What’s In Your Dog’s Bowl? A Taking Action Investigation

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(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.

Asher, Beth Jett's chihuahua

Asher, Beth Jett's chihuahua

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.


  • Lois Stinson

    our soon to be 14 year old SusieQ became sick and we figured out it was something we were giving her to eat. we had not given any thing new except for her treats. we took those away and she got better in a couple of days. we had already had the problem with the bacon treats is why we changed to the dog bone type treat . please be careful and pay attention to your animal. I hope our Susie Q lives to be a lot older because we just found out my husband has Dementia ,He is really attached to her. she is such a great little dog. we love her very much.she is family. so please be aware.

  • joshua hamilton

    Im not sure if where i get my dogs food would categorize as supermarket or not. I give my dogs food from the local farmers coop. I give them hunters choice sports mix. Sure hope its not harmful for them.

  • AB

    Science Diet is a horrible dog food. So many vets recommend it, but you have to be aware that vets are getting big kickbacks for selling it. Just look at the ingredients. Bad food.

  • Lisa

    I would like to know what Beth feeds her dog AND where she gets it. My dog got sick eating Chicken Soup for the Dog dog food. He stopped eating completely. I think he needs the freeze dried food.He is also part of our family! Thank you so much.

  • Lisa

    I would like to know what Beth Feeds her dog and where she gets it. My dog got sick eating a high protein dry dog food. He stopped eating completely. I think he needs the freeze dried food. Thank you so much.

  • Jeanne

    Yes, I agree with Brenda, I would like a more concise definition on what is meant by natural dog food Beth is feeding now. Most of us heard of the expensive so called natural jerky treats that turned out to be from China and caused renal failure , killing many pets. The same company is now advertising the same treats touting made in the USA . Really, ingredients too?

  • Beth Jett

    Hi everyone, thank you for watching WHNT and this very special report. I feed Asher Sojos turkey mix.. It is freeze-dried all natural food to which you add water and stir. You can get it at Hollywood feed or CT Garvin’s in Huntsville. I feed him twice a day. I do not give him anything edible that is made in China. Be sure to watch a report tonight at 10 for more information! Thanks again for watching WHNT NEWS 19.

    • Mary

      After the news tonight I did a search on the brand of food you said you fed your dog. I found some information that you might would like to follow up on especially the response from Ice Pony Girl.


      Our vet was concerned about my dogs liver from the blood test results a few months ago. My husband had read about dog treats made in China making dogs sick. Upon hearing this, I went to Petco and found some 100% natural dog treats that are made in the USA. The results from my dogs next blood test showed a big improvement in her liver. I am curious to know if any of the ingrediants in these treats are from China even though the treats are made in the USA.

  • Trac Sala

    I have a 3 year old doberman with allergies. While I agree with be careful with what your dog eats, remember if your dog has allergies it is usually beef or chicken not the other ingredients. My boy was on a VERY expensive freeze dried food and it almost killed him due to the concentrated amount of meat. He had horrible stomach side affects after about six months. Your vet should be someone you can trust, if not go to another vet. My dog can only eat food with three or four ingredients and is also taking allergy medicine. I am thrilled that the freeze dried food worked for Beth’s best friend, but it is not a cure all for every dog. Try just stopping the junk treats on the market, do not give your pet ANY table scraps and by all means know where all ingredients come from and what is in it. Dogs immune system is “like” a human but not totally. So what is good for us is not good for your “friend”. My boy is very lucky to have a AWESOME vet who worked with us and after much work and testing he is happy, healthy and allergies under control.

    • Beth Jett

      Hi Trac! Thanks so much. You make some very good points. At the end of the day, whatever works for thebindviv

  • Beth Jett

    … For the individual dog is what the dog owner should do. It’s not necessary to spend a lot of money if one has found something affordable that keeps their pet healthy. Having said that, people really should check out the link I provided for the analysis of various kinds of pet food. It is EYE OPENING! Hope you will watch tonight at 10p!
    Thanks again!

