Recently there have been dozens of recalls within the pet food industry associated with excess levels of vitamin D in both canned and dry pet food made by many of the large pet food manufacturers. In addition, there has been much conjecture around the relationship between grain free diets and dilated cardiomyopathy being diagnosed in cats and dogs. Traditional veterinarians are admonishing pet owners about the dangers of making their own pet food and also the dangers of feeding “boutique” or “novel” diets. They tell us we should trust the large pet food manufacturers to supply complete and balanced diets for our pets, without question.

But some of us DO ask questions. Most recently, I started questioning vitamin D levels in commercial pet food. When pets are being presented in my office with symptoms that might correlate to vitamin D toxicity, I have been submitting blood samples to ascertain vitamin D levels, thinking I was going to find a lot of toxicity among my patients. What I found were results that shocked me. These pets did not have vitamin D toxicity – they had vitamin D deficiency! Their results were less than half the desired level. And none of these pets were being fed the same food. Some were eating dry food, some were eating canned food.

The foods were different for each pet: Pedigree (Mars), Alpo (Purina), ProPlan Focus (Purina), and Cesars (Mars) were being fed. (Clearly we have failed in our education to these clients regarding quality of food being fed.) Once we called these owners with the lab results, recommending they supplement with a prescribed dose of vitamin D3, they each wanted to know what food they should use to replace what they were already feeding. Unfortunately, there is no easy answer!

Should we recommend another “big manufacturer”, trusting they would provide complete and balanced nutrition with no excesses or deficiencies? Clearly, they have failed our pets on both sides here! Should we recommend home-prepared diets that would inevitably fail? These owners were not committed to preparing balanced meals at home, having no desire to make pet food on their own. Should we recommend smaller pet food companies that may or may not test their formulations to ensure completeness of all vitamin and mineral levels? (Personally, I have a lot more faith in some of the small companies than I ever will in the large companies that currently control the market share.)

It’s very expensive for a pet food manufacturer to test a batch of food for all vitamin and mineral levels recommended by AAFCO standards (anywhere from $2000 to $5000 per batch). There are no pet food companies that perform this testing on every batch (and for many, they have never tested a finished batch).

It would be unrealistic to test our pets for every vitamin and mineral in their bodies to determine excesses and deficiencies. We are left with putting our faith in the pet food companies to supply what they need for optimum health. But that’s a pretty scary proposition if you ask me.