dog poisoned pets dog food dog food safety mollie morrissette

Contract dog food maker named in devastating vitamin D poisoning, multiple brands involved

This week the United States Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about dangerously high levels of vitamin D in twelve brands dog food that were distributed nationwide. The agency is particularly worried as the dog food contains excessive, potentially toxic amounts of vitamin D in quantities large enough to cause serious health problems like kidney failure or death.

The dog food brands implicated in the vitamin D recall keep growing, and today the number has topped out at thirteen brands. But all those brands were made by a single manufacturer – better known in the industry as a private label or contract manufacturer – whose one mistake triggered this catastrophic situation. While the full extent and scale of the problem is still unknown, the agency reassured consumers that further information would be forthcoming as their investigation progresses.

DID YOU KNOW TOO MUCH VITAMIN D IS TOXIC TO DOGS?

While vitamin D is perfectly safe in small doses, vitamin D also has the smallest margin of safety of all vitamins and is the most likely to cause life-threatening health issues.

More worrisome, is that because the signs of vitamin D poisoning do not occur immediately and may take hours to manifest – as the vitamin D causes a slow rise in the dog’s blood calcium levels – the early signs of vitamin D poisoning may be vague and could easily be missed.

HOW CAN YOU TELL IF YOUR DOG IS SICK FROM VITAMIN D TOXICITY?

Initially, dogs can develop vomiting, diarrhea and may start to drink more than usual. As the calcium concentration rises in the blood, there are more severe signs including muscle spasms and fits/convulsions. The calcium is deposited in tissues resulting in kidney failure, pain, bloody vomiting, bloody diarrhea and changes in the heart rhythm.

If untreated, pets will die several days after vitamin D overdose.

WHAT DOES THE MERCK VETERINARY MANUAL HAVE TO SAY ABOUT VITAMIN D TOXICOSIS?

According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, “animals with vitamin D3 intoxication become anorectic, lose weight, and develop acetonemia within 2–3 week after the overdose. Tachycardia, shallow breathing, and lameness, followed by weakness, recumbency, and even death can be seen in animals with vitamin D3 toxicosis.”

“Vitamin D toxicosis is a potentially life-threatening condition that causes increased reabsorption of calcium leading to renal damage. Clinical signs include abdominal pain, renal pain on palpation, depression, bradycardia (increased heart rate), vomiting and diarrhea. Once blood work is performed, findings include hypercalcemia, hyperphosphatemia, hypokalemia, and azotemia.”

WHY IS THERE A LINK BETWEEN RAT POISON AND THE RECALLED DOG FOOD?

The FDA warned that, “veterinarians should be aware that vitamin D toxicity may present as hypercalcemia, similar to dogs that have consumed rodenticide.”

But why did the FDA draw a parallel between vitamin D toxicosis in dogs and rodenticide poisoning? Because they both contain vitamin D, and in large enough doses, vitamin D can cause devastating and irreversible harm.

Although vitamin D is considered by the FDA as generally recognized as safe, in a large enough quantity, it can be deadly which explains why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved vitamin D for use as a rodenticide under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act.

Even though the most common use of vitamin D is in food, the most common source of vitamin D toxicosis in dogs is accidental ingestion of rodenticides containing cholecalciferol as the active ingredient.

Rodenticide poisoning in animals is known as cholecalciferol (vitamin D) toxicosis which can cause irreparable harm to animals and can lead to renal failure, cardiac abnormalities, and central nervous system depression – the same problems that can occur in pet food with toxic amounts of vitamin D in it.

Cholecalciferol rodenticides, while the least common type of bait, are the deadliest. Of all the different rodenticides on the market, they are the most poisoneous, because not only do cholecalciferol baits take the least amount of bait to cause damage, but they are the most difficult cases to treat.

Because the similarities between vitamin D toxicosis from ingesting the recalled dog food and cholecalciferol rodenticide are strikingly similar, the FDA drew the parallel to assist in the identification and treatment of the pet in the clinical setting.

WHEN DID THIS FIASCO BEGIN?

It all started a little over a month ago when consumers, whose dogs were exhibiting signs of vitamin D toxicosis, reported the matter to their pet food companies that there was something seriously wrong with their dog food. The FDA was then notified by the companies that they were recalling the dog food because “a formulation error led to the elevated vitamin D in the product.”

The recalls dribbled out slowly at first, with the first one in early November, then came another and then another.

And no one, except the contract manufacturer, knew of the magnitude of the problem. At some point, the manufacturer had to have been aware that their blunder would affect an untold number of pet food brands and could possible lead to serious health issues and the death of a countless number of dogs across America.