  • Sherry Johnson

    I was glad to see the dry food I buy was on the list, Professional. I go one step further…. Instead of buying cans, I cook weekly wet ingredients to put on the dry. I buy the Normandy Blend frozen vegetables (squash, broccoli, zuchini, carrots, cauliflower) at Walmart. I cook them in chicken broth with blueberries and honey. When they are done, I remove the veggies. In the remaining broth, I cook brown rice and frozen spinach. When that is done, I add back the veggies after I mash them with a potato masher. One scoop of this each night mixed with dry food and all bowls are licked clean at supper.

  • sharlene garrison

    I feed my cockerspaniel Cocoa Iaams. I sure hope it’s one of the better brands. I’ll be watching tonight to see. Thanks for the heads up….

  • Linda Huggins

    I have two small dogs that had the same issues as Beth’s dog except we also had bloody stool several times a week. I switched them to Royal Canin’s Potato and Duck and like magic, no more tummy issues, plus their skin and coat look better. Their former dog food was Hill’s Science Diet small bites.

  • aubieal0878

    Could you do a similar report on cat food? I have four cats, 2 are 12.5yr, 1 is 9yr, and 1 is 8 mon. I’ve always tried to feed the best I could afford, but regurgitation is an issue as they age even eating a natural and grain free dry.
    I had a great food they loved and seemed to solve the regurgitation issue, California Natural dry, until last year they had a recall for salmonella. Garvins Feed & Seed was the only one to stock it and so far they haven’t been able to reorder, although they have been mfg. it for several months.
    But to have a new current listing of feline foods that have good quality ingredients would be invaluable.

  • Micki

    I have two 6 lb dogs. I feed them Blue Buffalo dry Chicken & Brown Rice. They look and act very healthy but…one dog does occasionally have “acid reflux” and my vet seemed very unconcerned but said I could give her some over the counter product (straight ingredient -not combined with other ingredients) which is not available. I need to find a vet that genuinely cares about my pets.

    Anyway, this “acid reflux” that can happen a couple times a week is a real concern. My other dog never has this problem.

    I now worry that this one dog has some kind of allergy to the Blue food she has been eating all of her life. I’m not sure what I should do regarding this. I do know she is allergic to pumpkin for sure.

  • Lunetta

    I also use the freeze dried from Sojos for feeding my Dalmatian. She has the softest coat that every single person who pets her comments on. She has also gotten rave reviews from 2 different veterinarians who both had to ask me what I fed her. One even stopped what he was doing to look up the ingredients online because he hadn’t heard of the brand and was so impressed. Both told me she was a healthy as she could possibly be.

  • Josh

    Our pit bulls have been on a few foods. Every dog is different, but here’s what I’ve learned:

    Science Diet — Overpriced food that’s only a small step above the “regular” food. Not worth the premium.

    Blue Buffalo — Much better than most regular foods, and better than many of the “premium” foods like Science Diet and Hill’s. Still had grain, but better grains than the norm, and higher quantities of real chicken. However, my dog’s coat would appear greasy after a couple weeks.

    Taste of the Wild — Good value for a grain-free food. Good balance of proteins. Good price for the quality. You can find it at CT Garvin’s and Tractor Supply.

    Unfortunately, one of ours has very bad allergies, I believe both food and environmental. When her constant licking became unbearable and her vets only suggestion was to give a steroid shot and keep her on Atopica, I tried a different vet.

    He removed a tumor, gave antibiotics and antifungals to fight multiple infections, and prescribed a Hill’s food. The Hill’s food, after the steroids wore off, had her itching worse than before, and the ingredients were horrible for the cost of the food.

    I did a bit of research and we decided to try them on a raw diet. It makes sense to me that a dog will do better on a natural diet (meat, bone, organs) than on the various chemicals, grains, and who knows what else that’s in kibble. The vet didn’t agree, said raw isn’t balanced, and dog’s have adapted to dog foods… I doubt after thousands of years of meat, they have adapted to the junk in kibble after only a few decades.

    Against his advice, we started the dogs on chicken thigs ($7 for 10lbs), salmon oil, and pro-biotics. There was an improvement but she was still itchy. We tried beef for a while, and still itchy. Beef and chicken are the most likely proteins dog’s will be allergic to, so we switched to pork, with a small amount of beef liver for additional nutrients.

