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How Does A Euthanasia Drug Find Its Way Into Dog Food?

Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on February 23, 2018
Posted in Dogs

Last Friday, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned that traces of a drug called pentobarbital might be found in numerous popular dog food brands. Pentobarbital is a barbiturate that is commonly used to put dogs, cats and sometimes horses to sleep.

The affected products included Gravy Train, Kibbles N’ Bits, Ol’ Roy and Skippy Premium, all of which are made by the J.M. Smucker Company, or Smuckers (as in Smucker’s Jam). Pet stores were instructed to stop selling the products, and anyone who had purchased products with the labels shown on the Smuckers website is eligible for a full refund.

Smuckers responded to the FDA warning by voluntarily recalling shipments of the products.

One Dog’s Sacrifice For Safety

According to People, ABC-affiliate ABC7 launched an investigation of the dog food following the death of a Washington state dog who had ingested Evanger’s pet food on New Year’s Eve two years ago.

The owner sent the dog food to a lab, which revealed the presence of pentobarbital. ABC7 then enlisted the help of another lab to test 62 samples of wet dog food from more than 24 brands. Just one brand, Gravy Train, tested positive for pentobarbital, with traces reported in 60% of the samples. The amount found in the sample was not lethal but no amount of pentobarbital is permitted by the FDA.

“The presence of this substance at any level is not acceptable to us and not up to our quality standards,” Gravy Train said in a statement. “We sincerely apologize for the concern this has caused.”

The statement goes on to say that the other brands were recalled “out of an abundance of caution.”

Investigating The Supply Chain

It’s unclear as to how the pentobarbital got into the food but the FDA hopes to answer that question with its own ongoing investigation. Veterinarians inject animals with sodium pentobarbital when they are too sick to be saved. The drug is also used on humans who have been sentenced to death by legal injection.

Some pet food companies reportedly get raw materials from facilities that process the bodies of euthanized shelter animals and/or livestock. There is no documented proof, however, that meat from the dead animals is used in pet food.

Gravy Train said in its statement that its products are not made from meat from euthanized animals.

“We have narrowed the focus of our investigation to a single supplier and a single, minor ingredient, used at one manufacturing facility,” the statement continues. “We will take the appropriate steps to ensure this does not occur again.”

More Distrust Of Commercial Dog Food

After the death of the aforementioned Washington state dog, Evanger’s discovered that the pentobarbital had come from a single beef supplier and therefore ended the relationship.

The Smuckers recall comes about a week after FDA issued a warning about ground turkey pet food made by the company Raws for Paws. At least two pets who ate the product were sickened with salmonella poisoning.

The increasing frequency of recalls gives the impression that commercial pet food companies simply cannot be trusted. Thankfully, there are many other options for concerned pet owners, like Pet Wellbeing’s Premium Holistic Formula.

Read also: Pet Parents Coping with Cancer

Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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