WHY ARE THERE SO MANY DOG FOOD BRANDS INVOLVED IN THIS CRISIS?

What appeared initially to be a single pet food company that made a terrible formulating mistake, mushroomed into the huge mess it is today with multiple brands involved, dire warnings, sick dogs all caused by private contract manufacturer. The reason the problem grew to such epic proportions is that the contract manufacturer made a boo boo – and in this case, it was a whopper – and it having devasting consequences.

WILL MORE BRANDS OF DOG FOOD BE RECALLED?

At this point, I don’t know. All we can do is wait until the FDA reveals the name of the contract manufacturer. Although the name of the contract manufacturer hasn’t officially been named, the smart money is riding on Sunshine Mills. According to PetFood Industry Magazine, “Sunshine Mills, a co-packer or contract manufacturer, seems to have produced all the recalled dog foods, although the pet foods were marketed under different names.”

WHO IN THE WORLD IS SUNSHINE MILLS?

According to Sunshine’s website, their “products are marketed under various Sunshine brands as well as private label offerings” sold in the United States and in “more than 30 countries worldwide.”

While it is too early to speculate which other pet food brands Sunshine makes might also have toxic amounts of vitamin D in it, until Sunshine Mills issues a press release disclosing the exact details and the extent of the problem, consumers – frantic with anxiety – will have to wait.

WHAT BRANDS HAVE BEEN RECALLED (SO FAR)?

According to the FDA, “this is a developing situation, and this list may not be complete. The FDA will update this list as more information becomes available.”

The list of recalled dry dog food products provided to the FDA include:

  • Ahold Delhaize (the firm has not yet issued recall press)
    • Nature’s Promise Chicken & Brown Rice Dog Food
      • UPC 068826718472 – 14 lb. bag
        • All lot codes
      • UPC 068826718471 – 28 lb. bag
        • All lot codes
      • UPC 068826718473 – 4 lb. bag
        • All lot codes
    • Nature’s Place Real Country Chicken and Brown Rice Dog Food
      • UPC 72543998959 – 5 lb. bag
        • All lot codes
      • UPC 72543998960 – 15 lb. bag
        • All lot codes
  • Kroger (12/5/18)
    • Abound Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe Dog Food
      • UPC 11110-83556 – 4 lb. bag
        • All lot codes
  • King Soopers (12/5/18)
    • Abound Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe Dog Food
      • UPC 11110-83556 – 4 lb. bag
        • All lot codes
      • UPC 11110-83573 – 14 lb. bag
        • All lot codes
      • UPC 11110-89076 – 24 lb. bag
        • All lot codes
  • ELM Pet Foods, Inc. (11/29/18)
    • ELM Chicken and Chickpea Recipe
      • UPC 0-70155-22507-8 – 3 lb. bag
        • D2 26 FEB 2019
        • TE1 30 APR 2019
        • TD1 5 SEP 2019
        • TD2 5 SEP 2019
      • UPC 0-70155-22513-9 – 28 lb. bag
        • TB3 6 APR 2019
        • TA1 2 JULY 2019
        • TI1 2 JULY 2019
    • ELM K9 Naturals Chicken Recipe
      • UPC 0-70155-22522-9 – 40 lb. bag
        • TB3 14 Sep 2019
        • TA2 22 Sep 2019
        • TB2 11 Oct 2019
  • ANF, Inc. (11/28/18)
    • ANF Lamb and Rice Dry Dog Food
      • UPC 9097231622 – 3 kg bag
        • Best by Nov 23, 2019
      • UPC 9097203300 – 7.5 kg bag
        • Best by Nov 20, 2019
  • Sunshine Mills, Inc. (11/27/18)
    • Evolve Chicken & Rice Puppy Dry Dog Food
      • UPC 0-73657-00862-0 – 14 lb. bag
      • UPC 0-73657-00863-7 – 28 lb. bag
    • Sportsman’s Pride Large Breed Puppy Dry Dog Food
      • UPC 0-70155-10566-0 – 40 lb. bag
      • UPC 0-70155-10564-0 – 40 lb. bag
    • Triumph Chicken & Rice Recipe Dry Dog Food
      • UPC 0-73657-00873-6 – 3.5 lb. bag
      • UPC 0-73657-00874-3 – 16 lb. bag
      • UPC 0-73657-00875-0 – 30 lb. bag
  • Lidl (Orlando brand) (11/6/18)
    • Orlando Grain-Free Chicken & Chickpea Superfood Recipe Dog Food
      • Lidl product number 215662
        • TI1 3 Mar 2019
        • TB2 21 Mar 2019
        • TB3 21 Mar 2019
        • TA2 19 Apr 2019
        • TB1 15 May 2019
        • TB2 15 May 2019
  • Natural Life Pet Products (11/2/18, expanded 11/9/18)
    • Chicken & Potato Dry Dog Food
      • UPC 0-12344-08175-1 – 17.5 lb. bag
        • Best by dates range: December 4, 2019, through August 10, 2020
  • Nutrisca/Dogswell (11/2/18)
    • Chicken and Chickpea Dry Dog Food
      • UPC 8-84244-12495-7 – 4 lb. bag
      • UPC 8-84244-12795-8 – 15 lb. bag
      • UPC 8-84244-12895-5 – 28 lb. bag
        • Best by date range: February 25, 2020, through September 13, 2020

