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Articles by Dr. Tesluk


Dr. Stephen Tesluk, DVM


It seems I just can’t get away from food topics; just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in (apologies to Al Pacino and Mario Puzo).

            Last week I learned that Royal Canin, a French company that produces several dog and cat food brands, has recalled certain types of prescription dog and cat food because they were causing increased calcium levels in the animals that consumed them.  Calcium is a vital mineral that has many important functions in the body.  It is the major component in bone, which acts as the body’s storehouse for calcium.  Calcium is required for muscle contraction, nerve conduction, and other essential functions carried out by many types of cells in the body.  Because calcium is so important, the body has developed means of keeping calcium levels within strict limits.  Vitamin D is one of the three compounds that control blood levels of calcium.  Vitamin D causes increased absorption of calcium from the intestine, increased release of calcium from bone, and increases the amount of calcium recovered from the blood that is filtered through the kidneys.  The Royal Canin diets that were causing hypercalcemia in dogs and cats had too much vitamin D added to them.  The kidney is the organ most sensitive to increases in blood calcium levels, and signs of hypercalcemia in dogs and cats include increased water consumption and urination, vomiting, diarrhea, and depression.  If untreated, hypercalcemia can lead to kidney failure and death.  Because vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, it can accumulate in body fat where it is released slowly, so that the hypercalcemia persists for weeks even after the diet has been changed.  Royal Canin first recalled their Canine Urinary SO canned diet on Feb. 2 by sending a letter directly to the veterinarians that sold the diet.  In the letter, they stated that they started “an exhaustive nutrient analysis” of their canned products and reported that only the Canine Urinary SO cans marked “best before 03/2007, 05/2007, and 06/2007 were affected.  More than a month later, a second letter was sent out that added the five following diets to the recall list: Royal Canin Veterinary Diet, Canine Low Fat canned, best before 6/2007; RCVD Canine Calorie Control canned, best before4/2007 and best before 7/2007; RCVD Feline Calorie Control canned, best before 4/2007; and RVCD Feline LP pouch diet, best before 06/2007.  I contacted a Dr. Bumitrescu at Royal Canin, who told me that the excess vitamin D came from a “premix” of additives that Royal Canin purchased from an outside supplier, and that the company had since stopped doing business with that supplier and had started checking the vitamin D levels in their final products.

            Bumitrescu also told me that IVD diets and Waltham diets (both owned by Royal Canin) were not affected.  Bumitrescu also admitted that the delay between the initial single diet recall and the second multiple diet recall occurred because there was only one lab in the country equipped to check the vitamin D levels in their foods.

            When I questioned Brumitrescu on why feeding trials had not picked up the hypercalcemia problem, I got a surprising reply.  She said that her company conducts feeding trials only on their maintenance diets intended for healthy dogs and cats, and not on any of the specialty or “prescription” diets.  This sets Royal Canin apart from Hills, the leading producer of veterinary diets, who test all of their diets in feeding trials, and underscores the important role feeding trials play in establishing the safety of pet foods.

            Consumers should look for the nutritional statement on the label of any dog or cat food that they purchase.  There are three types of nutritional statements consumers will find.  One type says that the food is not intended as a balanced diet and should not be the sole source of nutrition for the pet.  The second type says that the diet is formatted to AAFCO standards for maintenance diets.  The third type says the diet is formulated to AAFCO standards for maintenance diets and tested in feeding trials.  AAFCO is the organization that determines the types and amounts of vitamins and minerals that dogs and cats need to stay healthy.  Companies that produce diets that are intended as the sole food source for dogs and cats must meet these requirements.  But companies can use whatever raw material satisfies the requirement for each vitamin and mineral.  Sometimes companies use raw materials that have low “bio-availability,” meaning that the vitamin or mineral can’t be absorbed efficiently through the intestine.

            Feeding trials are designed as a fail-safe to ensure that the bio-availability of vitamins and nutrients is adequate, but they are expensive and too few pet food producers are willing to make that investment.  Hopefully, Royal Canin will not be expanding the list of recalled diets any further, and this episode will serve to remind veterinarians and consumers that nutritional diseases do occur, and careful consideration should be given to any diet selected for one’s pet.


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