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How Hill’s Secrets and Lies Hid a Catastrophic Failure That Led to the Illness and Death of Dogs Worldwide

When Hill’s Pet Nutrition, the world’s top manufacturer of prescription pet foods, found that some of their dog foods contained lethal amounts of vitamin D, the company hid the problem leaving veterinarians and consumers ignorant of the severity of the crisis.

Hill’s, a company whose empire was built on treating the maladies of sick dogs and cats, failure to test high-risk ingredient before being used in their Science Diet and Prescription Diet pet foods caused the premature and preventable death of dogs in the more than 80 countries.


Hill’s troubles began, ironically, with a sick dog: A pet parent whose ill dog was diagnosed as suffering from vitamin D toxicosis reported the problem to the FDA. After the FDA confirmed the diagnosis and notified Hill’s, the first wave of dog food recalls on January 1, 2019.

But the Hill’s recall notices never reached the veterinarians who sold their tainted prescription dog foods. And veterinarians didn’t know there was a problem until they were blindsided by frantic pet parents. After a week, Hill’s still hadn’t notified vets.


The second wave of recalls followed on February 1, 2019, when Hill’s withdrawn more products, as the company said, “for failing to meet its formula specifications.” Fortunately, those products had not yet been distributed for sale.


When the third wave of recalls were announced on March 20th – a full 11 weeks after the initial recall – the company expanded the initial recall to include additional canned dog foods for excessive levels of vitamin D.  It is important to note that the expanded recall was the result of consumer who reported their dog’s illness to the FDA that prompted Hill’s to expand their recall once more.

When Hill’s eventually notified vets about the recalls, the company neglected to convey the urgency of the recalls, emphasizing they were purely voluntary and there was no certainty the dog foods had dangerous levels of vitamin D in them. But those assurances did nothing to calm veterinarians because they knew that excess vitamin D was capable of causing irreversible kidney damage and could be lethal if consumed in high enough doses.


The company made repeated assurances that they perform a rigid regime inspecting each ingredient before manufacture and that they require a Certificate of Analysis for each incoming shipment of vitamin and trace mineral premixes.

Information obtained by Food Safety News in response to Freedom of Information Act request found that during an FDA inspection Hill’s was unable to provide the Certificate of Analysis. And when the FDA conducted analytical testing on a retained sample of the vitamin premix, it revealed the level of vitamin D was roughly 30 times the target range for this ingredient. Had Hill’s followed its written procedures; the incorrect vitamin D ingredient concentration would have been found before the ingredient was used.


While Hill’s has publicly affected an air of compassion, privately, the company has steadfastly refused to reveal the level of vitamin D in their recalled dog foods. Throughout the recalls the company managed to avoid any admission of guilt, emphasizing the problem of excessive vitamin D in their dog foods was due entirely “to an error by an ingredient supplier.” Hills has consistently pointed to the supplier as the villain, giving the company the appearance of the victim rather than the perpetrator.


Many veterinarians, who for decades relied on Hill’s Science Diet and Hill’s Prescription Diets to treat their ailing patients, have lost faith and trust in the company they once placed complete confidence in. And families, all over the world, are grieving the loss of their beloved dogs whose premature and preventable deaths were caused as a direct result of Hill’s criminal negligence.


Because Hill’s never publicly mentioned any plans to help families with the cost of treating their sick and dying dogs, families who could not afford the veterinary expenses were forced to make a terrible decision, whether to put their dogs to sleep. After reaching out to Hill’s, distraught pet parents were offered coupons to distraught pet parents to buy more of Hill’s pet food after reached out to the company for help.

Looking back, it’s hard to pick out just one failure, a single incident of one of the many missteps the company made because there are so many. Most companies aren’t adept at the art of the recall, and many will make a mistake at some point.  Yet, none compare with Hill’s utter failure to get it right at every step along the way.


It is my great hope that these recalls will serve as a lesson to other manufacturers on how best to prevent such disasters from occurring and teach other pet food makers the art of compassion: How to express a sincere and meaningful apology to the families who pets died as a result of their failure.


Hill's couponsHill's letter


This letter and the coupons were sent to me from Hill’s under the guise of a pet parent with an ailing dog (see this post for details). I’ve highlighted the information I thought the company should have been made widely available to the general public.



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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.