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Lawsuit Filed Against Maker of Deadly Drug Laced Dog Food; Big Heart Brand Gravy Train Dog Food Named in Suit

As a result of an ABC7 investigation that exposed that the euthanasia drug pentobarbital – a lethal drug used to euthanize pets – was found in the national brand of dog food, Gravy Train, a class action lawsuit was filed against Big Heart Brands the maker of the contaminated dog food.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of a seven-month-long investigation by ABC7 to determine if pet foods other than Evanger’s were contaminated with sodium pentobarbital. After months of tests and re-tests, one brand repeatedly came back positive for pentobarbital. The investigation utilized two different labs, and both showed that Gravy Train dog foods tested positive for pentobarbital. In fact, out of the 62 pet food brands tested, 9 of the 15 cans of Gravy Train consistently tested positive for pentobarbital – a drug commonly used to euthanize cats and dogs and horses.

The lawsuit points out that the contaminated dog foods contain pentobarbital, “a barbiturate drug used as a sedative and anesthetic for animals. Pentobarbital is now most commonly used to euthanizing dogs and cats.” The lawsuit lists the following dog foods as contaminated with sodium pentobarbital:

Gravy Train Chunks in Gravy with Beef Chunks;
Gravy Train Chunks in Gravy with TBone Flavor Chunks;
Gravy Train Chunks in Gravy with Chicken Chunks;
Gravy Train Strips in Gravy Beef Strips and
Gravy Train With Lamb & Rice Chunks.

There is no safe or set level for pentobarbital in pet food, and if it is present, the food is adulterated. The ingestion of pentobarbital can lead to a long list of adverse health issues, including neurologic abnormalities (tremor, seizure, vocalization, unusual eye movements), ataxia (difficulty walking), collapse, coma, and of course: death.

The most likely route that pentobarbital came to be in the Gravy Train dog food was from a rendered protein such as meat and bone meal. Rendered products come from a process that converts animal tissues to feed ingredients, including tissues from animals that have been euthanized, decomposed or were diseased.

However, despite the law that forbids euthanized animals in pet food, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not aggressively taken action against pet food companies that use non-slaughtered animals (3D and 4D animals) in their pet foods.

Therefore, manufacturers, including Big Heart Brands, may use this lack of enforcement as a means to continue to use non-slaughtered animals that may contain poisonous substances, like pentobarbital, in their pet foods.

Indeed, this is not the first time that the Gravy Train’s dog food was found to contain pentobarbital. In 1998 and again in 2000, analyses by the FDA found residue of the sedative in Gravy Train dog food along with a number of other leading brands of pet food. Despite the discovery, the practice of using non-slaughtered animals euthanized with sodium pentobarbital in its pet foods continues.

Presumably, the manufacturers of Gravy Train have continued the practice of using non-slaughtered animals in their food since its discovery by the FDA in 1998 with the knowledge that consumers would be feeding the contaminated pet foods multiple times each day to their pets. While the long-term effects of repeated exposure of the barbiturate to pets are unknown, consumers would be unlikely to risk of feeding a deadly drug in any amount to their pet over an extended period while the consequences are unknown.

Regardless of the health risks of consuming a lethal drug, several critical issues remain unanswered: How did drug-laced meat get into Gravy Train’s dog food? Since the initial discovery of pentobarbital in Gravy Train’s food in 1998 why have the manufacturers allowed the practice to continue for 29 years?

As the suit so eloquently states, Smucker’s owned Big Heart Brands “knowingly, recklessly and/or negligently is selling contaminated dog food containing pentobarbital, a substance largely used to euthanize animals” and as such consumers should carefully consider whether they should feed their pets any of their other brands including Meow Mix, Milk Bone, Kibbles’n Bits, 9 Lives, Natural Balance, Pup-Peroni, Nature’s Recipe, Canine Carry Outs, Milo’s Kitchen, Alley Cat, Jerky Treats, Meaty Bone, Pounce, and Snausages.

For more information, contact Big Heart Brand’s corporate website.

To find out how to report a problem with a pet food contact the FDA.

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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 (56) Write a comment

  1. My baby girl Blessing passed away on February fourth. She was very happy and healthy until I started feeding her gravy train dog food. She was my life. She also was my service dog but she was more than that she was like a piece of me that died too. Sheee was my baby. I was and still am crushed and totally lost without her. I emailed the company and they said not much we can do. Sorry. We need to make them pay. I want them to pay so I can get another dog. No one will ever replace my baby girl. But I NEED another mini girl pomerPomer. I only have girl clothes,

    Reply

  2. My dog died on April 6,2018 from dry kibble and bits dog food I need help with filing a law suit against the company

    Reply

    • There are specific steps that need to happen before you can consider a lawsuit. I’ll try to give you a brief outline (but be sure to contact me via email for details).

