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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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Mollie Morrissette

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