Author Archives: Hadley Rush

Questions Surround Pet Food Recall as Pet Owners Look for Answers

By: Dr. Jack Stephens

As news of more and more pets affected by the recalled food continues, we want to share with you some of the questions we are receiving from callers to help ease fears and provide resources during this time.

1. If my pet is insured with Pets Best prior to the announcement of the pet food causing kidney damage is my pet covered for veterinary claims associated with the tainted food?
Yes, Pets Best considers this an accidental poisoning, and it is covered under ALL Pets Best plans.

2. When was this problem with pet food first noticed and the recall reported?
The recall began on March 16. Pets Best became informed the next day and immediately reviewed the information and sent an alert bulletin to all of our policyholders. Our emergency bulletin informed pet owners of the problem, provided a link to the list of pet foods affected, informed pet owners regarding the symptoms to look for and what to do if their pet had symptoms.

The problem may have been known some time prior to the recall, according to some news sources. Please note that the actual cause has not yet been determined. An investigation is underway to determine how it happened, what caused the problems and who is responsible.

3. If my pet has been eating the food listed from the website, what should I do?
You should IMMEDIATELY STOP feeding the food. Save the packaging or labels and any receipts you have and have your pet’s kidney function tested. Call your veterinarian for an appointment to have a simple blood test to check if your pet’s kidneys have been damaged.

There were 95 brands of dog and cat food affected by the recall, reportedly produced and sold between Dec. 2006 and March 2007.

4. What if my pet has damage to their kidneys?
Follow your veterinarians’ advice and seek the care they recommend. Treatments will vary according to how severe the kidneys have been damaged. The blood test and your veterinarian will determine the damage. There may be other tests that are recommended depending on the test results and your pet’s age and health status.

5. What are the symptoms of kidney damage?
The symptoms will vary by the degree of damage, but look for the following symptoms: lethargy, listlessness, vomiting, drinking excessive amounts of water, urinating excessively, not eating and general malaise or simply not feeling well.

So far, most of the affected pets have been cats, and they typically start with vomiting. Several pet owners have reported that their cat would not eat the offending food. Our first policyholder to submit a claim reported that her cats started with vomiting and staggering gait. She rushed them to the emergency clinic and most unfortunately one died. The other cat is undergoing treatment.

6. What should I do if my pet has these symptoms?
Consult your veterinarian immediately and, again, STOP feeding the listed food. Your veterinarian will need to take a small sample of blood for a laboratory test that will check kidney function, as well as a host of other tests to determine your pet’s general health. If your pet is demonstrating symptoms, the key is quick treatment.

7. How did this happen?
We do not know yet, our website will be posting the latest information as it develops. The manufacturer, Menu Foods, thinks it was an ingredient commonly utilized in pet foods that was from a new vendor who unknowingly provided the tainted product. Again, more research and much investigation will be conducted in order to determine the exact cause.

8. I heard that Pets Best has offered to pay policyholders 100% of the claims associated with poisoning from the recalled food up to the policy per-incident limit for this recall and then obtain the co-payment and deductible from the manufacturer. Does that mean I give up my rights to sue or seek restitution?
No, Pets Best is not involved in any legality or in the rights of affected consumers. We are offering to help our policyholders obtain a quick reimbursement of their pets’ medical expenses related to the food recall. Our action to help our policyholders has nothing to do with their rights as a consumer.

We are not even sure we will recover subrogation rights, however if we do, we will only seek the payments we made to protect and help our policyholders.

We will subrogate (or request that the manufacturer repay us) for our losses associated with any claims we pay on your behalf. This is important to avoid any rate increase due to this unfortunate incident that would otherwise affect our policyholders.

Our goal is to ease the entire financial burden quickly for our policyholders. This is a very abnormal situation, and we want pet owners to only worry about regaining their pets to a healthy state.

9. What is the Pets Best policy limit for poisoning?
For the Accident-Only plan, the accidental poisoning limit is $1,500, for Pets Basic the per-incident limit is $2,500 and for Pets First the per-incident limit is $7,000. If you are unsure which plan you have, please call or e-mail us. 1-877-738-7237 or

10. What if I want to sue the food company involved?
That is up to you. Pets Best is not and will not be involved in any legal proceedings associated with the recall. Our goal is simply to help our policyholders receive reimbursement for all expenses related to any damage their pet received from the pet food recall.