      The most important thing you should do is have your pet checked out by a veterinarian if you haven’t already done so. Your vet is the best to one to establish the cause of your pet’s illness and to determine if it is food poisoning. If it is a foodborne illness you and your vet should report the case to the FDA at http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/SafetyHealth/ReportaProblem/ucm182403.htm. Likewise, it should be reported to your State Department of Agriculture. To find out how to locate yours, visit http://www.aafco.org/Regulatory/State-Information.

      If your vet suspects a foodborne illness, the state may be able to test the pet food. Alternatively, if you want to have the product tested independently, your vet can consult with a veterinary toxicologist. I recommend Cornell University at https://ahdc.vet.cornell.edu/test/list.aspx?Species=&Test_Name=&TstTyp=&WebDisc=TOXI or Michigan State University at http://www.animalhealth.msu.edu/Sections/Toxicology/.
      You and your vet must report this adverse event to the manufacturer, the FDA, and your State’s Department of Agriculture. It is critical that the FDA and your State receive your information to add to data they collect on problems associated with a pet food, to determine the frequency and severity of such events with a particular pet food or treat. Additionally, based on certain criteria, the FDA and the State will investigate the company that made the food and ask you for samples for testing.

      If, after taking these steps, you will have a better understanding of the cause of illness. If it is determined to be a foodborne illness, you stand a much better chance of being compensated for any harm the food may have caused your pet.

      With a veterinary diagnosis, records and pet food tests you can then consider what your legal options are, whether that means consulting an attorney or joining a class action lawsuit or pursuing legal action on your own through small claims court.

      Reply

  3. I fed my dog gravy train and one day in September 2017 he began to have seizures which we could never control. He ended by being extremely lathargic to the point of becoming a breathing stuffed animal. Visit after visit my vet and his specialist consulted but to no avail. The final suggestion was to euthanize him. He would have been 3 in October of 2017

    Reply

  4. I have been feeding Gravy Train in wet cans cans and hard food since she was born…because it was the only dog food that I have always been able to afford buying for her..always purchased in Dollar Days and Dollar tree…. she is now going to be 4 in May…but she has always acted crazy…too hiper..and that makes since..I want to be added to the law suit..no wonder I have been trying to find it in every Dollar Days and Dollar Tree now..and they say that the don’t sell it anymore….I trusted them….always..I want my dog psychologically checked and I want to be in the lawsuit also…please help. Chils@hotmail.com
    Thanks

    Reply

    • If you’re buying pet food at the $1 store – what kind of pet food do you expect to be getting for a dollar? It is the absolute worst quality pet food on the market. You don’t even want to know what’s in it – trust me.

      There are several things you must do before I give you any legal advice or pet food recommendations.
      Report problems you have with a pet food or treat to federal and state regulators.
      The most important thing to do is have your pet checked out by a vet if you haven’t already done so. Your vet is the best to one to establish the cause of your pet’s illness and to determine if it is food poisoning.
      You and your vet must report this adverse event to the manufacturer, the FDA, and your State’s Department of Agriculture. It is critical that the FDA and your State receive your information to add to data they collect on problems associated with a pet food, to determine the frequency and severity of such events with a particular pet food or treat. Additionally, based on certain criteria, the FDA and the State will investigate the company that made the food and ask you for samples for testing.

      Find out how you and your vet can reporting a problem with a pet food to the FDA by visiting the FDA’s website here: http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/SafetyHealth/ReportaProblem/ucm182403.htm for information on how and where to report a problem you have had with a pet food or treat.
      Contact your State Department of Agriculture to report a problem with a pet food. To find your state feed control official, visit http://www.aafco.org/Regulatory/State-Information for information and resources on your State’s department of agriculture, contact information and a link to the State’s official website.

      Alternatively, if you want to have the food tested yourself, you will need your vet to consult with a veterinary toxicologist. I recommend your vet consult with either Cornell University or Michigan State University. I recommend your veterinarian consult with a veterinary toxicologist if they suspect a foodborne illness to have the food tested for toxins. Two good resources are the Toxicology Department at Cornell University, Department of Veterinary Medicine and the Michigan State University, Toxicology Department at the Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health.
      If, after taking these steps, you will have a better understanding of the cause of illness. If it is determined to be a foodborne illness, you stand a much better chance of being compensated for any harm the food may have caused your pet.