The recalled products were sold nationwide.

WHAT’S THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU NEED TO DO?

If your pet is having symptoms of vitamin D toxicity, contact a veterinarian immediately.

You should report suspected illness to the FDA electronically through the Safety Reporting Portal or by calling your state’s FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinators. It’s most helpful if you can work with your veterinarian to submit your pet’s medical records as part of your report. For an explanation of the information and level of detail that would be helpful to include in a complaint to the FDA, please see How to Report a Pet Food Complaint.

WHAT DOES YOUR VET NEED TO DO?

The FDA encourages veterinarians treating vitamin D toxicity to ask their clients for a diet history. The FDA welcomes case reports, especially those confirmed through diagnostics. You can submit these reports electronically through the Safety Reporting Portal or by calling your state’s FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinators. For an explanation of the information and level of detail that would be helpful to include in a complaint to the FDA, please see How to Report a Pet Food Complaint.

“Veterinarians should also be aware that vitamin D toxicity may present as hypercalcemia, similar to dogs that have consumed rodenticide. In these cases, we suggest that you confirm diet history to verify whether the dog has been eating any of the recalled products,” the FDA warns.

THANKS, FDA!

Not often does the FDA get a pat on the back, what they usually get is the fuzzy end of the lollipop. But, I want to say a great big thank you to the FDA for alerting consumers and the veterinary community about vitamin D toxicity resulting from the recalled pet food.

Awareness and education of veterinary professionals and pet owners regarding the associated risks and treatment options are critical. Your pet’s prognosis depends on prompt recognition of the clinical signs and depending how much of the recalled food your dog ate or how much vitamin D was in it, aggressive treatment will be needed before hypercalcemia develops.

TO ALL MY READERS

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Mollie Morrissette

Mollie Morrissette, author of Poisoned Pets, is an animal food safety expert and advisor to AAFCO. Help support her work by making a donation today.

Comments (7) Write a comment

  1. Pingback: Pet Parents Sue After Hill's Offers $5 Per Dog For Compensation: Dead or Alive. Class Action Lawsuits Filed. | Poisoned Pets | Pet Food Safety News

  2. I realize your post is about excess Vit D in dog food, but feel the need to throw out how this toxic “vitamin” is also influencing other animals, birds by secondary poisoning.
    In the rural area where I live there are many outdoor growers that depend on D-Con, (Tomcat, etc.), to control rats and mice. In spring & summer the hardware stores have large flashy displays near their front door.
    There is what is called “relay toxicosis” — the poisoning from eating the rodents killed by these rodenticides – by wild predators, (such as squirrels, woodchucks, chipmunks, opossoms and beavers), and birds of prey, (eagles, ravens, hawks), and cats, that ingest these poisoned rodents.
    Then, of course there are always the ignorant folk who just toss the rodenticide into the garage without thinking. The cheap plastic “bait station” is easily broken into by a determined dog or child. The new look is a Play-Doh type block, called “soft baits”, wrapped in plastic wrap. Children are prey to using these blocks as toys. And of course dogs can just easily chew through the plastic wrapping.

    As is said, “Vitamin D, so what’s the big deal? It’s just a vitamin.” Before this year, D-Con was using an anticoagulant for killing, but have now switched over to the cholecalciferol Vitamin D. Unfortunately, the Vit D is far more dangerous and extremely hard to treat. Veterinarians are now more hip to the problem, at least I presume so, but as the symptoms may be seen vague at the onset, death is not considered until the next day. Spread the word.

    Reply

  3. Wonderful reporting: translating the seemingly complex into a good, thorough, and understandable format. You explain why this is a serious issue (consumers think: “vitamin D? Not so important, really?” The consumer is so ignorant of the issues revolving around co-packing arrangements. Thanks for this.

    Reply

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