Canadians Try To Kill Your Pets - Pet Food Recall

By Andrea Karim on 18 March 2007 (Updated 10 June 2007) 21 comments

Canada is at it again. This time, it's not mad cow (as far as we know), but will these insidious northerners never stop?

Menu Foods of Ontario, Canada, recently issued a recall for dog and cat foods manufactured by the company that is sold under several brands, following the death of at least 10 animals in North America since the beginning of this year, mostly from kidney failure. You can find a list of all the foods being recalled here.

Before you Canucks get all up in arms, I should point out that I'm not really blaming Canadians; I've just always wanted to have a post title like that. Americans are not immune to this kind of pet disaster: pet food recalls have happened a lot here in the past, and it appears that this current contamination occurred only in US plants that produce food for Menu Foods (thanks to astute and humourless Canadian readers for pointing this out).

I'm also a Canadian citizen, FYI, I just happen to live in the US. So keep your tuques on.

The Culprit

Menu Foods believes that the contamination was caused by wheat gluten or another product associated with wheat gluten (the origin of the tainted gluten has not been identified), a very common ingredient in most dog food. If you didn't know that, I should point out that another extremely common ingredient is corn husks. I should also point out that the list of possibly contaminated pet food brands is very long, and you should check to see if your pet food is on the list.

Now, lest you say to yourself "Ah, I don't feed my dogs that crappy dry stuff - only the best canned gravy and meat for my little poochie woochie", keep in mind that:

The recall covers the company's "cuts and gravy" style food, which consists of chunks of meat in gravy, sold in cans and small foil pouches from Dec. 3 to March 6.

This would be a pat, yet tragic, lead-in into my latest Expensive Pets series, if it weren't for the fact that the jury is still out pet food. Like breastfeeding and (male) circumcision, pet food (specifically dog food) is one of those topics that inflames the passions and fills the forums, especially for people who have nothing better to do with their time than worry about what other people are doing with their own bodies (and I'm not saying that I'm not among them - bloggers obviously shouldn't throw stones from their glass houses).

The Raw Story

Most of the vets I talked to about dog food felt that the usual stuff that we feed our animals is fine, just fine. I tend to trust vets. That said, I haven't felt comfortable feeding my pets regular dog food since I discovered what is actually used to make dog food. There is a very devoted group of people out there who absolutely refuse to feed their pets processed pet food at all.

Some of these people cook for their dogs - they buy meat and cook it, sometimes with veggies, sometimes without. And we're not talking just any old meat, but grassfed, hormone free, free range organic meat. Others believe fervently in raw foods (read: raw meat) for dogs, the idea being that dogs are natural predators and originally ate raw meat from a kill, and thus, are genetically disposed to survive best on a diet of raw meat.

I personally won't use this approach, first because of the risks involved in handling and serving raw meat, and second, because my dogs are so far removed from their predatory ancestors that it's not even funny. There is nothing about my dogs that suggests that their lineage has been fed anything but dumplings and kung pao chicken for the past few thousand years or so.

Raw pet food is also very expensive (figures range quite a bit depending on the amount, but appear to average about $100 a month). Now, I pay quite a bit for a special diet food for my dogs, who are allergic to corn and wheat, but oddly enough, not dust bunnies or cat vomit. And I will occasionally switch out their food for some cooked meals (mostly chicken stew with veggies) that they seem to like and digest well. As far as I know, my brand of dog food (which is actually a prescription food provided by our vet) has never had any recall problems, and doesn't use any of the ingredients that typically cause problems in dogs (corn, wheat, and dairy are common allergens).

C'mon - It's Just a Dog!

I've heard a lot of people question the sanity of spending so much on our animals. After all, domesticated dogs have been living with us for at least a hundred years (longer with the upper classes) and they've been eating dog food all these hundreds of years, right?

Well, yes and no. Dog food as a product is a fairly recent invention. Prior to dog food, most domesticated dogs ate table scraps from their family (in fact, that's what my vet in China told me to feed mine, since Chinese dog food brands are not to be trusted). Not only do dogs get a better range of food that way, but it enforces the pack hierarchy that dogs seem to understand (you're in charge, so you eat first; they are lower on the totem pole, so they eat your leftovers). In any case, even if dog food had been around for a much longer time, our meat processing has changes drastically over the past hundred years or so.

Small farms have been replaced by massive operations with tens of thousands of heads of cattle. Slaughterhouses are a complete nightmare, and cows are fed hormones to make them grow faster, and antibiotics to keep them from getting sick since they are all packed together in tight spaces. Animals who naturally eat grass are now fed corn and other grains, the starch content of which isn't digested well by the bovine's many stomachs.