      With a veterinary diagnosis, records and pet food tests you can then consider what your legal options are, whether that means consulting an attorney or joining a class action lawsuit or pursuing legal action on your own through small claims court.

      Regarding food recommendations, I make my pet’s food from certified organic, certified humane or animal welfare approved ingredients.

      To find out more about feeding your pets a homemade diet, I recommend consulting with your veterinarian who can recommend a qualified veterinary nutritionist.

      Reply

  5. I have been feeding my Puggle nature‘s recipe and natural balance over past two years not knowing of this poison. But I’ve noticed his lack of agility increased tiredness and tremors even when it wasn’t cold also he would throw up his food quite often. I am extremely pissed after reading this but it now makes perfect sense why he was acting the way he was. These manufacturers should be forced to eat their own food!

    Reply

  6. Pingback: Smucker's Withdraws More Pet Food Amid Deadly Drug Dog Food Scandal; Additional Skippy Lots and Ol' Roy Dog Treats Named | Poisoned Pets | Pet Food Safety News

  7. I lost my Princess a month ago the hardest thing that ever happened I got her when she was 8 weeks old and I had been feeding them milkbone and the treats and milkbone vitamins she did leave me with 2 babies and I hope they will be ok

    Reply

  8. Many folks don’t read the ingredients on the label; and if they do, are likely to be confused. Unfortunately, it’s the inexpensive brands, such as Kibble n’ Bits, Gravy Train, Milk Bone, Ole Roy, Meow Mix, (to name only a few), that were found to contain the lethal euthanasia drug. They contain the ingredients: by-products, meat and bone meal, animal fat/ digest. They also include a huge proportion of cheap fillers like corn, wheat, and soy, (carbs), plus artificial flavors and dyes, that are not good for a pets’ health. This may be a wake-up call for folks to check out the labels before purchasing. It’s hard to remember all the ingredients to avoid, so may be necessary to carry a tablet when shopping. Sad to say = the pet foods that you find in the grocery store or a big box store are the brands you want to avoid.

    Reply

  9. And this is exactly why I only get our dog food at the feed stores. Ever since I learned where commercial dog foods ingredients come from. They don’t need to eat as much because there’s no fillers in it, and it’s human grade ingredients. So it’s really not more expensive in the long run. And my furbabies stay healthy.

    Reply

  10. How do I join this lawsuit? I feed my fur baby Ole Roy wich was recalled for Phenobarbital in it. She passed away January 19, 2018.

    Reply

      • It won’t bring my little furbaby back but someone needs to be held accountable for the suffering of our fur babies.

        Reply

        • That’s right !! my god,I just found out that my dogs,food Natural Balance is on there and we had to take him to the vet twice bcse he’s losing weight and they don’t know why. I’ll have their head on a platter of my dog dies and you better believe there will be a lawsuit as well !!!!!!

          Reply

          • Agreed! I feed my fur baby that Ole Roy wet dog food, and it killed her. I still cry for her.

    • I would like to know how to join lawsuit as I lost a boxer puppy, and my momma dogs hair is falling out and my older 13 year old is sleeping way more lately that I’m checking for signs of life

      Reply

    • I need to know too!
      Mine just passed, I put Gravy Train in with his regilar dogfood. PLEASE TELL ME.

      Reply

    • my dog died Dec 27 2017…she had Alot of Gravy Train Beef n Gravy…(we fed her people food as well and also other Varieties not supposedly contaminated with Phenobarbital aka Ketamine. She had other health issues and was 14. I feel soooo guilty though, I still have 6 cans or so left it DOES have the lot @ on it. I emailed the MFG they said “trace amts” not deadly, in fact in humans it can be used as an antidepressant and I think in small amts supposedly used as a pain killer. I hate to think my dog died over what I fed her the past 3 months..(we bought in bulk) prob 2 mos worth of food, I don’t know if earlier lots had it or not? Towards the end she was tired alot, lethargic… then again, she was old with other health issues so I don’t know. It’s killing me inside… I have to think TRACE amts as they say can’t KILL a dog, but who they hell knows how much was in there? I’m in an awful depression for 3 months now over the death of my dog…then again, as my dog WAS older, with health issues, I am hoping beyond all hope, that MAYBE the Ketamine “acted” as a painkiller, or antidepressant and maybe made her last few months better? For her arthritis the Vet have her years ago TRAMADOL and Rimadyl–that stuff I’d never give her again…she was hyper wouldnlt like down sat upright like a statue all night with that… so I”m thinking hopefully in TRACE amts Ketamine aka Phenobarbitol is, as they say, NOt harmful…?? But who knows, they like and cover their butts all the time..wish I knew for sure though. Never again will I feed another dog ANY dog food…it’s all garbage and what I attribute to all these dog cancers lately….more $$$ for the vets and entire industry!

