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What to Do in a Pet Food Recall

It’s up to you to be vigilant and informed before, during and after a pet food recall. Here's what to know.

Charlotte Reed  |  Oct 24th 2017


The United States pet food market made approximately $25 billion in 2016, according to Zion Market Research, and is projected to rise above $30 billion by 2022. Along with this positive growth comes increased pet food recalls. As a result, pet parents should be armed with proper information to handle a pet food recall, not only for their own pet’s health but for the safety of the greater pet community. “It is naive to think a pet food recall only affects a consumer. A recall, in fact, has a ripple effect,” says Michael Fleck, D.V.M., of the Animal Medical Center in Bradenton, Florida. “It could affect your pet, your health, other pet owners and their pets and even feral animals and thus the larger ecosystem.” He adds that “It’s important to understand recalls and follow suggested Federal Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines and best practices.”

What is a pet food recall?

A woman giving her dog water or food.

Pet owners can seek updates year-round about their brands using websites, email alerts, following the FDA on Twitter and by setting up Google alerts. Also sign up for your brand’s newsletter, or follow it on social media. Photography ©GlobalP| Thinkstock.

The FDA defines a recall as “when a product is removed from the market or a correction is made to the product because it is either defective or potentially harmful.”

There are three types of pet food recalls:

  1. By the company itself
  2. By FDA request
  3. By FDA order under statutory authority

How does a pet parent learn about a pet food recall?

The key is to stay informed. Since recalls occur in real time, you should seek updates year-round about your brands, using websites like the Federal Drug Administration (FDA.org) and the American Veterinary Medical Association. You can also register for email alerts from The Humane Society, follow the FDA on Twitter and set up Google alerts for the latest news about your brands.

Why are pet foods recalled?

Most pet foods are recalled for bacterial contamination (Salmonella); contaminants like melamine (2007); and foreign material in bags of dog food such as pieces of blue plastic from a broken conveyor belt (2012) or metal shards from broken equipment (2017). “It is important to note that not all recalls are a result of a company’s purposefully negligent behavior,” Dr. Fleck says. “Still, consumers must be vigilant for pet safety because mistakes do happen.”

My pet food has been recalled. What now?

A black and white dog looking worried.

If your food brand matches the recall, immediately stop feeding that food to your dog, and store recalled samples in the fridge for possible FDA testing. Photography ©GlobalP| Thinkstock.

When a company recalls a food item, the FDA and the company note the specific flavor, variety, type, batch and lot numbers on their websites. (Which is why you should keep the food bag or write down this information before putting the food in another container.)

Additionally, the company generally distributes a press release for news pick up. If your food brand matches the recall, immediately stop feeding that food to your dog. As an added precaution, store recalled food samples in the refrigerator in an airtight container for possible later FDA testing. Keep bar codes and batch information, and take pictures from the bag or container. If you’ve already disposed of the food, be sure no other animal, including a feral one, can consume it. This can extend harmful effects to the larger ecosystem.

If your pet has eaten the recalled food, consult a veterinarian immediately. Dr. Fleck says that even if symptoms are not immediately apparent, for the safety of your pet, get blood panels, X-rays and possible further testing, depending on the reason for the recall. After getting veterinary advice, report the incident to the FDA.

How to file a complaint in a pet food recall

A young girl looking worried.

Filing a complaint requires detailed product information, a description of the product’s problem and a description of the pet and how he’s affected. Photography © Fizkes | Thinkstock.

Complaints can be filed electronically through the Safety Reporting Portal, or you can phone FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinators (numbers on the FDA website, fda.gov). Reporting requires detailed product information, a description of the product’s problem and a description of the pet and how he’s affected.

FDA representatives review reports to determine additional follow-up, which may include collecting a food sample or pet diagnostics and analysis. Reporting the incident ensures ongoing pet food safety and monitoring. Recalls due to bacteria or other contaminants, like Salmonella, can also affect your family’s health, so experts agree that a pet’s food and water bowls, feeding mats, other utensils and even the eating area should be washed with hot, soapy water and sanitized with mild bleach, as extra precautions.

Once reported to the FDA, report the incident to the pet food manufacturer and the store where you purchased the food. The store may issue a full refund for the recalled product and, depending on how the pet was affected, you may even be able to recoup your vet bills from the manufacturer. (This could be a lengthy process and legal representation may be necessary to resolve the matter.)

Staying with the brand?

“The reason for the recall and how the company handles the situation often determines if a pet owner continues to use the product,” says Debbie Phillips-Donaldson, Editor-in-Chief of Petfood Industry/Petfood Forum.

She suggests evaluating the company’s transparency, helpfulness and sympathetic response as well as reviewing its website. Phillips-Donaldson even suggests consumers review company recall history, FDA warning letters, failed inspections or other issues — most of which are online.

According to Dan Nagy, sales and marketing manager at Loving Pet Products, reputable companies have safety plans to handle issues of tainted products. For example, he says Loving Pets tests supplier ingredients, tests batches of final product, posts results of batch testing online and addresses consumer complaints in 24 hours.

“Our consumers are everything to us, and transparency is our company culture,” Nagy says. Lastly, although companies take precautions to protect pet health and safety, it’s up to all consumers and pet owners to be vigilant and informed before, during and after a recall.

Thumbnail: Photography ©Kosamtu | Thinkstock.

Charlotte Reed is the leading pet trend and lifestyle expert. She’s the Executive Producer and host of The Pet Buzz on iHeart Radio and the author of The Miss Fido Manners Complete Book of Dog Etiquette. She’s appeared on many TV shows, like CNN and Fox & Friends, plus served on the NY State Veterinary Board.

Editor’s note: This article appeared in Dogster magazine. Have you seen the new Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? Subscribe now to get Dogster magazine delivered straight to you

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