cute dog nose behind fence hill's science diet prescription diet recall excess vitamin d

How a Vitamin and a Mistake Led to the Downfall of Hill’s

No one knew how deadly a vitamin could be before the recall of Hill’s Science Diet and Prescription Diet dog food was until dogs started getting sick. And some dogs were dying. No one could comprehend how something – as innocent as a vitamin – could be so deadly.

It started as most recalls do with a single complaint. When the FDA got the report, they notified Hill’s Pet Nutrition that something was wrong: a dog fed their food was exhibiting signs of elevated vitamin D. Hill’s later confirmed elevated levels of vitamin D due to a supplier error and on Jan. 31 the company recalled 25 varieties of Hill’s canned dog food.

MINIMIZING ALARM

The recall was crafted so as not to create undue alarm, emphasizing the recall is voluntary, not mandatory. Publicly Hill’s officials characterize the problem as a possibility, that the food has only the potential to have elevated levels of vitamin D in it. Assuring consumers in boldface type that, “in most cases, complete recovery is expected after discontinuation of feeding,” never mentioning the cause for alarm: Vitamin D toxicosis. Privately, Hill’s puts a name to their fear: Dietary-induced hypercalcemia and hypervitaminosis D toxicity.

MISDIRECTED BLAME

As so many other pet food companies before them have done, Hill’s laid the blame for their failures and the excess levels of vitamin D in their Science Diet and Prescription Diet formulas on their supplier. Forgetting that it was the responsibility of Hill’s to assure the safety and the quality of their pet food. While Hill’s refuses to name the supplier, many wonder if it was the same supplier who provided Sunshine Mills with the dangerous vitamin premix that prompted the recall of multiple brands of dog food for excess levels of vitamin D.

BENEATH THE VENEER

Dig just below the veneer of Hill’s calculated calm, and you hear the stories, read the reports about dogs that are sick and dying after being fed the recalled food. Pet parents are grief-stricken. Veterinarians feel angry and betrayed. Dig further, and you’ll find a document written by Hill’s, quietly sent to veterinarians on the diagnosis and treatment of vitamin D toxicosis. In an attempt to repair that damage, privately Hill’s has made an offer to reimburse veterinarians for the cost of testing a patient for conditions related to vitamin D hypervitaminosis.

THE $10 COUPON

One of those grief-stricken pet parents contacted me and told me that Hill’s offered her $10 in coupons after her dog died from eating the recalled dog food. “That’s more than most people were offered,” she said. Most were offered only $5 in coupons whether their dog was dead or alive.

I didn’t believe it.

That was until I was offered $10 in coupons by Hill’s for my ailing dog Sadie, “maybe $20,” she said politely.

Sadie isn’t a real dog, just one I made up.

I called Hill’s to find out if what that woman said was true. I sighed when I told the Hill’s consumer representative that I had thrown the cans away. But she kindly took my information, and asked for permission to speak to my vet and gave me a promise to send me a packet of information. While she put me on hold, instead of music, I heard ads about Hill’s pet food.

Then, the call was over.

BROKEN TRUST

But, for many consumers, the heartbreak, the fear, and anxiety aren’t over. Their vets are struggling with the aftermath of vitamin D toxicosis in their patients. They have to face angry clients who trusted their advice their recommendation to buy Hill’s Science Diet or Hill’s Prescription Diet dog food formulas. Formulas designed to treat health problems, not create them. How do those veterinarians tell their clients that the dog food they prescribed more than likely led to the illness and death of their dog?

This drama is being repeated in thousands of veterinary clinics and animal hospitals across America. But the problem isn’t just limited to the US, the implicated formulas are being recalled all over the world.

It was only a matter of time that a legal complaint would be made. Only last week, three class action complaints were filed in the US. They are as follows.

BONE v. HILLS

Plaintiffs in Florida, North Carolina, and New York are leading a suit filed Feb. 11 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Kelly Bone, Christina Sawyer, and Janine Buckley say that Hill’s specialty dog foods contained “toxic and often fatal levels of vitamin D” and that the company knew about it months before its recall on Jan. 31. The suit claims that dogs owned by each of them died as a result of being fed tainted Hill’s products.

“Not only has Hill’s sold contaminated food, but it has dragged its feet in issuing a recall and including all contaminated food within the scope of the recall,” the lawsuit says.

The Chicago-based firm Cafferty, Clobes, Meriwether & Sprengel LLP represents the plaintiffs.

