I had no intention of writing a blog this morning. I woke up early, and sat down to check my email and peruse Facebook with my morning coffee. And there it was in my inbox...AGAIN. Another pet food recall. Another brand that I've actually heard of, one that clients tell me they feed their pets. To be honest, I'm a little disappointed, a little worried, and a lot mad.
I'm a *relatively* young veterinarian. I've been practicing for eight years, but have worked in the industry for more than half of my life. In those past eight years however, I have completely lost the ability to keep track of all of the pet food brands. When I first graduated, I could name just about every pet food brand in the store. It helped that my first job was a hospital inside a major pet food chain, but hey. Every year, the number of brands and formulas increases exponentially. Every day, I have clients tell me they're feeding their pet a food that I've never heard of. In a busy practice, it's hard to stay on top of all of the brands, the science behind their formulas, and whatever latest gluten/grain/protein source fad has been determined "the latest" by the pet food company's marketing department.
It's frustrating, and as a veterinarian, I want to be able to give my clients the best possible information and the best possible nutrition recommendation for their pet. Daily, I recommend 4-5 trusted brands based on my patient's needs. Brands I know are for sure AAFCO-certified, have a veterinary nutritionist on staff whom I can consult with on medical cases, and whose reputation for health and safety has not only been established by years in the industry but by published and tested science. Those are the companies that I buy my pet's food from, and those are the companies I recommend.
Conversely, it's possible that some of these newer brands may also offer the same quality and nutrition. But it's just not possible for every veterinarian to know every brand or formula out there on the shelves. We can't know it all, and that makes many of us worried for what our clients are putting into their pets. Frequent recalls, like the FOUR I've seen in the last two weeks, give us even more cause for alarm.
So, what can we do?
Of course, I'm usually writing about veterinary use of social media: how to best represent your practice online, how to use the latest app or take the best photos and videos in the clinic. Luckily, I can still tie this issue in. There is something we as veterinarians can do to help keep our patients safe and fed well, even on Facebook: educating them on pet food nutrition, and keeping them informed of pet food recalls.
By sharing the latest information on recalls, we can establish ourselves as a reputable source of IMPORTANT pet information. In addition, we have an obligation to do a better job of sharing with our clients WHY we recommend certain brands and formulas. Here are a few tips to incorporate this into your practice:
#1: Sign Up for Pet Food Recall Alerts
I don't expect you to troll the interwebs every morning for the latest pet food recall news. Instead, sign up for pet food recall alerts and follow.
The FDA maintains a list of current pet food recalls,
available online: http://www.fda.gov/animalveterinary/safetyhealth/recallswithdrawals/.
You can also sign up for these recalls via email by entering your email and hitting "Subscribe" at the bottom. You have options for immediate, daily or weekly notifications, but I chose immediate. It may also be a good idea to subscribe your front desk/reception's email address, so they will have a heads up should there be any clients who call with questions.
You can also check out the AVMA's Pet Food Recall page: https://www.avma.org/news/issues/recalls-alerts/pages/pet-food-safety-recalls-alerts.aspx
This site is also helpful because you can search all alerts from the past 365 days. If you're not sure about a particular food when a client asks about it, I'd run a quick search on the name to see if they've had any recalls in the last year.
#2: Follow @AVMARecallWatch on Twitter.
If you're a Twitter user, follow this channel and enable mobile notifications so you always are up to date on the latest recalls. Added benefit: they're sharing the press release from reputable sources, not just the notification from "CatsPurrever" or other random social media account.
#3: Share Pet Food Recall Info, ASAP.
If you're like me, your personal social media accounts are filled with news from your friends, often also veterinary colleagues. Several of my friends and/or their clinic pages I follow had shared information about the latest recall this morning. In addition, I had an email waiting from the above sources, so I was able to quickly share something on my clinic pages. Obviously, the sooner we can get this info out to our patients the better. However, if we're the last to jump on the bandwagon, your clients may have already turned to another source. BE THE SOURCE!
#4: Turn this news into a blog:
Since today's recall marked the fourth in just two weeks (Wellness, Evanger's, Grreat Choice and 9Lives), I combined all of this information into a blog post for my clinic. Incorporate the official recall links from FDA, and if available, the manufacturer's website and info, so owners know what serial/product numbers to look for and who to contact for refunds or returns.
This way, I don't even have to share someone else's post or do any work vetting the source (see reference to the "CatsPurrever"). I know it's accurate, pertinent and helpful. It's established our practice as the source, and this is of great benefit to our clients.
#5: Embed the AVMA's Pet Food Recall Widgets into your website:
AVMA has multiple widgets that you can embed into your website so your clients can easily access the most up-to-date info, without you having to do a thing! They even have feline-only practice options and several designs/sizes to choose from. Send this link over to your web designer for incorporation into your website's "resources" or "helpful links" pages, or even into the page footer itself.
Learn more here: https://www.avma.org/PracticeManagement/Administration/Pages/Pet-Food-Recall-Widgets.aspx.
#6: Make a commitment to start educating your clients about nutrition online:
If we've learned nothing from the past year, it's that fear and sensational news can muddy the waters of information. While I'm obviously passionate about getting the recall info out to owners ASAP, it does nothing for my patients or my practice if I'm not also balancing this "scandalous" news with solid, trusted, science-based recommendations. I think that will have to be a blog for another day, but I'm now more committed than ever to sharing GOOD pet food info too, so stay tuned for some tips on that end. For now, start by researching your trusted brands for client-friendly shareable information, and consider blogs or videos on topics like AAFCO Certification, calorie counts, your personal recommendations and dispelling some of the common pet food myths out there. Compile a list of resources to share on your social media accounts. In many cases, clients don't know where to turn to get trusted information about their pet's food or other products. You know that all of the food and treat companies are out there sharing it online and in the pet stores, and it's time we step from the exam room and provide a trusted, educated alternative.
--Caitlin DeWilde, DVM