    Their coats are better than ever, they have plenty of energy, they’re not nearly as itchy, raw is better for their teeth/breath, and their waste dries and crumbles quickly — in stark contrast to the long-lasting logs from a grain-rich diet. Also, since more of their food is useful for nutrition, there is less waste overall.

    You can either buy pre-made natural food from a store like CT Garvins, or make your own for significant savings with a little research. Either way it costs a lot more than kibble, but I think it will pay off in the long-run with fewer veterinary costs and happier dogs.

    On a side-note: If any of you have your dogs on Atopica for allergies — see if your vet has Apoquel. Our very allergic dog was on Atopica, which made a noticeable improvement, but it also occasionally caused her stomach trouble and was very expensive at $200/mo. We finally got her some Apoquel and it’s been even better. It’s a new class of drugs, no stomach issues, seems to work better in our case, and costs about 1/3rd of Atopica. Unfortunately, due to all those benefits, it’s also been hard to find in stock.

    • Trac Sala

      Apoquel has been removed from market until 2015. My one dog is also on Atopica and it has been a “miracle” for our dog. He is allergic to all people meat, potatoes and yeast, grass. He is on a prescription diet, which is hydrolyzed, very different from regular dog food. Atopica must be taken for life and prescription diet food takes at least 6 six before you can be said to work or not. We have spend many hours researching, much bad info out there, and talking to our vet and getting opinions elsewhere. 99% of dogs have ZERO issue with grains, that is not the issue. It is the protein. I have to say, if your four legged friend is not having issues, do not rock the boat. Remember if you do change food, you must introduce it very slowly for a week. If not you will have stomach issues.

      • JA

        I do not see anything regarding Apoquel being removed from the market. I do, however, see information regarding it being backordered until 2015. That correlates with the difficulty we’ve had finding it, and what we’ve been told by many veterinarians — “good luck finding it in stock!” Claiming it has been “removed from the market” is incorrect.

        Atopica is not a “miracle drug” for our dog. Don’t get me wrong, it works better than not taking it at all, but it gives our dog gastrointestinal issues. It’s a well-known side effect that is even listed in Atopica’s information sheet. We wait two hours before an after meals before giving her Atopica, and she still occasionally vomit or has diarrhea. This is on many different foods. The symptoms occur on Atopica, disappear without it.

        Apoquel does not have these issues. She itches as much, or less, than when on Atopica. It is cheaper. Thus, we will use it. We tried Atopica for at least 2-3 years, and now Apoquel is giving better results after less than 2-3 weeks. If this continues, we’ll continue with Apoquel.

        Removing grains from a dog’s diet is not necessarily due to allergies. For the same reason cows aren’t fed meat, dog’s should not be fed grains. It may not kill them, but their digestive system is certainly not equipped to consume grains. Again, how many canines in their natural environment have you seen hunting down corn and bread? Have you seen their teeth? They’re carnivores, they’re made to eat meat.

        Their saliva breaks down protein better than carbohydrates — a reason domestic dogs need their teeth brushed while wild ones don’t. Digestion of carbs takes dogs considerably longer than proteins, because their gut is ill-equipped to break them down. After a long period of time eating the junk, many will get “leaky gut.” You can find plenty of information. Canine’s don’t eat grains. It has less to do with “allergies” and more to do with “how their digestive system works.”

        We removed grains from our dogs’ diet because it shouldn’t be in their diet. We have switched to raw so we have even more control over the protein and can find out which she’s allergic to.

        Our dog was on the prescription food for 7 weeks. She ended up worse than before the food change, and so we tried raw.

        Please do not try to educate me on things like “apoquel is off the market!” and “dogs are allergic to proteins not grains!” I’m 100%, well-aware of these things, and have been for years. There is a rhyme and reason to everything we do. Apoquel is ON the market but backordered due to it being a fantastic alternative to Atopica which IS KNOWN to cause gastrointestinal issues. We took our dogs off grain not because we thought they were allergic, but because grains have no role in their digestion. We’ve kept them off because there is a noticeable improvement in their coat, breath, smell, and energy. It’s an experience-based decision and not an armchair/internet based one. We have been trying her on different proteins and she’s had best luck with pork over beef and chicken so far. It’s recommended NOT to gradually switch from kibble to raw. Kibble is dry and requires a lot of water for dogs to process, and a lot of time for their system to process it. Protein/meat is wet and much easier to digest. “Gradually” switching the two would cause more problems than not, however we know to gradually switch kibble.

