visit on a regular basis. Each had a slightly different product lineup, and sometimes, the price difference between the facilities saved me quite a bit of money.

But, when one of the foods I normally purchased was recalled, it took me several weeks to find out. Why? Because the batch number associated with that recall was only sold in one store and not the other two. Since I hadn't visited in several weeks, I didn't see the warning sign in the store and kept blithely feeding my guys something that could harm them.

Each time there's a recall, a reputable store will put up a big sign about that recall on the shelves where you'll grab your next packet of food. Going to the same store lets you see that sign a little easier.

3. Monitor the recalls.

New recalls are posted on a regular basis, and it can seem annoying to keep track of all of the data, but it's something we pet owners can and should do. The American Veterinary Medical Association keeps separate databases of recalls for animal food and animal products, and newer entries float to the top of the website. Checking the sites weekly can help you to spot problems as they unfold.

I also have my Twitter feed loaded with animal lovers and veterinarians, and that allows me to plug into the hive mind and find out about products that might be making pets sick, even though a recall hasn't yet taken place.

4. Report, report, report. 

If a product you purchase or use on your pets makes those pets sick, it's your duty to report it.

I know, I know. I've mentioned this before when Eamon had a terrible reaction to a flea medication. But still, I know of dozens of people who had food- or medication-related reactions unfolding in their homes, and who never reported the incidents to the FDA, the manufacturer or to a veterinarian. Instead, they just threw the products away.

Each time you report a problem to a manufacturer or the FDA, a tiny report is drawn up. If enough reports come in, the manufacturer or the FDA has a larger incentive to hold a recall or otherwise explain the issue through better product packaging. Staying silent could mean allowing yet more pets to get sick.

I should say here that I'm not a fan of gorilla vengeance, in which pet owners write scathing blogs about the deaths their pets may or may not have endured due to a product. Companies can sue, and unfortunately, they do. The safer bet is to work with the authorities and allow them to do the right thing. Reporting can make it happen.

I'd love it if no recalls took place in the future. But these steps can help us, if they do.

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