Frantic pet parents, whose dogs became ill or died after being fed the recalled Hill’s Pet Nutrition reached out to Hill’s for help. Instead of an apology or an admission of guilt, Hill’s offered them $5 in coupons to compensate for the illness and death of their beloved dogs.
Yup. $5 lousy bucks.
So, naturally, it was only a matter of time before pet parents whose dogs were affected by the recall should decide to take legal action against the company.
The first proposed class action lawsuit filed in the state of New York on Monday accuses Hill’s Pet Nutrition of failing to adequately ensure the safety of their dog food, and the lawsuit claims the dog food contained “toxic levels” of vitamin D.
A similar proposed class action lawsuit was filed in the state of Florida Monday by a couple who claim their dog died as a result of being fed the defendants’ recalled dog food.
Now, Hill’s Pet Nutrition could have issued an unreserved apology to their customers who faithfully bought their dog food, most of which was sold at veterinary offices.
But they didn’t.
Instead, Hill’s dismissed any responsibility for the excessive level of vitamin D in their dog food and made the lamest excuse for screwing up by blaming the reason for the recall on a “supplier error.” Hill’s says now they now require their supplier to implement testing.
The reality is, none of this ever would have happened had Hill’s took the most basic precaution of testing the quality of their incoming ingredients.
But they didn’t.
Although this recall certainly looks bad from a media standpoint, the reality is it only affects a fraction of Hill’s worldwide market. When you calculate the impact in terms of loss of sales, and the compensation for the value of the loss of a pet it’s just a blip on their radar. Because, legally speaking, pets only have the value of say, a used pair of shoes on eBay. So, really all the company has to do is offer a grieving pet parent $5 – give or take. And they’re good to go.
But, not necessarily.
That’s where consumer advocates like myself come in. Distraught pet parents, confused and frustrated by the lack of concern that Hill’s has shown them, have asked me what they should do. So, what I did is outline in simple terms the basic steps consumers should take. They are, briefly, as follows:
- The first thing you need to realize is this serious. Very serious. Vitamin D toxicosis is a potentially life-threatening condition. Vitamin D toxicosis is closely related to rodenticide poisoning also known as cholecalciferol. If you think your dog is sick – take them to a vet immediately.
- Ask your veterinarian for a diagnosis. Did they mention anything like hypercalcemia, hyperphosphatemia, hypokalemia, or azotemia? Did your vet believe your dog become ill due to vitamin D toxicosis/hypervitaminosis or another unrelated condition?
- Obtain all your dog’s veterinary records, including the ones previous to their illness.
- You and your vet might want to consider whether performing a necropsy might be useful in confirming the cause of death. It is possible, although unlikely, that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would be performing necropsies on dogs due to this recall as it has already been established what the central problem with the recalled food is the excessive amount of vitamin D. Although I would not rule that possibility out.
- Obtain all records, including the dates, of the purchases of the dog food. Make particular note of the brand, the SKU, the date code and the lot code. Some retail outlets keep records of sales, but typically they will only keep records of the date of the transaction and the SKU or UPC, not the date codes and lot numbers.
- Save all cans of the recalled food, particularly any remaining unopened cans that correlate to the recalled dog foods. Make a note of the SKU, the date code/lot code.
- You might want to store any remaining food from an open container if that is the only sample you have. It is unlikely a sample of food from an open container would be of any use for testing or for making a complaint; but I would recommend saving it anyway.
- Make a detailed record as possible of all the foods and treats you fed your dog including human food treats or meals. When did your dog begin consuming the recalled dog food? How much was fed to them daily?
- If your vet thinks your dog’s illness or death could be related vitamin D toxicosis/hypervitaminosis have them contact the toxicologist at Michigan State University’s Diagnostic Center for Animal Health. The toxicologist will determine the most appropriate tests to perform on the implicated dog food. The instructions for submitting samples to the Center are very specific and must be followed to the letter to validate the chain of custody.
- If a decision has to made between allowing the FDA to test your sample and having it tested privately, I would opt for having it tested at Michigan State University (MSU). Here’s why: If you give your only sample to the agency, it’s unlikely they will be able to tell what the results are because that information will be considered part of the ongoing investigation. However, if you have more than one sample, I would suggest giving one to the agency and the other to MSU.
- Both you and your vet absolutely must make an adverse event report to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The easiest method is to an FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinators in your area. The second method is to report it via their online reporting portal. Find out more here: How to Report a Pet Food Complaint.
- Consider making a report to your State’s Feed Control Official. They may be able to offer additional information or assistance that the FDA cannot.
- You might want to contact Hill’s, although all you might only be offered is a $5 coupon to buy more of their dog food, there is the remote possibility you might be offered real help. If so contact Hill’s Consumer Affairs by emailing them at email@example.com or by calling them Monday-Friday during the hours of 9am-5pm (CST) at 1-800-445-5777.
- Now, this is strange: I have obtained a copy of a Patient Reimbursement Form that Hill’s has apparently sent to veterinarians offering to reimburse their clients (that’s you) for veterinary fees. It might be worth inquiring if your vet has received such a document from Hill’s.
To find out more about the process of what to do in situations such as the recall you are facing today I suggest reading one of the many helpful articles I have written on what to do. Check out my guides for consumers.
I hope that I’ve been able to help and if you have any questions about this process, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me. I am particularly interested in hearing from you if your dog was diagnosed with vitamin D toxicosis (or vitamin D hypervitaminosis) and you still have any cans of the recalled dog food. Contact me and I’ll be more than happy to help you navigate this process, because it can be very stressful. That’s why I’m here: to help.
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- For an explanation of vitamin D toxicity in pet food read it about it here. And to find out more about vitamin D toxicity in animals read this.
- FDA announcement on the recall of Hill’s Pet Nutrition dog foods.
- For more information about the recall and which foods are affected go to Hill’s website.