      Reply

      • OMG my heart goes out to you, I’m sitting here crying after reading your post. I love my dog Spirit more than life itself, my life wouldn’t be the same without her. I do believe that this big heart brand Kibbles and bits is what caused her to start having seizures. She was seven and a half years old in December when she started having the seizures, I put her on CBDs for 6 weeks and then took her off continuing to feed her the Kibbles and bits and she had a another grand mal seizure 3 days later. I have gotten no help no response from Big Hart brand. I decided to try and figure it out on my own, I stopped feeding her Kibbles and bits on March 12th, and took her off the CBDs March 16th she has not had a seizure since. To me that proves that it is the Kibbles and bits that caused the seizures. I would appreciate any help I can get. I’ve called probably 40 different agencies and called Kibbles and bits five times and I have gotten nowhere please somebody help us with the Blind Faith. I’m afraid to feed her any bag dog food anymore. I now I’m feeding her Blue Buffalo and she loves it, I just hope and pray that’s not poisoning her. She seems to like it in the ingredients sound like they’re good for her. Every time I would feed her the Kibbles and bits I would wonder and feel guilty, wondering if that’s what was causing the seizures. She would cry for a good half-hour at night like she was hallucinating and in pain after having the seizures. I pray to God that no other dog owner has to go through what her and I have gone through, it’s heartbreaking.

        Reply

        • Laurie, I am so sorry to hear about your troubles.

          The most important thing to do is have your pet checked out by a vet if you haven’t already done so. Your vet is the best to one to establish the cause of your pet’s illness and to determine if it is food poisoning.

          You and your vet must report this adverse event to the manufacturer, the FDA, and your State’s Department of Agriculture. It is critical that the FDA and your State receive your information to add to data they collect on problems associated with a pet food, to determine the frequency and severity of such events with a particular pet food or treat. Additionally, based on certain criteria, the FDA and the State will investigate the company that made the food and ask you for samples for testing.

          Find out how you and your vet can reporting a problem with a pet food to the FDA by visiting the FDA’s website here: http://www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/SafetyHealth/ReportaProblem/ucm182403.htm for information on how and where to report a problem you have had with a pet food or treat.

          Contact your State Department of Agriculture to report a problem with a pet food. To find your state feed control official, visit http://www.aafco.org/Regulatory/State-Information for information and resources on your State’s department of agriculture, contact information and a link to the State’s official website.

          Alternatively, if you want to have the food tested yourself, you will need your vet to consult with a veterinary toxicologist. I recommend your vet consult with either Cornell University or Michigan State University. I recommend your veterinarian consult with a veterinary toxicologist if they suspect a foodborne illness to have the food tested for toxins. Two good resources are the Toxicology Department at Cornell University, Department of Veterinary Medicine (https://ahdc.vet.cornell.edu/test/list.aspx?Species=&Test_Name=&TstTyp=&WebDisc=TOXI) and the Michigan State University, Toxicology Department at the Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health (http://www.animalhealth.msu.edu/Sections/Toxicology/).

          If, after taking these steps, you will have a better understanding of the cause of illness. If it is determined to be a foodborne illness, you stand a much better chance of being compensated for any harm the food may have caused your pet.

          With a veterinary diagnosis, records and pet food tests you can then consider what your legal options are, whether that means consulting an attorney or joining a class action lawsuit or pursuing legal action on your own through small claims court.

          Reply

  11. If the FDA doesn’t enforce whatever laws that prohibit the use of these drugs in our pets foods, what do we have to do to remove the entire staffing or department that isn’t upholding the care we entrusted and expected from them? Also, what are the names of the people who are running the quality of these foods and can they be shared for all to see?

    Reply

    • Amen. I’m not going to purchase any product manufactured by Big Heart or Smuckers. The FDA has violated our trust and should be made to pay for it.

      Reply

      • You are absolutely right ! they do need to pay and if my dog dies,they will and that’s a promise that I intend to keep !!!!!

