Did Purina Beneful make my dog sick?
November 19, 2014 6:07 PM   Subscribe

One of our miniature dachshunds is deathly ill, vomiting and pooping blood. He's at the emergency vet overnight. My husband started feeding our dogs Purina Beneful four days ago and when I did a search to see if there has been any sort of recall I found this page full of people reporting similarly sick dogs.

However, our other miniature dachshund has been eating the same thing and shows no signs of illness (yet?). Also, Beneful is a pretty popular brand and thus all these dogs getting sick while eating it might just be a coincidence.

Can y'all please help me evaluate the likelihood that the food caused his illness? And what I should do if it is?

I'll be contacting Purina in the morning and I've saved the partially eaten bag of Beneful (we switched the other dog back to our regular brand of dog food, Iams Minichunks) in case they need it for testing but if so many dogs are sick and there's no recall I wonder how thorough they are about investigating such things.

Please advise, thanks!
posted by Jacqueline to Pets & Animals (19 answers total)
Response by poster: OK, my husband just told me that the vet's tentative diagnosis is hemorrhagic gastroenteritis. We're cleaning everything top to bottom in case it's e. coli, salmonella, etc.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:11 PM on November 19, 2014

Response by poster: I'll post more updates as I get them but that's all the info I have for now. I would love some guidance for what to say when I contact Purina in the morning. Thanks!
posted by Jacqueline at 6:12 PM on November 19, 2014

I'm so sorry and I hope your sweet dog recovers quickly and completely and is home as soon as possible. There is a Snopes article regarding this food.
posted by bluespark25 at 6:21 PM on November 19, 2014

Response by poster: The Snopes article is from 2007 and thus isn't really relevant to whether their current production line is contaminated.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:25 PM on November 19, 2014

Response by poster: In the process of cleaning everything top to bottom we've discovered a few more piles of chunky vomit hidden in corners and behind stuff. This vomit is undigested enough to recognize the kibble bits as the Purina Beneful. So it appears that the sick dog may have been vomiting it up for as long as he's been eating it.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:27 PM on November 19, 2014

Response by poster: Something I just thought of: The sick dog sometimes eats his own poop so if it's something that gets worse after multiple trips through the digestive track that could explain why the poop-eating dog is sick and the normal dog isn't.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:38 PM on November 19, 2014

My guess is that the reports of sickness are a coincidence - if millions of dogs eat a particular food, hundreds of them are going to get mysteriously sick. The same website you linked to also has a page about Iams food, with hundreds of complaints. It looks like Nutro and Diamond have similar pages, similar complaints. And I'm sure there are more companies with similar complaints if you look around.

I'm sorry your dog is so sick - I hope he pulls through!
posted by insectosaurus at 7:18 PM on November 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

It's difficult to impossible to say that the food caused the illness given that your other dog does not appear to be sick. It is, however, fairly normal for dogs to get pukey when you change their food on them. They aren't as sensitive as cats, but they are more sensitive than you'd think.

That said, Beneful is not a quality food. The first listed ingredient is corn. Feed them something that has an actual meat as its first ingredient and other meat byproducts immediately after. Even with 3 dogs (about 150 pounds worth of dog), good food is less than $2 a day for us. With two miniatures, the difference in cost should be insignificant. Sadly, grocery stores rarely carry anything better than Iams ProActive, which is at least half-decent, but not really good, since it's still largely corn.
posted by wierdo at 7:26 PM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a dog prone to HGE. It is very serious and dogs can and do die from it if left untreated, if treated the prognosis is good. My dog was minutes from bleeding out at the vets. The longer he's been vomiting and having diarrhea the more serious it can be, dehydration can lead basically to the dog bleeding to death out of both ends. His first attack was bought on by a sudden change in diet, his second from stress, his third from a rawhide chew. Purina was not the food in our case and our vet told us it was the sudden change of diet, not the food itself in the first case that most likely caused the problem. I am not a vet, my dog is not your dog etc just what I was told.

If you changed the diet suddenly from one brand or one recipe to the next it can trigger an attack which is why most pet foods will have somewhere on the bag a suggestion to change pet foods slowly. I suspect it is mostly to cover them in cases like this. HGE is suspected to be caused by bacterial infection though no one knows for sure.

If you have any questions about HGE feel free to memail me, I'm not a vet but have lived with a dog prone to it for 4 years now and have studied more dog poop for early symptoms than any sane person should. My inexpert opinion though is not that the food itself caused the problem just the change in diet/recipe or maybe some external stresser, if in fact it turns out it is HGE.

Good luck with everything.
posted by wwax at 7:26 PM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Yeah, the reason they were eating the Beneful is my husband ran out of their regular food and so he just picked up whatever they had at Dollar General on his way home. It's not their normal food.

Could abruptly switching foods be enough to make a small dog so sick that he vomits up a pint of blood?
posted by Jacqueline at 7:32 PM on November 19, 2014

Response by poster: I asked my husband if the dogs had been eating any treats etc. and he said they've also had some peanut butter. While there's no current recall on this brand of peanut butter there is a pretty widespread recall going on right now for salmonella contamination (one of the possible causes of HGE) in a bunch of other peanut butter brands so I'll call the peanut butter in as well just in case.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:37 PM on November 19, 2014

Actually, I worked as an IT contractor for the FDA Office of Regulatory Affairs (i.e. the investigative officers). Their researchers and investigators are stellar and work really well at keeping manufactured foods safe. Anyhow, there are four key thoughts that come to mind: (a) dog and cat food manufacturers have had a challenge keeping their food products free of salmonella and e. coli, and such contamination is increasingly common [see link to of dog food recalls, below]; (b) simultaneously, the FDA and state inspectors are extremely short-staffed and have limited resources for testing pet food manufacturing; (c) manufacturers do not issue recall notices until they become aware of potential problems that trigger them to do testing to identify and source the contamination. In 2007, many cats and dogs became extremely ill and/or died over the months before the melamine contamination was discovered and products recalled; and (d) can you ask your vet to test for possible contaminants (e coli, salmonella)? Official lab results would be extremely helpful.

