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October 21, 2016

Earlier this week, I attended my second Purina Better with Pets Summit. I’ve been invited all 4 years, but the first year I couldn’t go because Lilly was so sick, and last year, I didn’t go because we had just unexpectedly adopted Tori, and I didn’t want to leave Tom home alone with 2 border collie puppies and a geriatric Ginko.

My thanks to Nestle Purina for the invitation and for covering my travel expenses. This is a sponsored post for which I’m being paid. All decisions about what to say and how to say it are mine.

2016 Purina Better With Pets Summit Highlights

purina better with pets summit

As your own personal reporter for an event like this, I grabbed my credentials, checked the agenda, and went on an adventure in Brooklyn, New York, (where the Better With Pets Summit was held this year).

champion of my heart goes to the purina better with pets summit

After going through the 9 pages of notes that I took, here are the things I want you to know from the summit.

Prescription for Pets?

Purina is partnering with the Mayo Clinic to study the affects of animal-assisted therapy on depression and pain for patients with fibromyalgia. 

Mayo Clinic and Purina research partnership announcement

This is the next step in the company’s existing support of things like a dedicated space at a children’s hospital in St. Louis where families can bring their own pets to visit kids who are in the hospital for longer than a week. The idea is to study how pets might be used as a “prescription” (so to speak) or as an important support strategy for good health and / or recovery.

How about some appreciation for past / present innovations?

I also had a bit of an epiphany about pet food innovations during the summit when Dottie Laflamme, DVM, PhD, and board-certified veterinary nutritionist, who is the scientific communications consultant with The Purina Institute, said this:

“Today’s basic nutrition is built on the innovations of yesterday.”

I think it’s an important reminder that things we take for granted about pet nutrition now were innovative when first discovered and introduced into pet foods.

This includes even knowing what nutrients pets need to be healthy. That information alone has pretty much wiped-out malnutrition health issues in our dogs and cats.

As another example, today we know that large and giant breed puppies need foods with the right balance of calcium and phosphorus and the right calories keep them from growing too fast, which can cause serious orthopedic problems later in life. At the time large-breed puppy food was invented, that was an innovation.

I think it’s easy to forget how much time, money, research, and effort it takes to figure things like that out — to improve the lives of pets.

Pro Plan Bright Mind, which I’ve written about before is another good example. Bright Mind combats a change / decline in how dog’s brains metabolize glucose after age 7. We fed Ginko Bright Mind toward the end of his life. (If you missed the news, we lost him in January — just 4 months shy of his 16th birthday.)

photo of ginko taken a few days before he died

In 2017, Purina is coming out with Pro Plan Prime Plus for cats over age 7 that helps prevent issues common in older cats such as loss of lean muscle mass and thinning of the skin. This new feline formula … has 9 YEARS OF RESEARCH behind it.

Soapbox Alert!

I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week, and it feels like some people:

  • Make their opinions about companies like Purina permanent and tune out
  • Continue to believe debunked or outdated information about pet food, in general
  • Don’t recognize the sizable investment of money and other resources being made into researching nutritional solutions for pets
  • Simply don’t know that pet food is evolving both to combat health issues in our pets and to address the changing expectations of consumers

As an example, many ingredient-cautious people don’t know that Beyond for dogs, Muse for cats, and the natural line of Pro Plan foods (including veterinary therapeutic diets) don’t have corn, wheat, or soy in them. Or that the natural line also offers some limited-ingredient formulas for pets with food sensitivities or allergies.

My Assignment: Name the #1 thing I learned at the 2016 Purina Better With Pets Summit

For me, the SHOCKER came during the Panel Discussion about Demystifying Quality and Safety.

Much of the conversation had to do with what happened AFTER the 2008 recall crisis, which not only involved pet food but also baby formula in China. Yikes!

My new favorite person on the topic of food safety is Shaun Kennedy.

2016 purina better with pets summit - food safety panel

  • Associate Professor, Department of Veterinary Population Medicine
  • Member / Past Chairperson of the International Association for Food Protection
  • Serves on the US Pharmacopeia Intentional Adulterants Expert Panel
  • Served as the Director of the National Center for Food Production and Defense, which is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • Served as the Associate Director for the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety
  • Gave the inaugural FDA Chief Scientist Lecture

He explained that the recalls taught the FDA that it needed to be MUCH MORE proactive and preventive about food safety. This led to the Food Safety Modernization Act of 2011, which applies to the entire food supply. People food and pet food come from the same food supply. They are not different supply chains.

No kidding, he said “food fraud.”

As surveillance of food products and food ingredients increase, we’ve learned:

10% of all food is fraudulent in some way
(technically referred to as “economically adulterated”)

To give you an idea of how big of a deal this seemed to me, I leaped up and practically ran to the microphone when they opened the session to questions to CONFIRM he had said FOOD FRAUD.

In other words, the food isn’t what it claims to be in one way or another.

Kennedy gave an example of pomegranate juice that turned out to be water, food coloring, and a little bit of citric acid. Not juice at all.

This is why it’s so important to me that the food my dogs eat comes from a company with strict quality and safety guidelines in place, including total visibility back to the original supplier of any ingredient. I want to know that every vendor and every ingredient is checked and rechecked. 

  • Purina does detailed food safety site visits before an ingredient vendor is accepted.
  • There are technical reviews throughout the supply-chain.
  • They have “fingerprints” (and a chain of custody, so to speak) of every ingredient that comes to a manufacturing plant’s door.
  • Ingredients are tested again at the door.
  • Once a batch is made, it’s tested again.
  • Any batch that doesn’t pass review does NOT go to market. Period.

I do indeed feed my current dogs Purina Pro Plan Sport. All of my past dogs have eaten various Purina brand foods over the years, long before I had a relationship with the company. My dogs have also eaten other brands of pet food and may again in the future.

Of course the topic of ingredients from CHINA came up during the discussion, and the panel explained that the COMPANY of origin is more important than the COUNTRY of origin because of the kinds of safety measures that are in place for Purina foods. I’m still processing how I feel about that.

But, I can tell you that 99% of the Purina pet food sold in the U.S.
is made in the U.S (in facilities owned by Purina and staffed by its employees).
That is important to me as well.

Pet Food Arguments

Having Lilly die from an adverse rabies vaccine reaction, NO ONE understands the anger better than I do when something happens with a product you trust.

So when I see people expressing strong opinions about pet food, I try to keep that in mind. Their stances may come from fear and anger or mistrust.

I’m simply saying this is what I feed. This is who I trust. 

Your Assignment: Share an example from your own life (on social media using #LetsLiveBig) about how you and your pets live bigger lives together.

My list would include:

  • Hiking together
  • Learning to do agility together (badly)
  • Learning to herd livestock together (again, badly)
  • Being able to work from home so that I can be with the puppy-girls nearly 24/7


About the Author Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related.

I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.

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