Can dog food make a dog sick?
November 1, 2005 5:24 AM   Subscribe

I think my dog's food is making him sick.

Two of my dogs have been eating Wellness brand for years. The last bag I bought stated a "new and improved flavor." The first night, my little 10-pound yorkie got violently ill for about 36 hours (explosive liquids everywhere, labored breathing, dehydration), and the 50-pound dog had some diarhhea. I brought the yorkie to the vet and they couldn't find anything wrong with him and didn't think the food was the problem. They've both been on a boiled chicken and rice diet for about 5 days, and last night I started integrating the dry Wellness food with the chicken and rice, and now the yorkie was vomiting last night and had diarhhea, but not as bad as before, so I am thinking it is definitely the food because he only had a little of it mixed in with his chicken and rice last night. I guess my question is, is it possible that whatever the flavor change is, could it be an ingredient that is making my dogs sick? Wouldn't Wellness have tested the food before releasing it to the public? Could it just be a bizarre coincidence? I'm waiting to hear back from the vet today, but they did all kinds of tests to determine that it wasn't anything serious the first time this happened last week.
posted by archimago to Pets & Animals (8 answers total)
It's definitely possible. Here is their website, they're normally quite good about answering questions.

My first instinct, going by the symptoms that you're describing, and assuming that they haven't gotten into something they shouldn't, is that it's possible you got a bad bag of food - maybe it wasn't stored properly on the way to the store you got it at, maybe it wasn't stored properly at the store, maybe it got wet, etc. This does happen from time to time even with the best foods.

One thing you could do is switch to a food with a very short ingredients list like California Natural (it comes with either chicken or lamb as the protein base), and then, assuming your dogs are doing well on it, add additional ingredients one at a time to see how they do. That said, normally dogs react to allergies with skin problems, not with vomiting, which brings me back to suspecting that it's this particular bag/batch/formulation of food that's the problem.
posted by biscotti at 5:29 AM on November 1, 2005

Bizarre...a similar thing just happened to one of our dachshunds over the course of the past month...he was eating our standard dry food, then came down with a case of "crabby butt" (ie: diahrrea) that really wouldn't go away...we switched to the chicken and rice and sweet potatoes diet to ease the GI tract, and things settled down.

But, as we eased the dry food back in, he started to act all uncomfortable again. Took him to the vet (previously we had done the full battery of blood/worm/etc tests...which turned up nothing), and she mentioned that he had colitis, which admittedly is a pretty generic term that has a lot of causes and whatnot.

"...normally dogs react to allergies with skin problems..."

Our vet (and many articles i've read) seemed to say that oftentimes food allergies can manifest themselves as GI ailments (like colitis) our case, we moved our dogs back to the chicken/rice diet and things have settled down. We think it might be traced back to a wheat or dairy allergy...but, we're still figuring it out.

On difference from archimago's story is that this only affected one of our two dogs...even though they share the exact same diet...which seems to point more towards an allergy than an issue with the actual food quality. So...yeah...
posted by tpl1212 at 6:52 AM on November 1, 2005

I am not a veterinarian, but what Biscotti said makes sense to me: it's probably a spoiled bag. If you want to try that again jot down the lot number and expiration date so you'll know what to avoid, and maybe buy it from another store if you can, but be prepared to have to trash that too. (Why can't expensive dog foods come in small "trial size" packages too?)

My own problem with Wellness is my puppy doesn't like the chicken-based Super 5 Mix Puppy formula much. I'd noticed he wasn't eating like I thought a puppy should and just in case I got him a bag of kibble made from "chicken meal" because it was more like the cheap stuff the local rescue person had fed him: it soon turned out there was nothing with his appetite, he just prefers the taste of something that's not quite as good for him. Of course that's probably not Wellness' fault: he also likes to eat ferret shit, cardboard, and funny-looking mushrooms I have to be on the lookout for because I don't know which aren't poisonous and don't like having to take stuff from his mouth. (I'll let him have some ferret shit occasionally, I take the cardboard away from him when I catch him, and I insisted we give him a tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide to make him vomit up the unidentified mushrooms he'd gulped down before I could stop him -- that was painful to watch so now I shorten the leash.)