You probably know all of this already. It's the reason that many people insist on eating all natural meat these days. Since I don't eat much in the way of meat, it's harder for me to make a comparison between the food that I eat and the food I feed my dogs, but the question that I asked myself was "Should I give my pets the same consideration that I give myself?".

This, by the way, is not meant as a criticism of people who have fed their pets using store brand pet food. I certainly would have done the same if my dogs weren't hideously allergic to those foods. They're generally affordable, and seem to be trustworthy, and hey, pets gobble the stuff down, right?

The sad reality seems to be that the kinds of ingredients that go into these food isn't nearly as natural or as friendly as we would like to belive. This recent recall is one example of how inferior ingredients can go terribly, terribly wrong. However, don't take this as a persoanl diatribe against average pet food. I have the luxury of blowing some of my paycheck on prescription pet food - many people don't. Also, growing up, I had a dog (Toto, the toy poodle who thought she was a Great Dane). Toto always ate store-brand food, and she lived to be 16.

IMNSHO (In My Not-So-Humble Opinion)

It can be difficult to justify a large expenditure on all-organic natural dog food for creatures that will eat other animals droppings.

My own decision to feed my dogs a special diet food stemmed less from my overall love for them and more from seeing the misery that they were experiencing eating the regular ol' store-brand dog food that we started purchasing once we returned to the States. My shih tzu, in particular, was suffering from awful skin rashes, which he would gnaw until he was bleeding. Don't think that I didn't consider the cost of the food, because I did. Ultimately, economics won: the cost of the special dog food ($50 a month) was significantly less than the cost of taking him to the emergency clinic every time he chewed his back into a bloody mess ($300 a month).

About a year ago, I did purchase some dehydrated raw food (which was technically cooked enough to kill germs) but when I took out the first little food patty, I cut my finger on a bone shard. Turkey bone, as it turns out. Every dog owner knows not to feed their dogs poultry bones because the sharp edges can shred their esophagi - so I was shocked that this company wouldn't have tried harder to grind the bone down or leave it out altogether.

All of this back and forth has left me rather stumped on the issue of the best diet for my dogs. Meat can be dangerous enough if there is even minimal contamination, so the idea of purchasing raw frozen meat and then defrosting and serving it is really beyond reasonable for me. However, I don't mind cooking meals, although it's definitely inconvenient, given that I don't even have the time or the energy to cook for myself.

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Guest's picture
Guest

I find it interesting the way you blame Canada for the pet food recall, when yes, the company that distributes the food is Canadian, BUT the manufacturers responsible for the tainted food are located in the UNITED STATES...maybe you should check your facts before you start blogging away...

Andrea Karim's picture

It was a joke. I know those aren't as common up in the Great White North as they are here. It was meant to grab your attention and nothing more.

By the way, I've seen nothing that claims that the tainted product was from American manufacturers.

Product testing has not revealed a link explaining the reported cases of illness and death, the company said.

That said, only American animals have gotten sick. So it could very well be that the responsible party is American.

Guest's picture
Guest

The news release on the Menu Foods website clearly states that the source of the problem was several of its facilities located in the US.

The CNN link in your response also states that the problems are in the US facilities, not the Canadian facility.

I find it sad that comments like this are treated as jokes when they come from Americans, but if this was a Canadian site and the title reflected Americans killing Canadian's pets, the site would likely have a stream of nasty comments from Americans.

Guest's picture
Guest

If it's any consolation.. I, for one, found the 'Blame Canada' spoof pretty amusing. I rather like Canada, and my cat happens to be one of the unfortunate few now being treated for kidney failure associated with the recall food.. but, c'mon.. funny is funny. (And, having just experienced the pleasure of administering a third round of SQ fluids to one extraordinarily displeased formerly feral cat- thank you, Menu Foods!- humor is a very welcome diversion.)

The contaminated food appears to be linked to two of the company's manufacturing plants.. both of which are located in the US (one in Kansas, the other in New Jersey), so the contamination may well have originated in the States. That said, it's not the contamination that irks me as much as it is Menu's decision to wait ten days from the time they halted production of the food (having determined that it was toxic) to the time they felt it pertinent to issue a recall. (Guess who decided she'd be nice and purchase a couple of pouch food 'snacks' for her cats during the ten day waiting period? Yeah. Thanks, again, Menu!) Very uncool.

