For 4 years, Donna Nehrenz fed her dog, Macy, the same trusted brand of dog food without a problem: Hill’s Science Diet’s i/d and k/d foods.
And during that time, Macy played, thrived and loved. She was a 5-time rescue who Nehrenz guesses was a cross between a Silky Terrier and a Poodle.
But in December 2018, everything changed. Macy took a rapid turn for the worse.
Over a matter of days, the playful white dog who Nehrenz had loved for 10 years became lethargic, nauseous and increasingly disinterested in food.
When Nehrenz brought Macy in to the veterinarian, tests revealed that the dog was having kidney problems.
Nehrenz and the vet did everything they could to save Macy and bolster the dog’s kidney function. But without knowing why this had happened, they couldn’t figure out the right treatment. On Jan. 6, 2019, Macy took her last breath.
Nehrenz was devastated. “Terribly heartbroken,” she says.
A few weeks later, on Jan. 31, 2019, Hill’s Pet Nutrition announced a massive, worldwide recall of certain lots of Hill’s Science Diet and Prescription Diet canned dog foods.
According to news reports, a jaw-dropping 13.5 million cans of dog food were part of the recall. No dry foods, cat foods or treats are affected, according to the company.
The reason for the recall was a “supplier error” that added too much Vitamin D to some of the canned dog food.
Too much Vitamin D, when consumed at very high levels, can lead to “serious health issues in dogs, including renal dysfunction,” according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The consequences can be deadly.
Nehrenz rushed to check the list of recalled dog foods. And sure enough, the very Science Diet foods she’d fed Macy were on the list.
“Macy had eaten i/d and k/d for the last 4 years-plus. I still have 11 cans,” she says.
Science Diet Recall Victims
Losing a pet is heatbreaking enough — but losing a pet unexpectedly and before their time because of a pet food manufacturing mistake is so much worse.
Unfortunately, Nehrenz was far from alone.
Hundreds of other people have heartbreaking stories. Their pets had been in top health, but then, within a matter of days, their pets’ well-being took a severe downturn, ending in kidney problems, kidney failure and, in some cases, death.
Nehrenz reached out to Hill’s, hoping to find answers. “I spoke with 2 representatives and a vet — 3 separate calls,” she tells Petful. “Next step, they were contacting my vet.” But, she adds, “I have not heard anything since.”
Some of These Poor Dogs “Never Stood a Chance”
Claudia Montoya was feeding her Yorkshire Terrier, Dolly, Science Diet as recommended by the dog’s vet for pancreatitis.
For 4 years, Dolly had eaten a mixture of wet and dry Science Diet with no issues. On Dec. 20, 2018, Montoya switched Dolly to an all-canned diet because the dog had just had some teeth removed.
That’s when Dolly started vomiting.
At first, this appeared to be another bout of pancreatitis. The vet recommended smaller, more frequent feedings. But Dolly didn’t improve.
“She would go anywhere from 24 to 48 hours without vomiting and then suddenly get sick again,” says Montoya. “She was also becoming lethargic and wasn’t drinking water as much as she used to.”
Montoya took her to the vet again, and they did more testing and prescribed something to help Dolly keep her food down.
Back at home, though, Dolly grew even more lethargic.
“She would sleep most of the day and rarely get up from her bed, except when I took her outside or offered her food,” Montoya says. “If I tried to walk her, she would only go as far as our neighbor’s house before wanting to turn around.”
As the days ticked by, Dolly just kept getting worse.
“She still wasn’t drinking enough,” Montoya says, and “by this point, she would simply lift her head from her bed and release the contents of her stomach with no warning.”
The cute little Yorkie was getting weaker and smaller — she’d eventually lose a full third of her weight.
On Jan. 11, 2019, Montoya rushed Dolly to an emergency care facility. The problem was narrowed down to the dog’s kidneys, though veterinary staff could only guess at the cause.
“They thought she had some sort of toxin in her system, like chocolate or grapes,” Montoya recalls. But “I knew she couldn’t have eaten anything else because I had spent every day with her and, because of her pancreatitis, never gave her anything except her prescription food.”
The little dog was given a 50/50 chance of recovering, but the next afternoon, her kidneys started shutting down.