But anyway. He'll eat the Wellness Puppy if I hand-feed it to him or if that's all there is to eat, but there's nothing wrong with the food -- I've eaten it as a test and nothing bad happened to me -- it's just that the puppy's got no appreciation for the finer things in life. From the label it does seem like it's more nutritious than any other dry food we can get around here so I'll probably take my time getting him to finish the bag, but if I knew a neighbor with a dog I'd just make it a present.

Next time I'll try their venison formula. And if he doesn't like it I'll add it to my meatloaf.
posted by davy at 7:09 AM on November 1, 2005

Thanks everyone. Just spoke to the vet, who recommended Hill's Sensitive Stomach formula. The dog went through a whole battery of tests when it happened last week, so it's got to be related to the food. I can't help but wonder if he has an allergy to something in the "new improved flavor" of his usual diet. No big thing really. I'll end up cooking him chicken and rice everyday of the sensitive stomach formula doesn't work for him.
posted by archimago at 8:07 AM on November 1, 2005

Another vote for Biscotti. I'd try the California Natural as well; it's a very mild food, and not full of the crap (like BHA) found in commercial foods (including Hill's, as far as I know).
posted by tr33hggr at 8:33 AM on November 1, 2005

Hill's is a BIG step down from Wellness in terms of quality (although their prescription diets tend to be much better than their regular Science Diet crap), most vets don't spend that much time learning about nutrition - there are canine nutritionists out there, and there are also educated dog owners, both tend to know a whole lot more than vets do about food quality. Unless your vet happens to be really into canine nutrition, I'd take his/her nutritional advice (when it comes to specific brands) with a big grain of salt (in other words, when your vet says "could be an allergy, try a hypoallergenic diet", believe them, but when your vet says "try Hill's", do your own research). If you intend to cook for your dogs (which is great), I would do some research into home cooking for pets, since there's a lot more to providing a complete, balanced diet than just chicken and rice, and if that's all you feed, you could end up with problems over the long term.

tpl1212 you definitely do see GI problems from allergies, but with a reaction like this I'd be considering a problem with the specific bag of food first, especially given the sudden, violent onset in dogs who'd previously had no problem with the food.
posted by biscotti at 9:16 AM on November 1, 2005

I think the Simple Food Solutions that davy linked is a good idea. With the puppy, davy, it is always advised to change food gradually, since their palate has to adjust.
posted by scazza at 10:05 AM on November 1, 2005

We had a problem with a recipe change in one of the kitten kibbles we were feeding to the ferrets (some kitten food is better for 'em than most ferret food, I agree with Biscotti about research), but that didn't make 'em sick, it just didn't taste as good and didn't have as much protein. Then we tried something nutritionally better that they liked okay, till the vet said maybe the itchy-skinned one was allergic to corn and we had to change kibbles again. Now we're feeding the ferrets a dry cat food that's so good the puppy thinks it's the best treat ever (but it's too high in protein to be a dog's regular diet).

The point is that even when we've had to change food for the ferrets -- which are more delicate than dogs, trust me on that -- we haven't had any problems with anybody getting sick from it. Mild skin allergies or slight stomach upset yes, projectile vomiting no. That's what makes me think it was something wrong with that particular batch. You might want to try again with another batch of Wellness, maybe another recipe: I stood there reading labels for an hour and nutritionally the Wellness is most impressive. I just wish they'd give away free samples or sell smaller-sized bags so I can more cheaply see which formula this puppy prefers. (I'd never heard of California Natural before this thread; I just found out where to find it locally if I ever have to.)

As for cooking for your dogs, I agree it's a good idea; the problem here is that I have a hard time forcing myself to cook myself a decent diet. If they put out Troll Chow I'd probably settle for that, it couldn't be much worse than frozen pizza or canned ravioli.
posted by davy at 3:42 PM on November 1, 2005

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