BTW, even if your other dog does not get ill, still contact the manufacturer. There should be a lot number on the bag that you can use to help document which factory the food came from. Once you get the test results from the vet, contact them with any updates. They use trends from customer's inquiries to identify potential contamination problems.

BTW, you can track any dog food recalls at Dog Food Advisor: http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/dog-food-recalls/. You can also find good quality dog foods for your dogs at the same site, or at Whole Dog Journal (note: WDJ does not accept any advertising -- so their reviews are very unbiased).

Hope your dog gets better!
posted by apennington at 7:37 PM on November 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

In response to your question. Yes it can be exactly what causes a dog to get that sick. It's what caused my dog to do it according to the emergency vet that treated my dog on the first occasion. In a hurry I bought him supermarket dogfood to tide him over Christmas Week until I could get to the petstore when not busy to get his usual brand. Ended up in the emergency vets Christmas Eve.

I am not a vet but my understanding is the change if food stresses the lining of the intestines and it all snowballs from there due to bacteria already present in the gut. Though from my readings they still don't know for sure what causes it except stress/bacteria in combo as there doesn't seem to be one set thing that sets it of.
posted by wwax at 7:55 PM on November 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: In 2007, many cats and dogs became extremely ill and/or died over the months before the melamine contamination was discovered and products recalled

Yup, this is why I am definitely reporting the food and have saved it for testing even though my husband and I are skeptical about whether it's the actual cause of our dog's illness. While a lot of different things might have made him sick, the food possibility is the one that could sicken or kill thousands of other pets and thus I feel we're responsible to follow up on it just in case. So as per various dog food recall articles I've read tonight I'll be contacting the manufacturer, FDA, and my state's USDA brand first thing tomorrow morning.

can you ask your vet to test for possible contaminants (e coli, salmonella)? Official lab results would be extremely helpful.

The emergency vet has already done one set of stool tests that came back negative but my husband says she warned him before the test that a false negative was likely because the sample was almost 100% blood.

My husband doesn't want to pay for a second set of tests but we could collect samples to pass along to the manufacturer or FDA or USDA if they'd actually find such a thing useful. Is there any point of us trying to collect a stool sample tomorrow after the dog has been on IV antibiotics all night? Could there still be a testable level of bacteria in his system after that, and would the sample still be usable after making the trip to wherever? I don't want to be the crazy lady who insists on mailing people unhelpful poo.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:02 PM on November 19, 2014

I don't know if it could make them "puke up a pint of blood" sick but abruptly switching dog foods can absolutely make a dog sick. When our dog was a puppy, every dog professional that we interacted with (trainers, vets, etc.) pounded into us that we should always slowly mix in new foods with their current one because while it doesn't phase some dogs, it can others sick.

This might be a case where switching foods isn't the only cause but it is one of the causes.

I order my dog's food online from chewy.com (after I did a TON of research to find a high-quality food that wasn't outrageous) and have it set up to ship me a new bag automatically (every four weeks works for me). A regularly scheduled delivery might prevent this sort of thing from being an issue again. Or, you could just buy two bags of their normal food, when bag 1 runs out, you go buy another as soon as you crack into bag 2.

It sounds like you have done your homework for your dogs normal food but, just in case you (or someone in a similar situation that finds this thread) hasn't, be aware that higher quality foods usually cost less since your dog won't need to eat as much of it.

I know things really suck right now but hopefully the worst of it is over now and you've done as much as you can do. Good luck!
posted by VTX at 8:11 PM on November 19, 2014

Response by poster: I had automatic delivery set up for my elderly cat's special food so I'll suggest to my husband that we start doing this for the dogs' food again. He's resisted the idea in the past but this incident might change his mind.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:23 PM on November 19, 2014

Mod note: Asker, I know this must be a stressful situation but you need to use this thread a little bit less for chatty or running commentary type stuff; update in a bit if you need to but try and keep it more restrained, please.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:32 PM on November 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

My dog does get extremely sick from any food changes (and it's just the one dog, and the other will be perfectly fine). The problem with that is often -- ok, well now what do I do? I can't change foods again, right? Our vet recommends one of their easily digested wet foods and then you slowly mix back in the dry food that you want to use. I'm sure your vet will have a recommendation, though. I hope your dog feels better soon!

Oddly enough, this is also the same dog that eats her own poop sometimes and managed to get giardia at one point -- so maybe our dogs are related.
posted by freezer cake at 12:53 PM on November 20, 2014

Response by poster: Update: Our dog is recovering.

His regular vet said that while he has a lot of experience dealing with aflatoxins from his agricultural veterinary days and agrees that no one should feed their dogs Beneful or any other corn-based dog food, when he checked our dog's bloodwork done by the emergency vet it showed that liver and pancreatic function were totally fine and thus our dog had NOT been poisoned.

So in this case, that our dog got sick within 4 days of eating Beneful was just a coincidence. But we're still only feeding our dogs corn-free food from now on because aflatoxins from moldy corn are an ongoing threat and small breeds like our miniature dachshunds are very susceptible to getting sick from them.

Meanwhile, our dog's regular vet found that our dog's anal glands were infected. The vet said that while he can't really pin down what causes any particular case of HGE, it's certainly possible that the infection from the anal glands spread to the GI tract and that's what made our dog so sick.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:24 PM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

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