Recently several batches of dog food have been recalled because they were found to have levels of aflatoxins above acceptable limits. Aflatoxins develop when the mold Aspergilus forms on corn, a common ingredient in pet foods.

This time it was dry Dog Power Dog Food produced by Advanced Animal Nutrition.  Before that, two other dog food manufacturers (The Procter & Gamble Company which makes Iams ProActive Health Smart Puppy dry dog food and Cargill Animal Nutrition, which makes both River Run and Marksman dog food) also pulled their products off the shelves for high aflatoxin levels. Cargill also made several of the other brands, such as Arrow.

Aflatoxins can cause sluggishness, vomiting, and diarrhea in some dogs.

While all of these recalls were voluntary on the part of the manufacturers, the situation can still leave many animal owners concerned about the safety of their pet foods. Here is some basic information about the duties of the government and pet food manufacturers to keep pet food safe, as well as some ways that consumers can get involved.

Pet food regulation is performed both by federal and state governments.  The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) is the basic federal law for regulating pet food (and people food) in the country.  The FFDCA requires that all pet foods are to be safe for animals to eat.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is in charge of enforcing the FFDCA and the Center for Veterinary Medicine is the branch within the FDA that is specifically responsible for making sure that pet foods are safe.

At the state level, each state government has its own set of regulations for pet food.  While the federal and state governments are distinctly separate systems for pet food regulation, they will often work with each other to make sure that pet food is safe.  The biggest difference is that the state governments will only have authority over pet food distributed in its particular state while the federal government will have authority over pet food distribution across all state lines.

Currently there is no federal agency that is specifically responsible for monitoring and responding to foodborne disease outbreaks in pet food.  Because of this, the Pet Event Tracking Network, or PETNet, was established to act as a web-based monitoring system that can be used by both federal and state agencies.  PETNet is comprised solely of federal, state, and local government employees that are experts in pet food regulation and safety.  PETNet’s main role is to share information and report any problems to pet food regulators who can then take immediate action to solve the problems.

Registered Food Facilities that manufacture pet food are required under federal law to report when there is a possibility that its food will cause health problems for animals.  In order to do this, the FDA created a Reportable Food Registry for Industry called the Safety Reporting Portal (SRP), which is an online mechanism for bringing food safety issues to the attention of the FDA.  The SRP is supposed to review every report that it receives and take appropriate action after its review.

There are also a few options available to consumers who want to take an active role in the safety of not only their own pets, but all pets nationwide.

The FDA provides a few options that consumers may use to report complaints about pet food.  Just like pet food manufacturers, consumers can also use the Safety Reporting Portal to submit complaints about a particular pet food.  After the SRP reviews the complaint, the issue will either be immediately investigated or handled in some other manner, such as following up with the information at the next scheduled inspection of the facility.  Consumers may also contact the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinators for their state to report any problems they experience with their pet’s food.

Consumers can stay on top of pet safety issues generally by subscribing to the FDA’s Animal & Veterinary Health RSS feed or by signing up for the FDA’s e-mail subscription service and managing their preferences to include news about “Animal & Veterinary Health.”  If these sources are still too broad, consumers can also check the FDA’s website for pet food recalls or they can search for their specific brand of pet food through the FDA’s Pet Food Recall Products List. 

For any other matters, consumers may call the FDA at 1-888-SAFEFOOD (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Eastern Standard Time) or 1-888-INFO-FDA.  In case of an emergency, the FDA’s 24-hour emergency line is 301-443-1240.


Caitlin Gezgin is a second-year J.D. student at the University of Arkansas School of Law. 

  • TP

    It is interesting that the major players in the Pet Food World are having recalls due to toxins.
    Testing procedures for toxins are available through companies that are experts in this area and have excellent training programs for their customers.
    They also provide updated reports on crop area that have toxin issues so companies can be in a proactive mode.
    Vendor on site inspections and sampling is a major key in controlling this issue.
    Defined this is a food safety issue that can be controlled with proper training.

  • Eucritta

    Since the FDA does not have authority to require recalls of pet food, all recalls are ‘voluntary.’ This therefore has no bearing on how serious the contamination requiring recall actually is, nor does it indicate one way or another if harm has been caused by the recalled product.
    There was one ‘product pull’ – evidently for some, ‘recall’ is too harsh a word – prior to those listed: P&G’s recall of Iams puppy food on sale at Price Chopper.
    Aflatoxin over time can cause serious liver disease in dogs, not just the runs. It is also a known carcinogen.
    The FDA is slow to post information on pet food recalls, and cannot be relied upon to provide timely information. In fact, there is no single source for this information, and posts may be weeks late. In this series of rolling recalls, for instance, the Cargill recall of Arrow brand foods was dated for ‘immediate release’ on Dec 13th, but not actually posted to the FDA’s website until Dec 28th. And I’m not even certain if the Price Chopper Iams ‘product pull’ was ever posted by the FDA – a search for it turned up dry.

