Beneful blasted in blogosphere

Beneful blasted in blogosphere

Purina product is source of ire for many pet owners, but veterinary experts urge caution.
Apr 01, 2013

There's the buzz Nestlé Purina gets as the official dog food sponsor of the annual Westminster Kennel Club All Breed Dog Show, and then there's the buzz its brand Beneful is getting on the Internet. Through social media, the blogosphere and other pet-related websites and online news channels, fears about the product have spread virally among pet owners concerned that the diet is killing pets.

A central focus for these concerns has been, where pet owners have logged more than 400 comments—mostly complaints—about the dog food, prompting headlines asking if the brand is killing pets. Yet for all the expanding online chatter, there are veterinarians who say that blaming the food—for now—isn't beneficial.

Tony Buffington, DVM, MS, PhD, DACVN, professor at The Ohio State University Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, has read through the Consumer Affairs comments and complaints, which outline clinical signs from vomiting to excessive water consumption to lethargy to diarrhea and even death. But he says the common thread is actually grief.

"One theme I thought ran through the stories was the intensity of the bond between the writer and the pet," Buffington says. He says he can certainly understand the pain and confusion in their testimony. "Part of grief is blame—trying to find an understanding for the un-understandable in many cases."

Stephen Ettinger, DVM, DACVIM, a well-known small animal internist and cardiologist who also works with a number of animal health companies—including Nestlé Purina—responded to consumer complaints with his own post on "When a pet is sick, pet owners often look first to the pet's food as the cause. However, it is rare that their food is responsible for the illness," Ettinger wrote.

Buffington, who is not associated with Purina, agrees. "Every animal I've ever seen was eating before they got sick," he says. "The problem is that the vague, nonspecific signs commonly reported could be due to something different in every case, and it would be quite easy to find many dogs with the same signs that were eating something else before they got sick."

In their responses to Ettinger's post, veterinarians appear to be less concerned about Beneful than they are about clients looking to "Dr. Google" instead of consulting with their veterinarians. Their consensus is that although the Internet can be a tremendous resource, it can also be a rabbit-hole of misinformation, as commenter "nydvm" put it. User "jlopez" says this is a growing problem in veterinary medicine, especially when clients begin using online sources to make their own, uninformed decisions on their pets' health. "We must strive to practice evidence-based medicine, and continue to address it by educating the public that veterinarians should be their primary source available to answer any questions or concerns," he writes.