Long-time WDJ contributor Mary Straus and I are working on some articles about the cases of canine dilated cardiomyopathy that have been discussed in every dog-related setting for many months now. One of the next issues of WDJ will contain the first of the pieces that we have been collaborating on. But I just thought I would share something interesting that I noticed in the process of gathering information from various pet food companies.
We wanted to see what sort of response a consumer might get from writing to pet food companies about a problem with their foods. We went to the websites of 39 pet food companies and looked for email addresses to send a note to, and found, to our surprise, that only seven listed any kind of email address. Instead, the majority of companies offer a web form for consumers to fill out – you know, the kind of thing where you fill in your name, email address, perhaps phone number, and then a comment/question, and then hit “submit.”
Why did I find this interesting? Because it leaves the consumer with no way to prove they had ever sent a letter or question to the company! Or provide them with a dated copy of the letter or question they sent!
My letter to pet food companies
This is the letter I sent to the 39 companies:
“Hello, I am trying to gather information about the response of pet food companies to the FDA’s announcements/updates about the apparent increase in cases of canine DCM, especially in dogs who have been fed diets containing peas and other legumes, potatoes, and sweet potatoes.
Your company was among those whose products were named in reports to the FDA by consumers as being potentially implicated in their dogs’ disease.
Would you please tell me if or how your company has chosen to respond to the news of this issue? Have you made any changes to any of your formulas? If so, what were those changes, and to which/how many of your products?
If you have not made any changes to your formulas, could you explain your justification for this?
If you have already released a pertinent response, could you please direct me to or send me a copy of that statement?”
Responses to my inqueries
I received responses from 25 of the 39 companies. Now, take this with a grain of salt, because I made a custom email address for the companies to respond to, and it’s possible that at least some of the companies wrote back because the email address clearly identified the inquiry I sent them as being from Whole Dog Journal (InquiryFromWholeDogJournal@gmail.com). Also, within a few days, five companies sent me personalized responses, based on the fact that my inquiry had been forwarded to someone at the company that knew me, either from manufacturing site tours or meetings at pet product trade shows or something.
Also, I received phone calls from representatives of three companies, each of whom I had met personally at some point in the past. My cell phone number was present in the letter I sent to each company, but only people with whom I had spoken in years past actually called me to discuss the letter I sent.
I received what appeared to be automatically generated responses from 24 companies – the kind of email that says, “We got your note, we’ll get back to you within 48 hours (or some such).” And like I said, one company’s representative called me right away, and two more called me within a few days, and about five more responded within days with a personalized response. But two weeks later, six of the companies who responded with these automatic responses still have not gotten back to me. At least (most of them) provided toll-free phone numbers to call if I was interested in getting a quicker response.
Of the 19 companies whose responses I have not yet described, a few were so generic as to be completely useless, or suggested that I call the company instead. For example:
“We would be happy to speak to you about this matter… Our Customer Care Specialists may be reached at 888-XXX-XXXX.”
How about this one? It sounds like the company is addressing my inquiry, because it uses some of the same words in my inquiry, but it doesn’t answer anything I asked! “We appreciate you bringing your concern regarding the canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy and we are happy to answer your inquiry. Please know that as a leader in pet nutrition, we stand behind the safety and quality of all our foods and meet or exceed every major food quality and safety standard including those issued by the FDA, USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) and AAFCO. We also have not been contacted by the FDA regarding any cases involving our products.” (The response was longer, but didn’t address any of the questions that I asked.)
By the way, of the three companies whose representatives (including two company owners) who called me in response to my inquiry, none had spoken with anyone from the FDA regarding the cases of DCM that had reportedly implicated or mentioned their products. The two company owners I spoke with told me that they had tried to reach someone at the FDA, but had zero success.
I’m happy to report that a few companies did respond directly to my questions. The rest tended to refer me to statements on the company websites that they had already prepared in response to the issue well ahead of my inquiry. Those statements, of course, don’t necessarily answer my questions directly.
Try It Yourself
I’ll be trying to reach the companies again via their toll-free numbers and will report on whether that effort is more or less successful.
I will admit a bias toward companies that have phone numbers on their labels and websites and email addresses on at least their websites, to make it as easy as possible for consumers to reach them in case of a dog food-related health issue. And of course, my bias is even stronger toward companies who are staffed with knowledgeable people who can respond appropriately and directly to inquiries in a timely manner. Don’t assume for a second that this rules out all the so-called boutique pet food companies, or qualifies all the giant pet food stalwarts.
Try it yourself! Write to or call your favorite dog food company and ask something simple, such as “Have you always included taurine as a supplement in your dog diets? Do you do so now?” or “Can you tell me how much taurine, or cysteine and methionine, is in (name of food you feed your dog)?”
If you ask the latter question – and they have an answer! – make sure you ask also whether the amount is expressed “as fed” or on a “dry matter basis.”
Let us know how it goes!