11. How many pets were affected by the offending pet food?
To date 16 pets have died and over 500 have been identified as probable for poisoning, however more are reported or suspected daily. The damage caused may be progressive or acute. Most reports are of an acute illness associated with the food, within hours or days. There may be more pets developing chronic kidney damage, especially if they received small doses over longer periods of time. It is still too early to determine the exact responses and illnesses that will be the result. Also, because there were pets experiencing kidney failure due to unknown causes prior to the recall announcement, there may be many more related illnesses.

12. I am not sure if my pet ate the offending food and he seems fine now, what should I do?
First, we recommend not overreacting. If you are concerned, have your veterinarian take a blood sample from your pet and screen all the internal organs and blood. This is something that you should have performed for your pet anyway. Annual exams and health screens are a must. You should consider twice-a-year health exams and screens if your pet is aged or has history of medical problems.

An annual blood test, along with annual exams and other wellness benefits are provided with our Pets Wellness coverage (which can be chosen in addition to your Pets First or Pets Basic plans). Your pet should have these benefits at least once a year to detect any problems early.

13. Will Pets Best pay for the blood test?
If you have Pets Wellness, an annual blood test is included in the benefits, as well as a urinalysis and wellness exam. Should your pet have kidney damage or any other abnormal finding that developed and was acquired after your pet’s policy went into effect the appropriate test would be covered under both Pets Basic and Pets First plans.

14. As a pet owner what is my recourse?
We will keep you posted on our website, but be assured the pet manufacturers and distributors are taking this problem very seriously. Our interest is to make sure you have the right information to protect your pet and help you pay for medical expenses when your pet requires veterinary care.

15. Why is Pets Best providing early information and advice?
We truly care about the health of your pet, which is why we provided the early alert bulletin, even when we were not sure of the severity of the recall. We will continue to post updates, status and advice for our policyholders and pet owners in general as they develop.

While paying for your pet’s medical needs is our business, I truly love pets and have six dogs, two cats and four horses of my own. Keeping your pet healthy is my passion and has been for more than 30 years.


By: Dr. Jack Stephens

As promised, we want to keep you updated as we learn more information about the pet food recall. Below are some of the things we have learned and information specifically for our policy holders, as well. We are also working on information to help you change your pet’s diet, if you have been feeding one of the recalled products, and will continue updating you as we learn new information. For more information on the recall itself, call Menu Foods at 1-866-895-2708.

-Pets Best Insurance is receiving claims for kidney damage.
-Veterinarians are treating more cases of kidney damage as now being reported in the leading veterinary network.
-Preliminary estimates of affected pets may be low and requires a national reporting network. No one yet knows the magnitude of the problem, but the potential offending agent in the pet food could cause significant kidney failure in thousands of pets who ate the food. The longer they were ingesting the offending food, the worse the damage, though the specific cause is still not known.

-Kidney damage can occur slowly. Symptoms and damage may be progressive or cause acute illness if larger doses of the offending ingredient are given or if the pet is older or in poor health.
-Symptoms will depend on a host of factors, such as amount and time span of the toxin introduced into the pet, age, health, how quickly the toxin is removed, and how quickly treatment is initiated.
-Look for lack of appetite, lethargy, vomiting, weight loss, listlessness, increased urination and drinking water excessively. -A simple blood test is the first and best solution to determine if your pet has any kidney damage.
-If your pet is older, the damage can become more irreversible.
-Your veterinarian can collect necessary samples and interpret your pet’s kidney function.
To date the pet food in question is only from certain “wet” pet foods, no dry pet food is known to be involved.

We have also been receiving calls from our policyholders about coverage and want to assure customers who have questions about whether or not their medical bills will be covered.

-Will cover any kidney damage that developed from exposure after your enrollment.
-Will pay 80% after the deductible, up to the per-incident limit of $2,500 or $7,000, whichever you chose at enrollment.

For those of you who signed up for the additional wellness coverage, your wellness coverage will
-Provide $ 35 for a wellness exam.
-Provide $ 60-100 for blood panel, which includes the kidney function (depends on your particular state coverage).
-Provide $ 25 for a urinalysis test.

