WildAgain Wildlife Rehabilitation, Inc.
Allan M. Casey, III and Shirley J. Casey, WildAgain Wildlife Rehabilitation, Inc., Evergreen, CO)
Manufacturing Changes for Esbilac® Powder Affect Wildlife Rehabilitators - Questions and Test Results
Sections of the Report
1.) Background (see below)
2.) Questions and Test Results
- Question #1 - Does the 'new' Esbilac® powder consistently meet the Guaranteed Analysis minimums for protein and fat? Have the minerals changed?
- Questions # 2 & 3 - Has the weight of the product changed? Does the product have uniform density, or is it subject to compaction that can affect measurement?
- Question #4 - Is the product still a quick mix? Are changes needed to rehydrate into a formula?
- Question #5 - Is rancidity an issue?
3.) Implications and Suggestions: What does this mean for wildlife rehabilitators?
Background - Unexplained problems emerge during 2009
A few wildlife rehabilitators began reporting unexplained health problems with young wild mammals in the spring of 2009. Those cases and reports increased as the year progressed. After eliminating other more common causes such as overfeeding and endoparasites, they realized a common element was that these juvenile wild mammals were all being fed formula made with PetAg’s powdered Esbilac® puppy milk replacer.
These rehabilitators contacted PetAg, the manufacturer of Esbilac® powder, to ask about any recent changes. PetAg revealed it had recently switched from using a multi-step drying process to a single-step spray-dry process. This change was described as the type of operational adjustment companies often make, and which is often unnoticeable to consumers. PetAg representatives assured rehabilitators that the Esbilac® powder was the same recipe, contained the same ingredients, and had no change in formulation. They said it still met the Guaranteed Analysis on the Esbilac® label.
PetAg did, however, acknowledge some difference in weight, texture and mixing. First, per any given unit of volumetric measure, the powder weighed slightly less than before. Second, because the powder showed a tendency to be more compact in the bottom of the can than at the top, PetAg suggested that customers turn the can over several times to aid in a more even distribution before measuring the powder prior to use. Third, the company mentioned that the ‘new’ Esbilac® powder was no longer as quick to mix, and suggested that customers use hotter water and stir a little longer than previously. However, these instructions were not on the label, so unless customers called and spoke with the PetAg staff, they would not have known about those handling and mixing changes.
Rehabilitators report mixed results
Some wildlife rehabilitators continued to see positive results with Esbilac® powder, consistent with prior years. Others reported an increasing number of cases of gastrointestinal and other health problems, including some fatalities, when using the ‘new’ Esbilac® powder. Species affected included juvenile squirrels, chipmunks, opossums, cottontail rabbits and raccoons. The problems included soft stool, severe diarrhea (often green in color), slow or no growth, ravenous appetite, dehydration and emaciation.
Medical tests and necropsies reported to WildAgain revealed massive infections due to abnormally and significantly elevated levels of Escherichia coli (E.coli) and Klebsiella pneumoniae (Klebsiella p.). Some animals also had Salmonella, Staph simulans, and Strep agalactiae. In addition, some tests showed the presence of the protozoan Cryptospodium. These infections could have been primary or secondary conditions. Bacterial culture and sensitivity results revealed that some of the infections were antibiotic resistant. Urinary tract infections, gastroenteritis, rectal prolapse, pneumonia, intestinal scarring, enlarged livers and kidney damage were also reported. While some of the animals recovered after medical treatment and changes in diet, others did not.
Research on the changes in the new Esbilac® powder
Even though PetAg indicated the Esbilac® formulation, ingredients and Guaranteed Analysis had not changed, some rehabilitators began to investigate whether and if so how changes in the Esbilac® powder might have caused the problems. Some of the independently performed Typical Nutrition Analyses (TNA) confirmed what PetAg had previously reported. Other research showed the ‘new’ Esbilac® powder produced with the single-step spray-dry process had physically changed (e.g., different texture) and performed differently (e.g., needed hotter water for mixing). The research began to offer insights as to why some rehabilitators had seen positive results, while others saw some juvenile wild mammals become ill and die when they used the Esbilac® powder made with the single-step spray-dry process.
PetAg had stated the product was free of contaminants or toxins such as melamine, which had been responsible for massive milk and pet food recalls in 2007. Further, PetAg certified that the Esbilac® powder was not rancid and did not contain bacteria when it left its manufacturing facilities. Several rehabilitators sent the ‘new’ Esbilac® powder to certified independent laboratories for a variety of tests, including bacteria and melamine. The results shared with WildAgain were negative for bacteria and contaminants, including melamine.
A few rehabilitators returned Esbilac® powder fed to animals that became ill to PetAg for additional testing in autumn 2009. In response to a WildAgain request, PetAg reported in January 2010 that those samples had tested negative for bacteria and rancidity.
Questions pursued by WildAgain
WildAgain has had many conversations with rehabilitators, veterinarians, food scientists and professional animal food nutritionists about the potential differences in the two Esbilac® powders. WildAgain has focused efforts to answer the following questions regarding the new single-step Esbilac® powder:
1.) Nutrient composition – Does the ‘new’ Esbilac® powder consistently meet the Guaranteed Analysis minimums for protein and fat? Have the minerals changed?
2.) Physical properties: weight – Has the weight changed and if so, by how much?
3.) Physical properties: density – Does the new product have uniform density, or is it subject to more compaction than the prior multi-step dried product?
4.) Solubility – If the product is no longer as quick a mix, what changes are needed to rehydrate and dissolve the ‘new’ Esbilac® powder?
5.) Stability – Is rancidity an issue?
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