        Reply

    • That’s what I want to know,bcse when I go to petco tomorrow,I’m saying something about it.

      Reply

  12. love your website and your info. you just saved 1000’s of pets and changed big pet foods practices! Thanks! so much!

    Reply

  13. Pingback: Big Heart Brands Recalls Multiple Brands of Dog Food For Pentobarbital; Gravy Train, Kibbles n' Bits, and Skippy Dog Food Withdrawn | Poisoned Pets | Pet Food Safety News

  14. Knowingly contaminating pet food is so heinous. I feed my dogs and my cats Natural Balance dry and the cats also the wet. Now I’m afraid to feed them !!!!

    Reply

    • You should be bcse mine eats the same food as well and we had to take him to the vet twice and he’s losing weight and they do not know why. He’s 9 but still,he’s been eating the food for about 3 or 4 months.

      Reply

    • I also just realized I’ve been giving my dog milk bone vitamins and he’s been eating them for quite some time,I feel so horrible and blame myself. I had no idea it was the vitamins as well.

      Reply

  15. Someone should get this produce off the shelfs. Im so sad that i read that what i have been giving my dog may have killed him. My pug (cotton) had all these symptoms seizer everytime he seen me. He would get so happy that he would have seizers. I had him since he was 6 weeks it hurt that he left all of a sutton. He was 9 years old. Good health last year then bad health the bext. N to find that nothing i was giving him was good for him. I fought so hard to get him. Feel now that if i would have just left him with my husband he would have still been her. I chose kibbles n bitts cause i thought it had more flavor and he would eat it. Sometimes i had to throw the gravy train on it cause he liked the smell. But he was so picky. That sometimes he wouldnt eat it. Maybe he knew it was bad for him n i forced it on him. I thought he wanted table food. I now feel like it was my fault. I should have did my home work. Plz get this out. I lost my best friend , my son. I wish he was here with me. Everyday. Its been two months and im still sad.

    LAQUITA GOOCH LOVES COTTON GOOCH. REST IN PEACE MY COTTON YOU WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN

    Reply

  16. If they put it in pet food how can we be sure that it’s not in food they make for people

    Reply

    • Because they don’t use, as far as we know euthanized animals in our food products. (yet). They have turned animals into cannibals. This is one of the supposed reasons Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease AKA: mad cow disease started. Research it.

      Reply

      • i also want to comment that downed cows, pigs,and chickens with cancer are used in pet foods and possibly used in ground meats. Now, there is a law that does not allow investigators to report what they see. It’s all GREED! at our pet’s expense and not to mention the greed behind the meat and dairy industry. I suggest watching ” What The Health”.. for the human side of food info.

        Reply

  17. i’m am so mad my Dog My Baby had to be put down because she contacted a blood disease she ate kibbles & bits pup peroni begin strips ….I got another dog started her on kibbles she got sick pup peroni she liked now does not want anything to do with them and now she’s loosing her fur…..what can I do????

    Reply

  18. my 5 lb toy poodle has been sick since October of 2017 – she is being treated for autoimmune disease – I have been feeding her ” Natural Balance ” for over 5 years – our vet asked us if she could have gotten into some poison – we do not think that she will recover as she is still getting weaker – she is only 8 years old – this is breaking my heart – I am going to the store now to buy a different brand of food – crying – have I been (unknowingly) killing my baby – :'( mikki

    Reply

    • Michele, what kind of NB did you feed her? Dry or wet? I have used dry for years as it seemed like one of the only brands to use meat as the number one ingredient and no grains which is just a cheap filler, and did not contain other ingredients I look out for. But to think after all of those concerns, the meat they do use is contaminated. UGH!! I add human grade meat to a small amount of NB dry in order to get all of the vitamins they need. Now I think I will have to add veggies and a vitamin supplement and forgo all industry foods.

      Reply

    • i started gravy train and after a couple weeksstarted not eating. then diarrhea. for two months continued diarrhea and no appetite. stopped Gravy Train. gave her new med Entyce and helped awhile for an hour a day. Nothing stopped the diarrhea like water. He died Jan 29th

      Reply

  19. These companies make me sick! It’s all about money. Feeding garbage to our pets is no longer an option. We must fight for changing laws and holding these people who are continually poisoning our pets accountable for their actions. They should be put out of business. Period…

    Reply

  20. Sick, sick, sick people involved in this. In addition to losing pets, imagine the horror pet owners are imaging while they wonder if their pets were fed to other animals.

    Reply

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