Commentary: Advising pet owners about Beneful
Recently, there have been some negative comments in the news and on various blogs concerning Purina’s Beneful brand dog food. These allegations specifically accuse the product of causing problems ranging from vomiting and diarrhea to death. The statements are not backed by science and the signs described in the postings are among the most commonly seen daily in clinical practice. These signs can be related to any number of conditions. It is essential to identify the cause of these signs by appropriate independent laboratory analysis.
A call for evidence-based rationale
I understand that when an animal is sick, pet owners are upset and often look first to the pet’s food and environment as the cause. But when evaluated carefully, clinical signs more often are due to primary medical conditions. I’ve read many of the current comments in the news and online regarding Beneful. None provides evidenced-based rationale for making claims about Beneful having a negative impact on the health of a pet. Some of the comments mention illness resulting from a “one time feeding,” which in itself could be the cause of the gastrointestinal symptoms described. A pet’s diet should not be changed abruptly, but rather gradually over a period of a week to 10 days. Claims that dogs suffered from chronic weight loss or even death suggest to me that these animals were ill to begin with and the dietary change was likely not related to the illness.
I have been a practicing veterinarian for more than four decades, specializing in small animal internal medicine and cardiology. During this time, I have participated in multiple pharmaceutical and food trials and have written more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers on clinical studies. To lay blame on one particular product without any scientific study as proof of such claims is inappropriate and misguided.
Prior to accepting accusations that may be unfounded, it is first necessary to identify the actual cause of a pet’s illness. Veterinary and nutritional scientists should be consulted for their expertise before broad statements are made—statements that are unsubstantiated and possibly inflammatory for reasons that go beyond scientific evidence.
Clinical signs need veterinary care
I firmly believe that any abnormality noted by a pet’s owner should be brought to the attention of his or her veterinarian. Concerns regarding a particular product should immediately be brought to the attention of the manufacturer so that information can be collected and the product appropriately monitored. The veterinarian and the pet owner then can decide whether to contact the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). To date, there has been no substantiated evidence that Beneful has caused problems when fed to dogs. Poison control groups have not expressed concerns, nor has the FDA.
Continued confidence in Purina
As someone who has worked in the industry for years, including as a Fellow with Purina, I have been impressed with Purina’s quality and safety standards. Purina pet food products are made under rigorous quality supervision. I fed Beneful to my own Newfoundland, Katie, for many years. She was a very fussy eater and refused most other foods; we were happy and confident in feeding her Beneful throughout her life.
A hallmark of good medical training is the need to look for empirical evidence regarding statements made about disease, drug therapy, surgical techniques and nutritional requirements. Before coming to any conclusions when treating and caring for animals, I need to review scientific, evidence-based proof for any therapeutic or nutritional product before I recommend or dismiss it.
Dr. Stephen Ettinger is a well-known veterinarian with more than 40 years of experience in the veterinary care industry. His areas of expertise include small animal veterinary internal medicine, small animal cardiology, hospital management and professional veterinary development. He continues to practice small animal medicine and works with a number of animal health companies. He serves as the Nestlé Purina Fellow in Veterinary Medicine speaking to students about their professional development based on his years of experience in the profession.