NAVARETTE v. HILL’S

John Navarrete of California is suing Hill’s on behalf of himself and other prospective plaintiffs in a suit filed Feb. 12 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Navarette claims that his German Shepherd, Goliath, became ill after eating cans of Hill’s Prescription Diet that later were recalled. In December, Goliath was taken to an emergency veterinary hospital and referred to the University of California, Davis, veterinary medical teaching hospital where he recovered after treatment and a recommended change in diet. “As a result,” the lawsuit says, “Navarrete incurred substantial veterinary bills.”

The San Francisco-based firm Schubert, Jonckheer & Kolbe is handling the case.

RUSSELL v. HILL’S

Michael and Jodi Russell of Florida are lead plaintiffs in a suit filed Feb. 11 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida. The lawsuit alleges that Hill’s dog food deemed “defective” due to excess vitamin D “poisoned” Russell’s dog Stella, who was euthanized on Jan. 26.

The lawsuit reads that “Mr. Russell spoke with the family vet on Feb. 8, 2019, and was advised that, in the veterinarian’s opinion, ingestion of the product was most likely the cause of Stella’s kidney failure. The veterinarian pointed out that the blood work performed before Stella ingested the product showed normal renal function, but after ingesting the product over many days Stella went into renal failure.”

The lawsuit is being handled by two law firms: Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty & Proctor in Florida and Reese LLP in New York.

WHAT TO DO

Consumers wishing to find out the level of vitamin D in their Hill’s dog food may do so by having it analyzed at Heartland Assays. Consumers should order the Vitamin D2/D3 and Vitamin D4 by HPLC test to find out that important information.

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 (15) Write a comment

  1. I bbn lost my Macy on January 8 and almost her sister in March. I had multiple cans of the recalled food. Did want to sue, wanted only reimbursement for expenses for both of my girls. I received $50 worth of coupons that I donated after Macy passed, not a dime since 😭

    Reply

    • I am so sorry Donna for your loss.

      Although it won’t bring your beloved Macy back I urge you to report your dog’s death to the FDA here: https://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/SafetyHealth/ReportaProblem/ucm182403.htm. And if you want to you can join one of the 25+ class action lawsuits that are using Hill’s for its negligence.

      The $50 in coupons is a cruel act designed to appease you for the death – that Hill’s caused – of your beloved dog. The worst of it is that the coupons are offered as an enticement to buy more of their pet food. Shame on them.

      Reply

  2. Pingback: Hill's Sneaks Another Lot of Dog Food to the Massive List of Recalled Dog Food Due to Toxic Levels of Vitamin D | Poisoned Pets | Pet Food Safety News

  3. Pingback: Hill's expands recall after finding toxic levels of vitamin D in more dog foods; FDA request leads to expanded recall. | Poisoned Pets | Pet Food Safety News

  4. I stoppede feeding Hill’s in 2008 when I had to have 10 cats tested for renal function. That year it was a component for gravy substituted by supplier in China to Diamond in Georgia who cans for most major brands.

    Reply

    • I am so sorry Dorlis for your loss. That was the melamine tragedy that led to the largest recall in the history of America. It created an indelible scar that many will remember as one of the darkest days in pet food’s history.

      Reply

        • Oh, Patty, I am so sorry. We love them so much. And for me, like many of you out there, love them as much (or more) than our human companions. So losing a loved one is, literally, heartbreaking.

          Reply

  5. Hills has contractual arrangements with shelters that stipulate exclusive use of and promotion of their products.

    Reply

    • That’s very sad. But I suppose in exchange for their donation of the food to the shelters that would seem to be a “fair” exchange from Hill’s point of view. The food is donated, right?

      Reply

      • A typical arrangement is donated or reduced cost food in exchange for promotion, often, displays in prominent places for the public. The animals are fed Hill’s exclusively, and on adoption, the adopter is often provided with a starter kit. It’s not unusual at all, it is a marketing decision which is cost effective for the shelter and the manufacturer, after all, shelters often can’t afford food, and the customer is pre-sold on Hill’s products. Other manufacturers have the same arrangements… it’s pretty much an “everybody wins” scenario.

        Reply

        • I think most shelters would find it hard to refuse such offers. Perhaps better pet food companies should offer their pet food to shelters in exchange for exclusivity and marketing priveledges. I’d like to see that happen.

          I work disasters and it is the large corporation that can afford to make the most generous donations in terms of assistance with animal food, bedding, medicine, and other resources. I’d like to see that change too.

          But until that happens I find it hard to denigrate them in terms of their generosity, even if it does come with good publicity strings attached. I may not like their company, their food or their philosophy, but – what is the saying about beggars?

          Reply

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