“I had to say goodbye to her,” Montoya says. “The only consolation I have is that I was with her until the very end.”
A few weeks later, Montoya got an email from a pet store cautioning customers about the recall, and that’s when she knew what must have happened. Both Montoya and her sister have reached out to Hill’s but have not received a call back.
Montoya wants everyone to be aware of this recall — it’s especially critical, she believes, because so many dogs with pre-existing medical conditions were being fed this food, which in some cases may make them more susceptible to the toxic overdose of Vitamin D.
“I think it’s important to note that a lot, if not all, of the food that was affected in the recall was prescription food,” Montoya tells Petful. “It was for dogs who already had health issues and pre-existing conditions — some of them never stood a chance.”
“This Is So Horrible”
Ana Alberto also believes the tainted food killed her beloved dog, Baby Mashi.
“She was the cutest, sweetest dog ever,” says Alberto. “She was full of life, alert and happy.”
Like so many others, Alberto had fed her Science Diet for years without an issue. But in December 2018, when Baby Mashi ate the food, the dog deteriorated frighteningly fast.
Within a few days, Mashi went from being alert and full of life to stage 2 kidney failure. Not knowing the cause of the issue, Mashi’s vet recommended a switch to Hill’s k/d food.
Unfortunately, this batch may have had too much Vitamin D — and Mashi didn’t recover. “It was the worst 4 days of our lives, and [there was] nothing we could do to help her,” says Alberto.
Alberto has pleaded with Hill’s to take responsibility for the loss of Mashi and all the other dogs affected. “Please be accountable and responsible for all the damage to these innocent souls that are no longer with us and we miss terribly,” reads one Facebook post she wrote.
“This is so horrible and very irresponsible of Hill’s,” Alberto tells Petful. “Mashi is so missed.”
The common thread running through all these experiences is the suddenness of the symptoms and how fast these beloved pets deteriorated.
In a short span of time — and without explanation — the dogs were dead, leaving their stunned families grief-stricken and heartbroken.
The company’s response to consumer complaints has been mixed.
Several people tell us they either cannot get through to Hill’s or that their messages have gone unanswered.
However, Petful has found that Hill’s has been fairly responsive in its Facebook posts about the recall.
When asked how the company plans to ensure this never happens again, Hill’s told Petful:
“We have identified and isolated the error [that allowed for the toxic levels of Vitamin D] and, to prevent this from happening again, we required our supplier to implement additional quality safety testing prior to release of ingredients to Hill’s. In addition to our existing safety processes, we are adding our own further testing of incoming ingredients.”
According to its website, Hill’s currently conducts a safety protocol that includes accepting ingredients from “suppliers whose facilities meet stringent quality standards and who are approved by Hill’s.”
The company also maintains that it examines and analyzes ingredient profiles, conducts annual quality systems audits for all manufacturing facilities, visually inspects and tests finished product for quality, and “demand[s] compliance with current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP).”
On paper, it seems that Hill’s has a fairly strong quality-control process that it’s promising to reinforce with additional product testing.
And while some concerned pet lovers report that they cannot get a response from the company, others tell us that Hill’s has at least reached out to them.
Alberto says she didn’t get a reply from Hill’s for 2 weeks.
Donna Nehrenz, too, has heard from the company, though the situation remains unresolved. Despite getting few answers from Hill’s, Nehrenz says, “I do feel they convey genuine concern and are actively listening.”
Dry Food Isn’t Part of Recall
Some people have expressed concern that there may be toxic levels of Vitamin D in Hill’s Science Diet or Prescription Diet dry food, which has not been recalled.
In fact, the company tells Petful that the dry food is completely safe.
“First and foremost, it’s important to emphasize that this issue is restricted to a specific vitamin mix delivered by a supplier that was used in limited production of canned wet dog food,” says Thomas DiPiazza, director of corporate communications for Colgate-Palmolive, which is the parent company of Hill’s Pet Nutrition.
“That vitamin mix formula is not an ingredient in any of our dry foods, and there has been no reason to expand this voluntary recall to dry foods,” he says.
DiPiazza adds, “When we recognized this issue, the vitamin mixes received at Hill’s plants for use in our products, including other vitamin mixes used in dry foods, were tested and cleared for use. As part of our quality process, we monitor complaints and we saw no trends that would alert us to any other products in our portfolio containing excess Vitamin D.”