Wellness benefits provide much more per year, however, these tests are pertinent to this issue if you have the wellness coverage and simply want to have your pet tested as a precaution.

PETS BEST WILL ALSO SUBROGATE (HELP YOU COLLECT) ANY CO-PAYMENT AND YOUR DEDUCTIBLE FROM THE PET FOOD MANUFACTURER THAT IS OVER AND ABOVE OUR 80% PAYMENT OR PER-INCIDENT LIMIT. We will be providing subrogation forms should you wish our help. Do keep any proofs of purchase, including store receipts and can or pouch labels.

Changing Your Pet’s Diet: What You Need to Know

Posted by Pets Best on 3/21/2007 in General Articles

This week, we have been receiving many calls regarding the pet food recall, and one of the primary questions we have heard is, “How do I switch foods without causing stomach upset?”

Normally I would advise pet owners to switch foods slowly by mixing in the new food with the old food to facilitate the adjustment of the pet’s digestive system adapting and help avoid stomach upset and diarrhea.

However, when a food is suspected of causing medical problems, especially something as dangerous as kidney damage, you should eliminate the offending food immediately.

If you suspect (or know) that your pet’s food is included in the recall, do not feed one more morsel of the offending food! Why? Because with many toxins or tainted food, it is the amount of the food and how long the pet has been eating the food that exacerbates the problem. The longer they eat the food, the more damage that can result, because of the buildup of the toxin or harmful ingredient.

Suggestions for switching food are numerous and depend on the types of food your pet has been eating, your pet’s health, his or her age and how sensitive their digestive tract is to changes in food. It is always best to consult your veterinarian if your pet has health problems, is older, or has a history of digestive problems.

For a healthy pet, you should be able to switch to a good quality food immediately with no resulting gastrointestinal problems. If diarrhea results, then you may have to take other measures or see your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may prescribe medication to treat and prevent diarrhea, they may suggest a special bland prescription diet or they may suggest you try mixing rice with the pet’s food, to tone down any dietary indiscretion from changing foods.

Remember, diarrhea can be very harmful and a symptom of more severe problems. If diarrhea persists see your veterinarian, and remember that you are your pet’s biggest champion and spokesperson.

Pet Food Recall

By: Dr. Jack Stephens

Few things, other than politics, can bring up such emotion as pet food preferences. The recent recall of certain “wet” pet foods has gained national attention. The results are not in as to how many pets were negatively affected and what it was in the pet food in question that caused the problems, but I commend the pet food manufacturer for their rapid action and even recalling pet food beyond what was to be expected. This rapid and broad response demonstrates how committed the pet food manufacturers and distributors are to your pet’s health and to protecting their brands.

It has been several years ago, but I have visited pet food plants and was amazed at how clean and efficient they were. In fact I found the few I visited were even cleaner and more modern than a couple of the canned food plants for humans I visited. Food contamination whether pet or human is most regrettable and shakes our faith.

Fortunately it is not that common or prevalent. We must stay diligent to prevent this type of problem from reoccurring, and I am sure this episode will create more safeguards to protect our pets.

When I was a child, commercial pet food was not common. Now we have special diets for particular medical problems, gourmet foods and a large selection from which to choose.

I have witnessed incredible growth in the pet food industry, from few commercial selections to today where the pet food isle is the largest single product area in a grocery store. I have also witnessed the expanded life spans of pets, much of which is due to great quality commercial pet foods.

In addition, I can relate that after 25 years of reviewing pet health insurance claims, pets have fewer medical problems, such as pancreatitis or inflammation of the pancreas and other ailments, when on a stable diet of high quality pet foods as compared to feeding leftover people food (or people food in general). My best advice is to not panic or overreact and to be certain your cupboard does not have any of the suspected products.

I am sure more answers will be forthcoming and that they will find the cause of the offending agents. If your pet has been eating any of the products listed on the pet food manufacturer’s website, call or make an appointment with your local veterinarian and have a urinalysis and blood screening test performed on your pet.