  • I learned recently that we should all be washing our hands after handling dog or cat food due to the possibility of getting salmonella.
    In other words, take the exact same precautions you would with raw chicken.
    Makes you wonder….

  • Thank you for sharing! We are currently choosing the most quality dog foods to carry on our website, Any suggestions based on experience are welcome!

  • Thanks for the great article, the post from Eucritta still has me worried that any recall may just be to late for my little buddy.

  • As the author puts forward in the article, there are options available for consumers to stay informed and report problems with pet food, but those choices are far from ideal.
    I would have authored a more cautionary tale to consumers of pet products. After doing years of research in this field it is my belief that consumers would be better served by the government by allowing them to have full access to information.
    To begin, the Federal laws governing pet food are not the same as human food – in fact, far from it. Pet food and animal feed manufacturers are both held by vastly different standards than human food, and they are not held accountable to the same laws that govern food for humans.
    Laws are in place, but the FDA does not enforce them. FDA Compliance Policies allow manufacturers to break the law without being prosecuted. As example: an FDA Compliance Policy states “POLICY: Pet food consisting of material from diseased animals or animals which have died otherwise than by slaughter, which is in violation of 402(a)(5) will not ordinarily be actionable, if it is not otherwise in violation of the law. It will be considered fit for animal consumption.” I Assume that everyone is aware of what type of material they are referring to.
    Secondly, the PETNet in practice could work, however, as the database of reports will not be available to the public, I question it’s value to consumers. It will not serve as a tool to warn consumers of possible problems. It would seem that it’s purpose is to facilitate an internal mechanism for industry and government to communicate. Without full transparency consumers are left in the dark.
    Thirdly, although the Federal government has a system in place for taking information from consumers about pet food problems, unfortunately the accumulation of that information is also unavailable publicly, so consumers have no way of knowing which foods are being reported on or for what reason. It could serve to help consumers to decide if, for example, they wished to continue feeding their dog chicken jerky treats from China.
    Fourth, I’m not sure what real effect reporting adulterated pet food to a state Consumer Complaint Coordinators would have if Federal law allows diseased animals in pet food, for example. Although, having said that, I would hesitate to advise anyone against doing so.
    Fifth, the FDA’s Animal & Veterinary Health RSS feed is actually feed for the FDA’s Consumer Health Information Updates which covers news updates about all FDA-regulated products, not just animal and veterinary products. Be prepared to wade through page after page of reports on human-related products before you come accross something relevant to pet food.
    Finally, the Pet Food Recall Product page is a joke. The information is not current and it is seldom updated in a timely manner. In fact, the last time it was updated was November 15, 2010.
    Add to that, the information you do find, although outdated, is not organized in a logical fashion. The information should be in reverse chronological order, but in order to search for the most recent recalls you must first possess psychic powers to know whose pet food or what type of pet food is being recalled.
    The default search structure is set to search via the pet food manufacturer (a long list of every pet food manufacturer who have had a recall since 2007) or by the type of food for each species.
    And don’t bother with their download of recalled pet foods (dating from 2007) because it also has not been updated in a long time. The last entry is dated June 2011.
    To the person who thinks the FDA does not have the authority to recall pet food or animal feed: they are mistaken. As of June 2010, the FDA has had the power to do so.
    The best advice I can give pet consumers is to follow this blog, Phyllis Entis’ and Susan Thixton’s for timely, accurate and thoughtful information.

  • Kris L

    This is all very good information, thank you. I only buy natural dog foods that have proven testing and safety records. Why would I give my best friend something I didn’t trust was safe? Some companies have their products tested by third party testing facilities to prove they are safe to consumers (I know Natural Balance tests all their products). I have also called them and had all my questions answered.

  • PAUX

    Kris, Natural Balance has had 8 recalls within the last 5 years, not that they wanted to do so. Did you know that some of what is in their product does come from China and they sub contract their manufacturing. There is an issue now with their brand and dogs and cat getting severly ill and some dying. Yes, they say they do their testing, but it has been independent labs that have found contaminents not theirs. Even when there are complaints, they tell customers that they have not received any, sorry, you may have talked to a very nice customer service person but their product is not to be trusted…my dog died.