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News Investigation Uncovers Poison in Dog Food, Prompting FDA Investigation

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An explosive report about a drug used to euthanize pets being found in several name-brand pet foods has sparked the Federal Drug Administration to investigate the claims and the pet foods themselves.

Washington D.C. area news station WJLA 7 reported on a local family who tragically and unexpectedly lost dogs. Upon postmortem examination, it was determined that food poisoning had killed the dogs. A very specific poison–pentobarbital–a lethal drug most commonly chosen to euthanize dogs and cats and even horses. It is a federal offense to use the drug to kill any animal that is part of a food supply, and yet…in an independent lab study of dog foods, the news station found trace amounts.

Related: 5 Common Pet Food Ingredients That Could Harm Your Dog


They partnered with Ellipse Analytics, whose founder Kevin Hicks says that it is their duty to understand what is being sold to humans and pets. They specialize in testing food contaminants and after testing 62 samples of wet dog food, they found one brand repeatedly showed positive for the presence of pentobarbital.

Fifteen cans of Gravy Train, made by Big Heart Pet Foods (and owned by Smucker’s), were tested and nine cans (60%) were positive for trace amounts of pentobarbital. The amounts found were not lethal, however, any amount at any concentration is against federal law. Big Heart also makes the following: Meow Mix, Milk Bone, Kibbles’n Bits, 9 Lives, Natural Balance, Pup-Peroni, Gravy Train, Nature’s Recipe, Canine Carry Outs, Milo’s Kitchen, Alley Cat, Jerky Treats, Meaty Bone, Pounce and Snausages. Their sales bring in $40 million dollars of profit to the company.

WJLA contacted the parent company, Smuckers, who declined to comment except in a statement that said they are launching an investigation and working with their suppliers to find out whether the testing was accurate.

The FDA at first refused to comment and suggested the news station contact Pet Food Institute, an organization that represents all but two percent of the pet food industry. They recanted, however, as angered pet owners demanded answers, and gave a statement to WJLA which said that based on the samples WJLA provided, they’d investigate and take appropriate action, as there is currently no amount of pentobarbital in pet food that is tolerable. The FDA also encourages any consumers who have any complaints about their pet foods to contact them.

And while an investigation is a good thing, it begs the question of how the drug got in the food at all. It’s a drug given to kill animals–and not one that is used lightly to do so. It certainly stands to reason that it wasn’t an organic introduction, and advocates want to know how it ended up in the foods.

Experts fear that these foods are created using blends that may include carcasses of animals from farms, shelters or other facilities, which according to federal law is illegal. Congress and the FDA consider those remains ‘adulterated ingredients,’ and they are illegal to use in food for humans and animals.

But there is no penalty for doing so, it seems, as the FDA also says that pet food using material from diseased or slaughtered animals is fit for animal consumption, even if a federal violation, says pet food consumer advocate Susan Thixton. The FDA essentially contradicts itself.

Related: The Importance of Responsibly Sourced Ingredients in Pet Food

Thixton suggests contacting the FDA, Smucker’s and Big Heart Brands to air your concerns, and the numbers for them are as follows: FDA: 888-463-6332; Smucker’s: 888-550-9555; Big Heart Brands: 415-247-3000.

And in the meantime, might be wise to doublecheck the ingredients and do some research into the foods you are giving your pets. It could save their lives.


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