The tests are easy, fast and can detect a host of other problems, as well as detecting kidney failure. Early detection is the key, while there is still time to prevent symptoms or disease and before the damage is irreversible. Remember, if you have a pet wellness plan, those tests are covered, and your pet should have those tests annually anyway.

When anything new develops that will help you have a healthier pet, or we learn more news on the pet food recall that might help, we will keep you informed.

Pets Improve our Health

By: Dr. Jack Stephens

As you know from my prior blogs, and the book I am writing, pets are good for us. Pets have measurable positive effect on our biochemistry that improves our health and well being.

Recently there was an Associated Press article titled “Americans Tenderly Stuffing their Pets with Drugs” and another version “Americans Increasingly Medicating their Pets,” both on the same theme. The article pointed out that $2.9 billion was spent on drugs for pets and was now larger than spending on drugs for farm animals.

Basically, the article’s premise is that we continue to indulge and spend more on our pets. It was interesting to note that pet owners quoted in the articles where not complaining, they were simply stating how they felt it was important to them to provide whatever medication their pet needed. One pet owner estimated she spent $5,000 over the past two years. “You cannot put a price on that,” she was quoted as saying. And her husband, replied, “And I don’t want to.”

Why are pet owners willing to spend so much more on their pets?

Could it be they are receiving enough value from their pet to offset the expense?

The benefits of pets are just now being fully understood by science, something pet owners have known all along. Pets relieve stress, decrease feelings of anxiety, reduce and even eliminate depression. Pets entertain us, provide us with a feeling of security, cause us to exercise more, provide valuable services such as for the deaf, the blind, the physically handicapped and in psychotherapy. They make us smile. When we smile, we feel better. Pets are a “social lubricant” for meeting, greeting and conversing with others.

Scientific measurements have shown that sitting with your pet (dogs were used for the study) and petting them, improves your biochemistry of hormones and neurotransmitters. Your stress (bad hormones) decreases and your good hormones increase by that simple act. Your immune system is believed to be positively impacted by pets, thereby helping you to fight off disease and illness.

Pets make people feel less lonely and they provide us with unconditional love, which is hard to find these days. Pets listen to us (97% of pet owner’s report they talk to their pet) and even though they cannot answer back, we always feel better after talking to them.


A better story would be “Pets make us Healthier,” thereby decreasing our own reliance on drugs and reducing human medical cost. All medications have unintended consequences, even if unnoticed. Why not allow interaction with a companion pet improve your health and decrease your reliance on some medications?

In a survey of surgery patients, those with a companion pet reported less post-surgical pain than those without a pet. Less post-operative pain would indicate that pet owners required less medication and shorter hospital stays. Heart attack victims with a companion pet had a higher survival rate than non-pet owners. It has been demonstrated that quiet pet interaction decreases our blood pressure.

I strongly believe that increased spending on pets is the result of people intuitively knowing they feel better and want to maintain and reward that relationship by providing the medication necessary to increase their pet’s longevity and health.

As to cost, the articles stated that even at $2.9 billion spent on pet drugs, it was only 1% of the cost of human drugs. The headline would lead one to think spending on pet drugs is excessive.

However, consider the benefits of pets with only one very prevalent epidemic in America, depression. There are an estimated 48 million people (16% of the population) with some form of depression in the United States. If only 25 % of these people were able to eliminate antidepressants and it saved only $200 per year, that would translate into a savings of $2.4 billion annually in decreased drug cost for those drugs alone! Add to that the fact that those people would have the extra benefit of not having the many side affects that these drugs can cause and you can see how the cost of owning a pet is money well spent.

Of course we know that the actual annual cost of medication for depression is higher, but you get my drift. Pets pay for themselves many times over, and we receive so many more benefits from pets than simply helping to relieve or prevent mild depression.

I have personally witnessed a number of people on antidepressants who have eliminated the need for the drugs completely by the singular act of obtaining a household companion pet.

A close relationship with a companion pet increases your sense of well being, improves your body chemistry, increases natural anti-depression chemicals and enhances your immune system, thereby improving your odds of fighting off disease and illness: all natural methods biologically rooted into humans. Why not indulge something that helps you so much and in so many ways? Imagine how much money we might save in our present health care system by simply prescribing a companion pet.

My motto? “Prescribe Pets Not Pills.”

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