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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Animal & Veterinary

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Pet Food Safety

Paws Up for Progress

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 Cover of Pet Food Safety

by Gail O’Neill and Melanie McLean, DVM, Center for Veterinary Medicine, FDA

What pets need regularly is, of course, pet food. Pet owners feel responsible for providing their loved ones with safe nutrition from a complete and balanced diet. With Americans spending over 13 billion dollars each year to feed their pets, the pet food marketplace is large and complicated.

In 2007, a nationwide recall of pet food provoked a tense period of uncertainty for pet owners and veterinarians. Melamine-contaminated pet food caused severe, often fatal, kidney failure in dogs and cats.

The melamine incident proved to be both enormous and international in scope. During the 2007 pet food recall, FDA received over 11,000 consumer complaints about pet food. In contrast, in a normal year, FDA receives less than 200 pet food-related complaints.

As part of the 2007 Food and Drug Administration Amendments Act, a Pet Food Early Warning Surveillance System was created. The goal of the surveillance system is to quickly identify contaminated pet food and illness outbreaks associated with pet food. The system uses data collected by two surveillance resources – FDA’s Consumer Complaint Reporting System and the Safety Reporting Portal – to coordinate and disseminate information about pet food-related problems.

Who Ya Gonna Call? Consumer Complaint Coordinators!

Consumer complaints are FDA’s primary surveillance tool. FDA’s Consumer Complaint Reporting System allows consumers to report complaints about regulated products, including pet food, by calling FDA. The calls are handled by Consumer Complaint Coordinators in one of FDA’s 19 district offices located throughout the country.

“When consumers call FDA to report pet food problems, they are asked many questions about their pet, the pet food, and the problem. The questions help FDA determine if there is a link between the pet food and problem reported. Following an initial review of the complaint report, an FDA veterinarian may request additional information from the pet’s veterinarian.” explained Joan Trankle, FDA’s National Consumer Complaint Coordinator.

Safety Reporting Portal Opens a New Surveillance Door

May 2010 brought another surveillance tool to the Pet Food Early Warning Surveillance System in the form of the Safety Reporting Portal (SRP). Launched by FDA and the National Institutes of Health, the SRP is a website that allows the public to electronically report problems with regulated products. The portal acts like a door through which the public can pass information to FDA. Using the portal’s pet food questionnaire, consumers can report problems with their pets’ food.

The questionnaire, designed by pet food experts at FDA’s Center for Veterinary medicine (CVM) with input from information technology specialists, guides pet owners and veterinarians through the process of using the Safety Reporting Portal.

Veterinarians who report pet food problems on behalf of their clients provide valuable medical information to CVM. The SRP allows a veterinarian to upload a pet’s medical records, including blood work results, biopsy reports, and clinical findings and diagnoses. This information is a goldmine for the CVM personnel who analyze the pet food report.

“Early detection and reporting of pet food and pet treat problems help FDA intervene quickly,” said Dr. Bernadette Dunham, CVM’s Director. “The Safety Reporting Portal is a tremendous new tool that makes reporting even easier.”

Veterinarians who use the portal to report pet food-related problems take an active role in detecting and controlling foodborne diseases in our nation’s companion animals.

Safety Reporting Portal Success Shines!

Shortly after the portal’s electronic door opened in May 2010, veterinarians Devon Hague and William (Bill) Bush identified thiamine deficiency in a cat strictly eating one brand of canned food. Drs. Hague and Bush used the Safety Reporting Portal to report the problem, CVM contacted the manufacturer, and the manufacturer promptly launched a product recall.

“It was very easy to use the [SRP] website to report the case. It was convenient to upload the cat’s medical record into the report since our clinic has a computerized records system,” Dr. Hague said.

The SRP proved its worth as an important surveillance tool for the Pet Food Early Warning Surveillance System.

Pet Food Product Helpful Hints

  • Check FDA’s website for recalled products.
  • If your pet’s food or treats are recalled, immediately stop feeding the product to your pet. (Recalled products can be returned to the store where they were purchased or discarded in a secure area not accessible to animals. If you have questions about recalled pet food or treats or require additional information, contact the manufacturer.)
  • If your pet eats a recalled product and becomes ill, immediately consult your veterinarian.
  • If you find a problem with pet food or if your pet has an adverse reaction that you suspect resulted from pet food, report the problem to FDA by:
  • FDA recommends you also report the pet food problem to the manufacturer and to the store where you bought the product.
  • Do not throw out the pet food packaging and labeling. Important codes, numbers, and dates can be found on the packaging and labeling that will help FDA trace the pet food back to the manufacturing facility. Some of the important codes are hard to find and difficult to read. Keep the entire bag or package, not just a portion.
  • Always wash your hands after handling pet food and use proper hygiene when feeding your pet.
  • Please refer specific questions about your pet’s health or the specific use of a pet food to your veterinarian.

By reporting pet food-related illnesses and product problems to FDA, pet owners and veterinarians help FDA promptly detect problems and take necessary action. As the old saying goes, you are what you eat. Safe pet food will give our furry, finned, and feathered companions a longer, healthier, and oh-so-yummy life.  

How to Report Pet Food Problems Using the Safety Reporting Portal:

(The portal is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Internet Explorer 7 or higher is required.)

To access the Safety Reporting Portal:

  • Go to FDA’s website at http://www.fda.gov
  • Click on Animal & Veterinary
  • Click on How to Report a Pet Food Complaint
  • Click on Safety Reporting Portal

Adverse events or product problems associated with pet food products can be reported to FDA using the Safety Reporting Portal.

Some helpful definitions: 

  • “Pet food products” include pet food, pet treats, puppy and kitten milk replacers, nutritional supplements for pets, and pet beverages.
  • An “adverse event” is an unexpected clinical sign, reaction, or disease associated with a pet food product.
  • “Product problems” are detected by the consumer and may or may not be related to an adverse event. For example, plastic pieces found in a pet food that has not been fed to pets is a product problem.

You can submit a report as a “guest” or create an account.

If you create an account, you can:  

  • Save time with data entry, as the system pre-populates fields with your information, such as your name, address, and telephone number. You won’t have to re-enter this data for future reports.
  • Save a report in draft to finish later.
  • Easily provide follow-up information on a submitted report.
  • View all your submitted reports.
If you report as a guest:
  • You have to complete and submit the report in one session. Reports cannot be saved.
  • You cannot easily provide follow-up information on a submitted report.
  • You cannot view your submitted reports.
For more information, read the Pet Food Safety Reporting Frequently Asked Questions