Battle Creek veterinarian trying to make dog food safer

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BATTLE CREEK, Mich. -- Doctor Pete VanVranken of the Dickman Road Veterinary Clinic in Battle Creek had just returned from a convention with some of the brightest veterinary minds in the country when his dog died.

At the convention last year, they spoke about Copper Storage Disease, the build-up of too much copper in a dog's liver.  The veterinarians at the convention believe this is becoming a problem now that more dogs are eating food with artificially added copper.

Around 1997, most if not all dog food makers started adding either copper sulfate or proteinaceous copper to their food, based on recommendations from AAFCO.  The Association of American Feed Control Officials doesn't regulate dog food, that's done by the FDA.  However, AAFCO gives its stamp of approval on dog foods that follow its guidelines.

Based on studies originally performed on baby pigs, AAFCO determined dogs needed more copper in their diet.  Doctor VanVranken says since pigs live such short lives, it's hard to compare a lack of side effects on pigs compared to dogs who often live more than twelve years, and are now developing side effects.

Doctor VanVranken's dog "Cookie" had more than 2,000 copper parts per million in her liver, compared to fewer than fifty parts per million, which is normal.  "I got her down an awful lot, but there was too much damage there," he adds.  After Cookie died, he had a fellow vet perform the biopsy to officially diagnose her death as "Copper Storage Disease."

Dr. VanVranken believes many more dogs are dying from this, but he doesn't have the hard data yet to prove it.  So far, not enough vets are performing liver biopsies.

Dr. VanVranken says he's had good dialogue with AAFCO and the FDA, but so far they've agreed to disagree.

"Their attitude is 'You're going to have to prove to us that it causes problems', my attitude is 'You're going to have to prove to us that its of some benefit to put it in there.'" Doctor VanVranken is hopeful more people around Michigan and across the country will reach out to their state's AAFCO Feed Control Official to complain.

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10 comments

  • Johni

    Are they any products on the market that do not have copper in them? I feed my dogs Back to Basics grain free, but now I see they use proteinaceous copper in there food too.

  • Dr. Charles, DVM

    Veterinary professionals need to prove things and research them before speaking out and causing hysteria with pet owners. Could this be true? Yes, but having a sample size of his one dog with CSD does not make a connection between copper in dog food and copper in the dog’s liver.
    If the copper in dog food was too high and caused liver disease then why doesn’t every dog that eats it develop liver disease? I suspect some dogs have an issue processing the copper and are predisposed to copper storage disease.
    And 2 dogs at Hill’s had mildly elevated levels and one had high levels? OK so those 3 dogs were out of how many? Out of 5, 20, 2000? Plus, you are throwing Hill’s under the bus but at least they are doing something right by actually testing their food with food trials and have veterinary nutritionists on staff. Are all those “organic” and “premium” dog food companies doing anything?
    I am not saying the copper levels aren’t a problem, but a) there are bigger things owners should care about and b) let’s do some research first.
    Most pet owners don’t do easy things that can really help their pets stay healthy and live longer that matter way more like brush their teeth or keep them at a healthy weight.
    My tip: until proven otherwise, use your energy worrying about this and put it into caring about things that pet owners don’t take the time to care about
    – Stop making your pets fat. It is unhealthy and it’s abuse, not “love”
    – Either get regular dental cleanings or brush your pets’ teeth
    – Vaccinate and have regular exams
    – Stop paying $100 for “premium dog food” and use it for something more useful like annual bloodwork or a saving’s account for a pet health crisis.

    • Tom Cremer

      Thank you for that wise post. I was initially freaked out by the news report, however I suspected problems with the story based on my minimum knowledge of research methods. If we take my sample size of one dog, we could conclude that copper sulfate is just fine for dogs (he is 14 and doing fine). It means nothing. This was an irresponsible story on the part of Fox.