The Royal Canin recall hit us hard. Hypoallergenic is the prescription diet we use second most (after Royal Canin’s Calorie Control). Over fifty of our clients feed it to as many as 100 of our patients. On Friday we sent out thirty-nine sets of bloodwork to Antech, almost what we’d expect to perform in a full month. We had another thirteen cats scheduled to come in for testing on Saturday. We’re performing urinalyses in house and sending out for CBCs and general chemistry profiles. I expect our bill to Royal Canin (who told us they will pay for testing of any cat that has eaten Hypoallergenic in the past six months) to be in the $8,000–$10,000 range, not including treatment costs for those cats showing signs of renal failure (so far, at least two) and not including overtime costs for our staff who have worked extra-long hours the past few days.

Royal Canin’s Handling of the Recall
Catmanager’s wife contacted our Royal Canin representative about three weeks ago to report a cat she had seen in early February with unusual urine crystals. The cat had slightly elevated BUN and creatinine (but still within normal range), had been vomiting, and was generally ADR. Fast forward several weeks and those odd crystals were popping up all over the country, now identified as melamine (Antech has a nice PDF with nine photographs). When my wife realized what she’d likely been seeing, she called our Royal Canin rep. The cat had been eating Hypoallergenic. Our rep said he was unaware of any problems but advised my wife to contact one of the company’s staff veterinarians.

Now that Royal Canin has recalled Hypoallergenic (along with a few other diets) because it contains tainted rice protein, we really wish my wife had made that second call (the birth of our first child got in the way). Had she talked with one of Royal Canin’s vets, would they still have reported “we have no confirmed cases of illness in pets” in their press release announcing the recall?

Probably yes, because a “confirmed” case is worlds away from a “suspected” case. Although I find the semantic game frustrating, it’s a small annoyance in what seems to be an otherwise forthright and responsible response—certainly Royal Canin has outperformed Hill’s in handling the recall. Unlike Hill’s, our Royal Canin rep contacted us immediately about the recall. We also didn’t have to wait for days for them to announce that they’d reimburse for testing. We were simply told that testing would be covered as long as we could show that the client had purchased a bag of recalled food within the last six months.

The response on the two companies’ Web sites is also quite different. Royal Canin’s front page is currently all about the recall. You can’t miss it. If one were unaware that Hill’s products had been recalled and visited the main page of their Web site, one would leave still unaware (unless one read the “Letter to Pet Owners” that is linked to from the main page). The page instead implies that Hill’s foods are unaffected by the recall: “Feed with Confidence.” “Wheat Gluten Free.” “Hill’s products not affected by rice protein concentrate recall.”

(We don’t use any P&G or Purina products, so I haven’t been as aware of their responses. Checking quickly, I don’t see any mention of the recall on Iams’ U.S. page. Purina addresses the recall on its main page.)

For several years now, my wife’s confidence in Hill’s products has steadily declined. For at least the past eighteen months she has refused to carry most of their maintenance diets. She finds that the Royal Canin prescription diets are generally more effective (k/d and z/d are the only Hill’s Prescription Diets we regularly use). Now, after watching them respond poorly over the last month to the pet food recall, her confidence has plumeted to new lows, and we’re seriously considering carrying only k/d and z/d.

Royal Canin, itself not free of warts (we’ve complained loudly in the past about poor communication from them), does at least seem to handle recalls well, admitting the problem in a timely manner and not shying away from their fiscal responsibility.

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