Letters to the Editor

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More on pregnant sow housing and animal welfare

The recent commentary by Dr. Barry Kipperman1 does not appear to support the efforts of the AVMA Animal Welfare Committee, Board of Directors, and House of Delegates in their development of the current AVMA policy on pregnant sow housing.2 The commentary raises several points worthy of consideration, but reflects views that I believe will serve only to polarize opposing opinions rather than result in consensus, especially with respect to the use of gestation stalls.

Just this past July, the AVMA House of Delegates approved changes to the Association's policy on pregnant sow housing to “add statements that pregnant sows should have enough space to assume normal postures and that housing and management systems for these animals should reduce exposure to conditions that result in distress and fear.”3 These changes were submitted by the AVMA Board of Directors on the basis of recommendations from the AVMA Animal Welfare Committee. In developing its recommendations, the Animal Welfare Committee reached a consensus through collaboration and compromise. The result was a reflection of the diverse makeup of the committee, which includes veterinarians with various backgrounds, knowledge, and experiences.

From his commentary, it appears Dr. Kipperman does not believe this policy goes far enough, and he suggests that AVMA views on farm animal welfare “lag behind those of society as a whole and that … the AVMA risks abandoning its role as an advocate for the welfare of farm animals.”1 I do not agree.

Most members of today's society, including veterinarians, do not have any experience with sows or their housing. Their perspective is often a result of their experiences with companion animals. As we all learned in our first day in veterinary school, you cannot learn the anatomy or physiology of one species and then apply it to all other animals. The same applies to the science of animal welfare.

The AVMA does not lag behind in its view of farm animal welfare and, in fact, is continuously updating its policies, as last year's changes to the sow housing policy demonstrate. Also, review of this policy was moved 3 years ahead of its regularly scheduled review on a 5-year cycle, despite a lack of new scientific information. The AVMA has a duty to represent species-specific experts and include their views within entities such as the Animal Welfare Committee.

I contend that farm animal welfare standards should be driven by those who best know and care for the animals. Although swine veterinarians only comprise a small minority of the AVMA membership, they represent a majority of those with direct knowledge of the science of pig health and welfare. As long as the AVMA supports and encourages input from all species-specific experts, the AVMA will never risk abandoning its position as an advocate for the welfare of all animals, including farm animals.

Ron Brodersen, DVM

President, American Association of Swine Veterinarians Hartington, Neb

See your veterinarian, not the Internet, for pet health concerns

For engaged pet owners, the Internet offers access to vast amounts of information. Yet, the information that is available ranges from scientific fact to pure fiction. With almost limitless information available online from a wide array of sources, everyone using the Internet needs to be discerning. Clicking a mouse is not the best way for pet owners to ensure their pets’ health. My advice to friends and clients is simple: visit or speak with your veterinarian any time you believe your pet may have a health issue.

Recently, there have been some negative comments in the news1 and on various blogs concerning Purina's Beneful brand dog food. These allegations specifically accuse the product of causing problems ranging from vomiting and diarrhea to death. The statements are not backed by science, and the signs that have been described are among the most commonly seen in clinical practice and can be related to any number of conditions. In many cases, the cause of these signs is never verified through appropriate laboratory analysis.

I understand that when an animal is sick, the owner will often look first to the pet's food and environment as the cause. But when evaluated carefully, clinical signs more often are due to primary medical conditions. I've read many of the comments in the news and online regarding Beneful. None has provided an evidence-based rationale for making claims about Beneful having a negative impact on the health of a pet. In fact, some comments mention illness developing after feeding Beneful only once. Of course, an abrupt change in a pet's diet could result in transitory gastrointestinal signs, but claims that dogs developed chronic weight loss or died suggest that these animals were ill to begin with and the dietary change was likely not related.

I have been a practicing veterinarian for more than four decades, specializing in small animal internal medicine and cardiology. During this time, I have participated in multiple pharmaceutical and food trials and have written more than 100 peer-reviewed scientific papers on clinical studies. To lay blame on one particular product without any scientific study as proof of such claims is inappropriate and misguided. Veterinary and nutritional scientists should be consulted for their expertise before broad statements are made that go beyond the scientific evidence.

I firmly believe that any abnormality noted by a pet owner should be brought to the attention of his or her veterinarian. Concerns regarding a particular product should immediately be brought to the attention of the manufacturer so that information can be collected and the product appropriately monitored. The veterinarian and the pet owner then can decide whether to contact the US FDA. To date, there has been no substantiated evidence that Beneful has caused problems when fed to dogs. Poison control groups have not expressed concerns, nor has the FDA.

As someone who has worked in the industry for years, including as a Fellow with Purina, I have been impressed with Purina's quality and safety standards. Purina pet food products are made under rigorous quality supervision. I fed Beneful to my own dog for many years. She was a fussy eater and refused most other foods; we were happy and confident in feeding her Beneful throughout her life.

A hallmark of good medical training is examining the evidence behind statements made about diseases, drug therapies, surgical techniques, and nutritional requirements. Before coming to any conclusions, I prefer to review the scientific evidence for any therapeutic or nutritional product before I recommend or dismiss it.

Stephen Ettinger, DVM, DACVIM

Nestlé Purina Fellow in Veterinary Medicine Los Angeles, Calif

1. Lawsuit claims Beneful kibble is toxic. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2015; 246: 827.

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