Trainer believes copper in her dog’s food led to his death

Sep 21, 2023, 7:05 PM

CACHE VALLEY — A Cache Valley woman who has trained service dogs for veterans says she found out the hard way that copper, a common ingredient in dog food, can make your dog very sick and even lead to death.

A little copper helps with digestion but it’s the man-made version known as chelated copper that’s causing problems in some dogs.

Most dog foods in the U.S. use it as an ingredient.

“I had Jack almost seven years, and I went everywhere with that dog,” Raelene Penman said.

Jack the dog

Penman said Jack knew what she was feeling and how to comfort her. (Raelene Penman)

She said Jack helped her through anxiety and trauma.

Penman is a retired police officer and trains service dogs like Jack for veterans and law enforcement.  She credits Jack with helping her cope.

“He knew, he knew how I was doing. He knew how to comfort me,” she explained.

But more recently it was Jack who needed the help as he endured multiple treatments. He had a feeding tube in his neck as his liver started to fail.

“The doctor looked at him and was like, ‘Don’t his ears look a little yellow to you?’ Then they looked at his gums. Then they started drawing blood and then it was like, ‘Okay, something’s not going right with his liver,’” Penman explained.

Jack with feeding tube

Jack was already pretty sick when he was given a feeding tube. (Raelene Penman)

All symptoms that some dogs can show with too much chelated copper.

“Fortunately, this nutritionally induced form of liver disease can be avoided, but requires action by the FDA,” said Doctor Sharon Center an emeritus James Law Professor of Internal Medicine at Cornell University.

She’s conducted several studies on how man-made copper affects dog livers.

The switch from the more expensive natural copper in dog foods came with a change in FDA regulations in 1997.

“The early signs of copper-associated liver injury have no signs of illness that an owner will observe. When you start observing those signs, that means the dog has advanced disease,” Center said.

Penman says if she’d only known, “If I would have been doing that bloodwork, I may have caught this early enough that Jack would still be here.”

Her hope tonight is that other dog owners can learn from her loss. “I want people to not have to go through what I did.”

It’s hard to know what dogs may be affected by the chelated copper. Center recommends annual checkups that include a chemistry profile. It is more expensive.

Once dogs have the disease, the only way to diagnose it is with a biopsy which costs a few thousand dollars.

You can read a summary of Dr. Center’s findings here.

By clicking here you’ll find out how to report a pet food complaint.

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Trainer believes copper in her dog’s food led to his death