I urge pet owners who use or have been using wet foods associated with Menu to keep an eye on the company's recall site. They have continued to post additional brands and lot numbers since the initial recall. Individuals who think their food is safe because the lot numbers or sell-by dates checked out earlier in the recall could be in for a nasty surprise. Personally, I'd just chuck (or return) the whole lot of it regardless of what batch it's from. Better safe than sorry, y'know? It's not worth it.. this stuff is nasty.

Will Chen's picture

is probably the best movie musical number ever.

Andrea Karim's picture

I'm so sorry to hear about your cat! My sincere wishes that your feline recovers quickly and that there aren't any lasting problems. I also didn't mention that delay by the company in notifying the public about the problem, but that is a deplorable thing, indeed.

Regarding literacy, well, I'm as edumacated as the next person, but indeed, it seems that I manage to skim over the info about the processing plants in the US. The link to the article does mention that the facilities are on the East Coast. However, no one has figured out where the gluten originated, so you're not off the hook yet.

Oh, and by the way, if there was a Canadian site that said that Americans were trying to kill pets, it's doubtful that any Americans would notice. Americans usually don't read Canadian media. That's not meant as an insult to Canada so much as a commentary of the insular nature of Americans when it comes to their news and entertainment.

Love the latest season of Corner Gas, by the way. God Save the Queen!

Greg Go's picture
Greg Go

Lest any pet owners think they're not affected, remember that Menu Foods is the largest producer of wet pet food in North America. They make the "gravy" line for major brands like Iams, and it seems most of the private label (store brand) for the big retailers -- Krogers, Safeway, Walmart, PetSmart.

Check that brand list Andrea posted!

Regarding Menu Foods' slow response, I'm not even sure it was Menu Foods who decided to do the recall. It seems like their hand was forced by their "largest customer" -- Proctor & Gamble?

The press release (pdf) was written for business and financial editors. ("The Fund" is the parent company -- Menu Foods Income Fund.)

The Fund's largest customer, for which it manufactures on a contract basis, received a small number of consumer complaints and has initiated its own recall. ... This customer's cuts and gravy purchases in 2006 represented approximately 11% of the Fund's annual revenue.

The wording makes me think the P&G recall basically forced Menu Foods to do the same. How much longer would they have waited if P&G didn't do something first?

Guest's picture
Guest

That's exactly what I've been thinking.. that they only scrambled to get the recall underway when it became apparent that they were on their way to being outed by Procter & Gamble.

They'd been receiving complaints since December of last year, and knew enough to halt manufacturing of the tainted foods by 3/6, yet no public warnings were issued until Friday.. 'coincidentally' the very same day that P&G came forward. Menu was also obviously unprepared at the time the recall was issued, with no information as to which products were potentially dangerous being offered until the next morning. Even then, the list was woefully inadequate and failed to cover numerous batches of suspect food- including that which sickened Tyson.

Kudos to P&G for recalling when they did.. if they hadn't, I probably would've had no idea that my cat was being poisoned by his food. In fact, had he been treated at the vet's and survived, I probably would have 'rewarded' him with more of the same when he returned home- seeing as he absolutely loved the pouches I'd bought. I've read multiple stories of people doing just that- and, following the second round of exposures to the contaminated foods, their pets died.

Shame on Menu.

Guest's picture
brian

First I want to express condolences to everyone who has lost a pet from a menu foods product. Second I want to thank everyone on this site for possibly helping to save my cat (still waiting to see is she recovers).

2 days ago I came to this site looking for answers, I found lots of testimonials about sick and dying pets. I called my wife and told her it’s worse than we thought and to take the cat to the Vet. immediately. He was suspect because of the symptoms (listless, drinking and peeing a lot) so he pulled blood work. The blood work showed some kidney damage (by the enzymes the kidneys were spilling into the blood). He said that typically these enzymes don’t show up until about 75% kidney failure has occurred, so he anticipated Felix (my cat) had suffered at least that much damage. He also said that there are 2 types of kidney damage chronic (happens over many years and isn’t reversible) and acute (from a toxic insult) there has been some success in reversing some of the damage of the acute type if it is treated soon enough).

If you think you dog or cat is not behaving normally take it to your vet and have a blood panel run!
If your vet doesn’t take you seriously enough take you pet to another vet!
This poising epidemic is much more wide spread than the news has been letting on, thousands of animals may die from this before they know why.
Stop feeding the pet food immediately!
Freeze the open pouches or cans and hold onto the unopened food! (don’t throw away the evidence).
Veterinarians and the FDA are collecting samples of food their affected patients were eating.

