(WHNT) - This week, Bravo Pet Food issued a voluntary recall for some of its products because of possible listeria contamination.
That's just the latest in about 100 pet food and treat recalls issued in the last five years.
Knowing that pets are now an important member of the family in most households, WHNT NEWS 19 took action to look closer at the options for pet food and found some pet owners may be unknowingly feeding their loyal companions unhealthy food.
It all came to light after a near-death experience for WHNT NEWS 19's Beth Jett's pet Asher.
Asher is a shelter dog, rescued from the streets of St. Paul, Minnesota. Beth gave him that name because it means "happy and fortunate" in Hebrew. It describes the chihuahua-mix's personality and demeanor perfectly: happy, playful, mischievous, and ferociously loyal and loving.
But despite his happiness, Asher had persistent digestive issues, which caused him to regurgitate several times a day. He did so even in front of his veterinarian, Dr. Wilson McManus of Apollo Animal Hospital in Huntsville.
"He's always seemed to be healthy," said McManus during a recent office visit with Asher. "Blood values were normal and the only problem he seemed to have was the regurgitation problem."
Beth had Asher tested for allergies years ago. The test revealed he was allergic to beef, carrots, corn, barley, brewer's yeast, and rabbit. So, Beth fed him a high-quality grain-free canned food and kibble.
After years of Asher repeatedly regurgitating several times a day, it turned out the canned food and kibble was actually causing him digestion problems.
Beth discovered it when Asher went into liver failure.
When Asher rejected his favorite food, turkey meat, Beth knew something was very wrong.
Doctors at a veterinary hospital told her the only way to learn the cause of the problem and treat it was to biopsy his liver.
Such a surgery would have cost $2,000 and could have been fatal.
Beth relayed the situation to Mike Fry, the director of the shelter in Minnesota from where she adopted Asher. "Don't do the surgery!" he said. "It could kill him. Take Asher home and change him to an all natural diet and watch what happens."
Beth took a leap of faith, left the hospital with no medicine, and put Asher on Sojos 100% Grain-Free Complete dog food with freeze-dried raw turkey. It solved Asher's problems almost immediately.
"He seems to be doing fine," said McManus, examining Asher. "The last blood test we had was all normal. He seems to be happy and he doesn't regurgitate."
In gratitude for Asher's recovery and concern for other pet owners as frustrated by similar issues, Beth decided to Take Action and investigate the options of pet food and the difference they can make to a pet.
In the last 20 years, trends across the country have changed in the favor of four-legged companions. Pet owners are spending billions of dollars every year to pamper them and keep them healthy.
The top seller is pet food. There is a new demand for a different kind of high quality-- human grade -- food.
"There are some dogs, like Asher, that have extensive problems where the kibble or the processed food, the canned foods cause issues," said Joy Varden, manager of Hollywood Feed on Whitesburg Drive.
There are two new Huntsville locations of Hollywood Feed, which specializes in natural and holistic pet food. Joy said more pet owners are turning to all natural food.
"Going back to a raw diet, you're actually avoiding the artificial ingredients, artificial preservatives. You're bringing in natural ingredients," she said.
"I believe in holistic," said a customer, Carol Cadenhead of Huntsville. WHNT NEWS 19 ran into her at Hollywood Feed when she came in looking for something for her 13-year-old Bishon Frise, Daizy. She said she had always fed Daizy a canned food available at big box stores. Now that Daizy has been trying to recover from pancreatitis, Carol is trying an all natural diet.
"I believe in holistic for myself... if it can help me, it can help my dogs," said Carol.
Meanwhile, both veterinarians and pet food sellers agree about the one thing not good for any animal: any type of edible pet food or treat manufactured in China.
"Some of the products have caused death and that just shouldn't be in a pet's food chain," said McManus.
Hollywood Feed does not sell anything edible manufactured in China, although they do sell pet accessories made in China.
To be clear, Joy said it's not necessary to make a change in a pet's diet unless the pet is having medical problems. In other words, if what you're giving your pet keeps him or her happy and healthy, then no change is needed. However, if a pet displays symptoms of discomfort or lack of appetite, a change in diet may be the answer to the problems.
Pet owners should definitely consult their veterinarians before making any changes.
Here's some more information on Dogfoodadvisor.com about the different varieties of dog food.
Also, click HERE for information about the recalls of pet food and treats by the FDA.
And click HERE for a master list of recalls over the last five years, including Bravo's recall issued on Wednesday, May 14.