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