Last word of advice, don’t be angry at Wal-Mart, Eukanuba, Iams etc. none of them whished or wanted something like this to happen. Menu Foods is another story, we can be angry with them!

here's a link into Menufoods web site that will get you past their recall page.

http://www.menufoods.com/ir/index.html
the code of ethics is a must read..

Here's an e-mail link
investorrelations@menufoods.com
Let them know what you think!

Guest's picture
nancy

KIDDING, just KIDDING.
Thought some levity was warranted given some of the taking-it-way-too-seriously comments above. Good grief, fellow Canucks, what's happened to our (british ancestor) sense of humOUr??

and on a more serious note - my two daschunds are the delights of my life, and for anyone who's pets were affected, my heart goes out.

Andrea Karim's picture

Thanks, Nancy. My Canadian family doesn't take ribbing too well, either, so I kind of expected a few angry people. :) God Save The Queen!

Guest's picture
alkaser

May be you're right.. but!!
You know what.. If you need more information about dog and how to feed them the real thing, just visit this blog:

http://dogfoodsecrets.blogspot.com/

Follow the instructions there, and read their articles and you will keep your dog alive for more 5-8 years more than expect!! They publish new and exclusive articles every single day.. believe me!!

Guest's picture
Kirk

I am surfing the web @ 330am because my dog was barfing and I see this title what the f* is wrong with you and f* you Canadians killing our pets, maybe you should just stay in the states the likes of you. not very funny right now while I am waiting for the vet to open

Andrea Karim's picture

I hope that your dog is OK, and not a victim of the pet food poisoning.

It turns out that the wheat gluten was actually from China. So we can blame them now. Although there aren't any really good songs about blaming China.

Guest's picture
patty

When did all the posioning start? Because the end of december my miniture schaucher just laid down and died. And one of the prouducts is all we feed her. Could it have been going on awhile? Any comments would help. Thanks Patty in Missouri

Andrea Karim's picture

Hi, Patty,

First, I am so sorry for your loss. In response to your question, it seems like late December is EXACTLY when pets started falling ill.

Itchmo has a timeline here: http://www.itchmo.com/menu-foods-recall-fact-sheet

You can see that people started complaining about ill pets in late December, but oddly enough, the company didn't start recalling brands until March.

Please follow the advice from CBS News, below.

Q. Who can I call with questions?

A: Menu Foods has a consumer hot line at 1-866-463-6738 and 1-866-895-2708. The FDA is asking those with sick or dead pets to call FDA state complaint coordinators. A list of contacts for such coordinators is available at http://www.fda.gov/opacom/backgrounders/complain.html.

Andrea Karim's picture

For those not keeping up, but wanting to:

http://consumerist.com/consumer/menu-foods/menu-foods-exec-sold-half-his-shares-3-weeks-before-recall-251565.php

Anyone still doubt just how devious Canadians are?

Guest's picture
Alain

I searched the web for information concerning dog food poisoning and this was one of the results. Do you find losing a pet amusing ? Ask my 3 kids aged 2,4,7 they lost their beloved dog ! And i do not find anything amusing in accusing Canada or the Usa ! Blame the companies that made the food and did no controls of its quality. I think that changing your title and offering information would be a better way then trying to start a blog war ! There's enough conflict in the world. Would it not be nice to see how we could get together to find solutions to make sure these things do not happen again? Pet food and human consumption foods !
How can we make legislation make laws to prevent this from happening again in North America ? Try that as your subject and you will probably have the most popular blog on the net , people love their pets and appreciate the people involved in keeping them Healthy !
And to those who lost pets or have a sick pet speak up and make a change ! Get together and do something .
Sorry for those who lost a pet or has a sick one .....

Andrea Karim's picture

I recognize that many people read a blog post title and are pretty sure that they have the gist of it, but believe me, if you ACTUALLY READ THE POST, you might find that I don't think there's anything funny about losing a pet. As a pet owner, I would never find joy in someone else's loss.

That said, it's not my responsilbility to track the pet food poisoning story - that's being done by my friends Ben and Emily at Itchmo. If you had bothered to read any further than the post title, you would realize that this was an article about what to feed animals, should you not want to take the risk by feeding your pets the dreck produced by the pet food industry.

Guest's picture
ladonna

Very useful, excellent information..
You might also find it useful to visit my website: http://www.petsmanners.info

Guest's picture

Some good articles related to the wellness of your dog and dog food can be found here www.tipconnection.com/tc_pet_care_and_pet_food.html
I think organic home cooked food is the best way to go to feed my dog, it seem to show, ill post a picture soon ;-)