Vets on the ground get no special treatment in pet food recall
It’s already been said on this blog and now I, too, will join the growing chorus of vets: Where was the heads up? Where was the newsflash warning us of the impending storm?
Where were the emails and faxes from the pet food companies? Why was no information provided to the distributors? Why were so many vets (busy reading their Journals instead of the newspaper all weekend) blasted on Monday morning without so much as a warning? Why could I not get through on the vet-dedicated lines?
As one vet I know said, “I felt so stupid coming in to work on Monday after a blissful weekend of yoga and family time knowing absolutely zero about the recall. My clients probably thought I was a horrible vet.”
But how was this offline, off-duty vet to know? So you understand, vets received no special notice before the announcement—made, by the way, on a Friday. As all newspeople know, the last day of the week is when you release an item you’d prefer to bury—not one you need to broadcast.
Does that sound cynical? Then check this out: Go to PetConnection.com and you’ll get a neat timeline:
t = 0 days (Feb 20): When the first cases were reported.
t = 7 days (Feb 27): When Menu Foods started testing.
t = 7-18 days: When their test cases were dying (one in six we now know).
t = 25 days (Friday, March 16): When they finally issued the recall.
Nearly a month has gone by. I’d have expected a lot more action from the huge conglomerates affected in this disaster. As if waiting a full ten days before an announcement isn’t horrific enough, delivering the news on the cusp of a sleepy weekend is the height of hubris. It’s a parting-shot insult that serves as much-deserved death knell for their collective brand equity.
Why am I this upset? As if I didn't have enough of a good reason, one of my chronically ill kitty patients, currently seeing the internal medicine specialist on a regular basis for her liver and GI issues, started feeling funny on Thursday. Kitty hadn’t been eating as well as before. This was the only sign of illness and something she'd suffered before.
She called the internist who made an appointment to see her Monday (she’s off on Fridays). Assuming this was another one of her bouts of cholangiohepatitis, the internist prescribed the meds that usually help this kitty.
Kitty went downhill fast. By Sunday she was in the ER, but the internist had no idea why her kidneys were shutting down—she had spent the weekend throwing a party we all attended (i.e., being a normal human being). The ER staff was too busy working to read the paper but had already started treating her obvious kidney disease vigorously.
On Monday, the ultrasound confirmed not the chronic renal failure we might have considered possible in a cat with a chronic disease, but a full-blown acute renal disease consistent with the toxic effects typical of the pet food fiasco. The owner was asked to go home and bring back her foods—the by-now notorious pouches.
This kitty probably won’t make it, though her kidney values are moving in the right direction. Treatment on Thursday might well have made all the difference in this case. Her owner is heartbroken. And the internist is beside herself with guilt. If only…
…they had told us sooner. Just one day. Even one day could have saved lives.
I don’t want to hear there’s no way they could have predicted the outcry. If that’s true, then they have no idea how pet owners think. They have no idea how much trust we’ve sunk into their products over the years. And they obviously have no idea how much they’re losing in this still-developing debacle. Moreover, if all this is true then they had no right to our trust in the first place and they certainly had no business taking up space in the pet industry.
From this veterinarian’s point of view—and from my insight as a former marketing executive—they f----- up big time. Unless Menu Foods didn’t inform their own customers (the likes of Iams and Eukanuba whose production was outsourced to them)—and I don’t think that’s likely—these brands should have done back flips to set up company-wide protocols for dealing with the crisis.
And vets should have been informed—if not on Friday (or sooner) then at least by Monday morning. Yet even our distributor was caught off guard. One finally faxed us a list of their products on recall. But our Eukanuba distributor? Not a peep. Our Hill’s distributor? Silence. Calling them reveals more confusion than it offers answers.
I have the list, sure, but I downloaded it along with every other concerned pet owner. And it took me a long time, what with Sunday’s overwhelmed websites and phone lines. More servers, maybe? More customer service lines, maybe? One little fax to every vet in the country? That’s not as hard to do as it sounds. They certainly know how to get to us when it comes to selling their food.
It’s bad enough that the brands outsourced their production. It’s bad enough that Menu Foods bought from known poor quality suppliers. It’s bad enough everyone in-the-know sat on their heels for a month. It’s bad enough they released the information on a Friday. Did they also have to display their disregard so flagrantly as to fail to provide proper support for the vets who recommend their foods and the people that feed them to the pets they care for?
Perhaps you believe that we vets are partially to blame for not having a reliable network for news distribution. But guess what? Human docs are in the same position. It’s just that their news gets on the front page. Ours gets tucked away between the folds.
However you see it, the pet food companies are directly to blame for the widespread mishandling of this crisis. These companies need to get serious about our pets. Better yet, if they don’t care enough to understand the importance of our pets, they should get out of this business altogether.