Battle Creek veterinarian trying to make dog food safer

Posted at 6:22 PM, Feb 16, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-16 22:55:35-05

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.