Multiple Lawsuits Filed
Not surprisingly, multiple lawsuits have been filed by heartbroken families in the weeks after the massive dog food recall was announced.
One such lawsuit listed Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Inc., Hill’s Pet Nutrition Sales, Inc. and “John Does 1-10” as defendants. According to that suit, the John Does are listed because the individuals personally responsible for the manufacture and sale of the tainted foods are currently unknown.
The suit was filed on behalf of several people whose pets died after eating the affected dog food — including one woman’s fully trained and certified service dog named Duncan.
She had fed Duncan Hill’s food on her vet’s recommendation to help with the dog’s pancreatitis. After Duncan ate the tainted food, he deteriorated so quickly that he had to be euthanized just 5 days later.
The lawsuit makes serious allegations, including that Hill’s knew that there was a problem as early as February 2018 — nearly a full year before the recall was finally announced.
It also states that even after the FDA discovered high levels of Vitamin D in several of Hill’s pet foods, the company continued to manufacture and distribute the tainted product:
“Not only has Hill’s sold contaminated food, but it has dragged its feet in issuing a recall and in including all contaminated food within the scope of the recall. Hill’s failure to promptly recall every contaminated product sold under the Prescription Diet and Science Diet lines is particularly egregious because it knew or should have known that these products contained toxic levels of vitamin D. Not only does Hill’s claim to subject its suppliers, raw materials and finished products to extensive and repeated quality testing, but vitamin D toxicity was a known risk much earlier than January 31, 2019 when Hill’s first announced its recall: in December of 2018 several other brands of dog food were recalled due to toxic levels of vitamin D found in those products, and dogs eating Hill’s Specialty Dog Foods began dying of vitamin D toxicity well before that.”
The suit goes on to claim, “The lethal nature of Hill’s Specialty Dog Foods has been compounded by Hill’s excessive and unwarranted delay in warning consumers and regulatory agencies of the dangers posed by those products and caused untold number of pet owners significant emotional distress and financial loss.”
These pet lovers are just the tip of the iceberg. An estimated hundreds of pets have died, and the Hill’s Pet Nutrition Facebook page is a sad scroll through countless photos of beloved and lost pets.
“We believe that hundreds, if not thousands, of pets have died or become seriously ill as a result of eating Hill’s foods with toxic levels of Vitamin D,” says attorney Nyran Rose Rasche, according to CBS News.
The VIN News Service quoted a licensed veterinary technician whose 2 Pugs died after eating one of the recalled foods. “I am heartbroken, furious and disgusted,” she said.
The vet tech added, “I have 15-plus years of experience in the veterinary field and because of that, I’m probably a little better equipped to handle and understand what has happened, but I can’t imagine what the average consumer … is going through.”
Also according to VIN, several veterinarians are vocalizing concerns, including Dr. Deborah Adelsohn, DVM, who says, “I have been a Hill’s fan for over 25 years. This one is going to take a long time to get my trust back.”
Donna Nehrenz is hopeful that, in this situation, justice will prevail to keep future generations of pets safe from tainted pet food products.
“It seems a lot of folks are about the money,” she says. “No amount will bring Macy back or compensate for her suffering, or my thoughts that I didn’t recognize it was more than her sensitive stomach or a mouth abscess — but putting in place checks and balances to protect our pets in the future is crucial.”
In the video below, NBC News speaks with more Science Diet recall victims:
Latest Recall Information
The Hill’s Science Diet and Prescription Diet recall extends far beyond the United States, with the company confirming that about 20% of the recalled product was shipped or slated to be shipped overseas to countries such as Sweden, France, Germany, Hong Kong and others.
If you live in a country other than the United States, check your country-specific Hill’s website for more information.
And if you’re in the United States and have not done so already, we urge you to sign up now for Petful’s FREE U.S. pet food recall alerts by email. These free recall alerts are saving pets’ lives.
We sent out our Hill’s recall alert on Jan. 31 — before it became national news. A subscriber named Cyndie M. told us, “I immediately stopped giving my dog the affected Science Diet food. Saw nothing on the news, so your alert was a life-saver!”
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