Wednesday, June 10, 2009

About Royal Canin, Louie, and me

There have been numerous comments appended to the article I posted on Monday by Dr. Patty Khuly. Many of these arguments center around the question of who should have control over therapeutic pet diets, and to what degree. Some have to do with the quality of commercial pet foods in general, and some have to do with myself, Louie, our level of understanding with regard to Louie's medical condition and our alleged campaign against the Royal Canin company.

I would like to clarify a few things here for the benefit of those who may have some misunderstanding with regard to this. Much of what I would like to say here I have already said in the comments section of the Dolittler blog, so rather than reinvent the wheel I will just repost much of that here, in the hope that something I said there may answer some of the questions that remain in peoples' minds:

There certainly seem to be no shortage of opinions on this issue. For me, the real controversy has nothing to do with the quality or usefulness of these foods (remember that we are reliant on one of these products) but the fact that there is an implicit assumption being made on the part of many of us that something which is designated a "prescription" product is subject to some sort of regulation similar to the sort of regulation that exists with regard to prescription products sold to humans.

In fact, there is nothing magical or special in any legal sense about this prescription designation when it comes to pet foods, and therefore there is no mechanism in place to protect people like me or you in the event that the manufacturer decides that they can make the product more cheaply or for any other reason decides to change what is in these products. There's absolutely no liability on their part for any damage this might cause, regardless of the money I have spent to get my pet well (ultimately by using their foods) or the money I might spend nursing him along if he can't thrive on the newly formulated diet.

This is not, of course, about money, but it seems to me that if they are marketing food as medicine there should be some consumer protection in place for those who are reliant on these therapies. I think this stands as a completely separate issue from the quality of the foods, the efficacy of the diets, or the wisdom of controlling distribution channels by limiting the sale of the foods to certain vendors (in this case, veterinarians).

In response to the suggestion that I might not be well informed about the nature of Louie's problems:

....We've been through a year and a half of diagnostics and many diet trials, and are being seen by a team of vets at one of the best veterinary schools in the country....His file at UC Davis is three inches thick. Let's just say that I've made it my mission to keep this dog alive and at this point it's pretty darned clear, through process of elimination (no pun intended) that my dog reacts poorly to foods that have chicken in them....

In response to the rather amusing suggestion that perhaps I hadn't asked Royal Canin for help:

Of course I did. All they offered was to have their veterinarian speak to my veterinarian, which never happened. I tried to call them again yesterday after being told that one of their reps wanted to speak with me, and when I called he told me he did not know what I was talking about, did not know who I was or why I was calling, and was in a meeting and would call me back, which never happened.

And with regard to the suggestion that I somehow have been unfair to the Royal Canin company, or that they perhaps would have helped us, had they only known of our plight:

if anyone actually went to the website to read the story (doesn't sound like many did) then you would see that I was quite kind to Royal Canin, expressing gratitude to them for even making the food in the first place.

There are others who submitted stories to my blog whose opinions are less generous, and I posted those opinions unedited because everyone should have the opportunity to have their voice heard. But their opinions are not my opinions. I am not in a war with Royal Canin and the whole point of the site originally was to persuade them to put this issue on their radar so that they would make an effort to help us. When it became clear that they were not going to do this, the food drive began. I do not think they have handled this very well, and it could have been a great opportunity for them to step up to the plate in a very visible way which would have made it a win-win situation for everyone. That was their choice, but the opportunity was certainly there.

More on Royal Canin, when it was suggested that there might be very good reasons for the formula change:

Royal Canin has come forward with two different explanations for the formula change. One is that they have a hard time controlling the fat content (at least, this is the explanation which is implied in the e-mail they are sending out in response to inquiries). The other explanation which I was personally given by them in a telephone conversation and which was also provided via e-mail to at least one veterinarian who contacted them was that they do not have a consistent supply of fish with which to make the product. This is a reasonable explanation, but it doesn't help Louie very much.

