There are so many different dog food brands out there that it can be difficult to pick one for your dog. A good place to start with evaluating dog food quality is to look out for dog food recalls. Having a sense of what caused previous recalls can help you coose a food that is safe for your beloved pet. In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for regulating the manufacturing and sale of dog food. However, there have been some unfortunate incidents where dogs became sick and some even died from eating contaminated dog food.

What is a dog food recall?

Dog food recalls are legal actions taken in order to remove a product from the market and they happen when a product’s consumption is dangerous to dogs. These recalls can be driven by causes such as:

  • The voluntary request of the dog food manufacturer
  • FDA request
  • FDA order under statutory authority

Since January 2012 and until October 2021, more than 327 million pounds of pet food have been recalled with the worst year being 2013 with 125 million pounds of food recalled (almost 40% of the total amount of food recalled in those 10 years).


The 5 main causes of dog food recalls

Dog food recalls can happen for any reason but, in the last 10 years, there have been 5 of them that stand out from all others:

  • Pathogenic bacteria: almost 49% of all pet food recalls were due to pathogenic bacteria and the main culprit within this category was Salmonella. Salmonella is mainly caused by eating raw meat and raw eggs and other animal products. This means that dog food made with meat or animal products that haven’t gone through proper processing may become contaminated;
  • Pentobarbital: this is a drug used to euthanize animals and was responsible for 28% of the total weight of dog food recalled (all canned dog food). This was due to one particular case and happened because the meat from euthanized animals (pigs and horses) was combined and shipped with the meat intended for dog food companies.
  • Aflatoxin: the presence of this mycotoxin in dog food resulted in 18% of dog food recalls. Mycotoxins are molds that typically occur in grain ingredients such as corn, which is the most used ingredient in dog food.
  • Excess or insufficient vitamins or minerals: 4% of the dog food recalled was due to insufficient or elevated levels of vitamins or minerals. 81% of which was due to a single manufacturer with almost ten million pounds of dog food with elevated levels of vitamin D.
  • Foreign objects: the fifth main reason for dog food recalls responsible for 0,5% of dog food recalled was the presence of foreign objects in the product. 98% of which refers to canned pet food and 96% from a single manufacturer.

How do you know if your dog food has been recalled?

Dog food recalls result in the product being removed from the stores and a notice is spread so dog owners stop feeding the recalled products. Sometimes, a recall can receive media attention, so owners hear about it on the news, but this is rarely the case. To ensure you’re always up to date with the latest dog food recalls, you can sign up for the FDA’s recall alerts or regularly visit their page about recalls and withdrawals of dog food products from the market.

The unwelcome news is that, over the past ten years, 45% of the total amount of dog food recalls only had action taken because dog owners investigated and proved to the FDA that their pets died or got sick from the food they ate. This means that the FDA didn’t discover these issues, dog owners did. Another reason for concern is that there’s no guarantee that the FDA will investigate a potential issue with dog food after a consumer’s complaint and, even if it is, there’s no guarantee that it will be recalled. 

This means that you should also keep an eye out for any food poisoning signs. So, if your dog becomes lethargic, has bloody diarrhea, shows signs of nausea, dizziness, increased thirst and urination, excessive drooling, weight loss, chokes or vomits, or has a lack of muscle control after eating from a new dog food package, contact your vet immediately.


What should you do if your dog food gets recalled?

It doesn’t matter what the reason for the recall is, as soon as your dog food gets recalled, you should stop feeding it to your dog immediately and contact the manufacturer. The food should then be returned to the store you purchased it from, and you may be entitled to a full refund. Otherwise, you’ll need to safely dispose of the food in a way that other animals aren’t able to access it.

If, by the time the food gets recalled, your dog has already eaten it, check with your vet what the best line of action is, if any. It’s important to do this even if your dog isn’t showing any signs of food poisoning. Depending on the reason for the recall, your vet will help create an action plan for you to follow.

Making sense of it all

The first step in deciding what you should feed your dog is to first ensure its safety. That’s why it’s important to be up to date with the latest dog food recalls and the most common reasons behind them.

However, with a whopping 45% of the recalls happening due to investigations taken by dog owners, it’s naive to rely solely on the regulatory authorities’ actions. This means it’s important that you’re able to identify any signs of food poisoning in your dog and look out for this, especially whenever you start feeding from a new package of any dog food.

If at any point, you believe that your dog became ill or has died due to eating dog food that wasn’t safe, you should file a complaint with the FDA as soon as possible. To do this, you can either file a report online or contact the FDA consumer complaint coordinator in your state. Make sure you gather all the important information before contacting them.