        Before you try to “school” me, please school yourself. While not everything you said was untrue, some of it was obviously targeted at us and accusing us of following misinformation. We’ve worked with 5 veterinarians, and done plenty of research, over the course of 6 years now. We aren’t trying whatever fad we come across, we’re using both common sense and research and expert opinions trying to get our very allergic dog to a happier state…

      • JA

        Hello Trac Sala,

        Before you attempt to “educate” me, please understand this is based on five years and multiple professional opinions and likely days worth of research in an attempt to make our highly-allergic dog as comfortable as possible.

        “Apoquel has been removed from market until 2015.” Removed from the market is a phrase typically used to describe a drug that was removed due to negative aspects. I’m not sure if this is your claim, but just to make sure someone doesn’t misinterpret: according to Zoetis, the manufacturer, they had an overwhelming demand and so is on backorder until 2015. It hasn’t been “pulled from the market,” it’s simply selling way more than they expected. Which, coincidentally, is what I said in my comment you responded to.

        “My one dog is also on Atopica and it has been a “miracle” for our dog.” Atopica has certainly made our dog less itchy, however it has certainly given her vomiting and diarrhea on occasion, too. There have been nights she’s been shaking like she was freezing, and constantly running to the door so she can stand outside and attempt to poo despite nothing coming out. Has only occurred while she was on Atopica, has never occurred when she wasn’t. This is based on 2-3 years of her using it. The systems correlate with the potential side-effects listed on the Atopica information sheet and with remarks from many of the veterinarians we’ve been to. On Apoquel, she has not had any stomach issues, because it’s an entirely different class of drug that works in a different way.

        Do you know what hydrolyzed dog food is? They take the entire carcass, grind it up, extrude it through a screw-type extruder, make sure it’s thoroughly-mixed, and then heat it above 200C to sterilize it, before forming the goop that’s now 10% water into pellets to be used in kibble. Yummy!

        We did, in fact, gradually move our dog to the prescription food, and waited 7 weeks before deciding if we’d keep her on it. She was itchier than before the switch and her coat became nasty really quickly. We’re aware of how to switch foods.

        We didn’t remove our dog from grains because we though she was allergic to them. Nowhere in my comment do you see that claim. We removed her from grains because it’s not a natural part of any canine’s diet. Sure, they may survive on it, but it doesn’t mean they’ll thrive on it! Look at their teeth, look at their wild counterparts — they eat meat, not bread and corn.

        You’ll never convince me “hydrolyzed meat” with a long list of other chemicals and ingredients pressed into a dry piece of kibble is healthier for my dog than real, fresh meat. You’ll never convince me McDonald’s or any other packaged food is healthier than something made from actual meats and vegetables.

        From what I’ve *experienced* after years of research, opinions, and trial-and-error, is that our dog does best on Apoquel for the environmental allergies, and a raw diet for her general health and protein allergies.

        My point in this long rant? Be sure your information is accurate before correcting someone else’s.

      • JA

        In regards to “most dogs aren’t allergic to grains”:

        71% of the dogs tested showed weak, moderate or strong food reactivity to beef.
        71% of the dogs tested showed weak, moderate or strong food reactivity to wheat.
        70% of the dogs tested showed moderate or strong food reactivity to cow’s milk.
        57% of the dogs tested showed weak, moderate or strong food reactivity to corn.
        Fewer dogs showed food reactivity to soy (25%) and very few to egg (3%).

        This is based on testing saliva for antigens.

  • Janet Stratman

    The food may be “manufactured” in the USA, however we have no idea where the raw ingredients come from. I have asked several companies where their chicken comes from, none of them would give me an answer, they informed me the product was “manufactured” in the USA.

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