I don't know which of these explanations is true; perhaps they both are, or perhaps neither is. The impression I had from the phone call I received was that they were hoping they could talk me into trying the new product and we'd all live happily ever after. I believe that, in their discussions about this, it was probably suggested that to admit that one dog might have a problem would be to somehow admit that the formula change was a bad idea. In fact, I don't know that it is. It's likely that most dogs will tolerate the change just fine. However, not all dogs will, and my dog is one of them.

The nutritionist I spoke with at Royal Canin seemed a bit taken aback when I explained that it is the chicken in the product which is likely to cause a problem, and not the pork. This was after she [somewhat triumphantly] explained that pork was always in the product as part of the "meat by-products." I explained to her that, at one point, I had Louie on a nutritionist-provided recipe which included chicken and rice (rice is also in the Royal Canin product) and a supplement, and he never thrived on this diet, but continued to worsen. As I said, I don't have to walk up to the edge of disaster in this situation to know that giving him a food that contains chicken is a bad idea.

I have since attempted to use that recipe as a base while swapping out various kinds of low-fat fish to attempt to discover a kind of fish that will work for him. No luck so far. I do have a sample of commercial grade fish meal on the way and will do another diet trial with that as well. We have not given up on finding out what he can eat-- we know he can eat something. Royal Canin knows the difficulty of our situation but do not seem interested in even telling us what kind of fish to try, so I don't really think I can count on them to provide any further information, despite the fact that I continue to encourage people to ask.

And finally, in response to a question about whether or not I knew for certain that the fish in the food is the ingredient that treats his condition:

No, I don't think it is the fish source that improved his condition, per se. An extremely low fat diet is the treatment for lymphangiectasia, not a particular protein. I cannot give him fish oils; I cannot even give him vitamin E capsules because of his sensitivity to fats. However, he's also had recurring pancreatitis, he has a lot of autoimmune disease, and, in general, based on my own observations of various food trials we've done with him, he seems to be sensitive to a variety of protein sources, so we've really had a very difficult time finding anything at all that agrees with him. Either the fat content is too high, or the protein source seems to irritate him intestinally (which, in turn seems to trigger the lymphangiectasia). All I really know regarding this particular food is that it appears to have been the magical combination of things that agrees with him somehow, and I was really hoping we would not have to make any changes once we got him back on his feet and feeling well. It was a very long road to get here, which we were very lucky to stumble upon, and it is incredibly frustrating to find ourselves in this position with his food again after all we have been through with him.

I hope this clarifies my position, and the events which transpired to bring us to the point at which creating this food drive and website seemed like logical moves.


  1. I have to comment here. I have spent a tidy sum of money on Royal Canin's veterinary formulas for my dogs over the past 6 years, through more than one formula change. The issue of CHANGE is a major one for me. Royal Canin didn't have the simple decency to mark the cases or cans with anything noting the formula change so that customers could make an informed decision on whether it would be safe to feed to dogs for whom food changes have had a negative impact. In fact, the print on the cans is markedly smaller now, though in two languages. There are four small icons but my eyesight is not good enough to see what they say. If the change were indeed better for our dogs, many like mine with multiple diagnoses, why is Royal Canin not shouting it out in big letters that say "great new formula!" To date, I have received no email reply to the email I sent Royal Canin. I did, however receive a letter sent via UPS Ground and left on a corner of my porch to be rained on. It does not say anything different than they have been saying to others or that their CSRs say on the phone. The only difference is that Chewy's name was plugged in and it was soaking wet.

  2. Thank you, Julie. Indeed, everyone seems to be receiving similar form letters that are being "personalized" by the addition of Louie's name or in some other way. The letters all talk up the "benefits" of the new formula and fail to address in any way the problems that may occur due to changes in protein sources and other key ingredients. I was told myself that pork was always in the "meat by-products" but there is no attempt to address the addition of chicken, to which Louie appears to be sensitive.

    I know that not all dogs can eat all foods, but there is an issue when a food that has been working is changed without any indication or warning to the consumer.