FDA Confirms Probe of NUTRO Pet Food
Lisa Wade McCormick (ConsumerAffairs.com) May 2009
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has confirmed that the agency is
investigating TRO pet food, following a series of
unexplained illnesses and deaths. Consumers have been
complaining for more than two years that their pets have
become ill after eating NUTRO products; many have recovered
when they were switched to other foods. The company has
steadfastly denied that its food is to blame.
Until now, the FDA has been
mum about whether it was actively investigating the company.
Today, the FDA’s Division of Freedom of Information
confirmed the agency has an ongoing investigation into NUTRO
— and said that investigation could be criminal or civil in
nature. The office did not elaborate on the nature or focus
of that investigation.
The investigation came to
light when the FDA denied a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
request by ConsumerAffairs.com seeking a list of complaints
and lab results the agency has collected regarding NUTRO pet
food. The agency denied the request and said that releasing
the information could hamper “prospective or ongoing” action
by law enforcement.
“The document(s) constitute
record(s) compiled for law enforcement purposes, the
disclosure of which could reasonably be expected to
interfere with enforcement proceedings,” wrote the FDA’s
George A. Strait, Jr., assistant commissioner for public
Another pet food company, Menu
Foods, said in a recent financial filing that the FDA had
commenced a criminal investigation to determine whether Menu
violated the Food, Drug, & Cosmetic Act. The company noted
that “additional actions or investigations may arise in the
future.” It did not mention any other pet food companies.
Menu last year settled a $24 million lawsuit that grew from
the largest pet food recall in U.S. history.
NUTRO, which has extensive
international operations, was acquired in 2007 by Mars,
Inc., the privately-held Virginia-based food products
company. Mars was fined a record €4.5 million (about US$5.8
million) last year by the German Federal Cartel Office (FCO)
for not observing the required waiting period before closing
the transaction. Mars had been by far the leading provider
of cat and dog food in Germany prior to the merger.
Under pressure from the German
regulators, Mars divested NUTRO's Austrian and German
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ConsumerAffairs.com filed its
Freedom of Information request for NUTRO records last year
after we uncovered a worrisome trend among dogs and cats
across the country. An analysis of our complaints revealed
that scores of pets from California to South Carolina had
experienced sudden and recurring bouts of diarrhea,
vomiting, and other digestive problems.
The only common denominator
among those dogs and cats was NUTRO pet food. In nearly
every case, we also learned the pets’ conditions improved
once their owners stopped feeding them NUTRO pet food.
to receive complaints about NUTRO from dog and cat owners
nationwide. In the past year, we’ve received nearly 500
complaints from pet owners who say their dogs or cats
suddenly became ill after eat NUTRO. The problems these pets
have experienced are similar: vomiting, diarrhea, and other
Most of the complaints mirror
one received last week from Linda P. of New Baltimore,
“For three years, I have been
feeding my dog NUTRO Natural Choice Lamb Meal & Rice Formula
Small Bites Dry Dog Food,” she said. “The last bag I bought,
I notice the food color was lighter than in the past. Me
being who I am, I believed there was a changed in formula
for the better. My Dachshund/Lab became ill, vomiting food
chunks and yellow bile as well. We took him to the vet and I
have been feeding him homemade chicken and rice and
antibiotics and he is on the mend.”
She adds: “How can so many
dogs get sick and nothing be done? Today I will start mixing
his homemade food with a different brand of dry food. I
never want anyone else to go through, what appears to be
many, the same situation as our dogs. It will be a week or
two before I’m sure my dog is okay.”
NUTRO denies it
NUTRO defends its products and
insists its food is safe. Many NUTRO customers also tout the
food, saying their pets have had no problems. And
veterinarians say several factors can cause gastrointestinal
problems in dogs and cats, including changes in diet, newly
developed sensitivities to pet foods, and viral infections.
But pet owners who contact us
on a nearly daily basis are convinced something is wrong
with NUTRO’s food. And they say it’s no coincidence that so
many dogs and cats have become sick — with the same symptoms
— after eating various flavors of that pet food.
“NUTRO makes dogs sick,” says
Erin of Encino, California. “It is a fact and I’m outraged
that nobody is taking it off the shelf.”
Erin says her three-year-old Puggle was a healthy active dog
until she started eating NUTRO Natural Choice Lamb Meal &
Rice Formula and NUTRO Max Beef & Rice Dinner Chunks in
Gravy: “After about two weeks of this food, she became sick.
(She was) constipated for a few days, then had diarrhea, and
finally vomiting and was always extremely thirsty. The last
straw was her laying lethargic on the couch with white
That’s when Erin rushed her
dog to the vet.
“The vet said she had
allergies, prescribed an antibiotic and cortisone and gave
me a bag of Science Diet. I feed her the Science Diet in
place of NUTRO because it was free, and she was fine within
Erin however, says she made the mistake of switching her dog back
to NUTRO after the Science Diet was gone.
“She again had constipation,
followed by horrible diarrhea, and finally vomiting yellow
bile and white gums,” Erin told us. “There is no way that
all these stories are just coincidences … (not) if my dog is
fine when she isn’t eating NUTRO and when she is eating it,
she’s horribly sick. I have switched her back to Science
Diet and all her symptoms are gone and her appetite has
returned to normal.”
Another California pet owner
says her dog also became ill after eating NUTRO pet food.
“My husband and I purchased
NUTRO chicken and rice small bites for our two Chihuahuas,”
says Jessica of Larkspur. “After about five days, our
six-year-old male Chihuahua became lethargic, groaned a lot,
developed a fever, was not excited to go on walks, and lost
excitement for anything that used to bring him joy.
“My husband began to suspect
it was the new food as he had only developed these symptoms
after eating NUTRO. He has always been a healthy and active
The couple took the dog to
their vet, who ran tests but couldn’t pinpoint the problem.
“He was given antibiotics and we are crossing our fingers
they work. Our Chihuahua can barely walk, he is groaning in
pain, and is extremely depressed.”
Across the country, a longtime
NUTRO pet owner in Pennsylvania told us her dog suddenly
became ill after eating the food.
“I had been feeding my dog
NUTRO for years,” says Amy D. of Webster, Pennsylvania. “I
started feeding her NUTRO for sensitive stomachs about 6
months ago. At first everything seemed fine. Then my dog,
who never urinated in my house, started having accidents
(frequently). She needed to go out constantly and would
squat repeatedly, come in, and ask to go right back out. I
took her to the vet and began treatment for bladder
infection. Upon finishing treatment it started all over
Amy’s vet discovered crystals
in the dog’s urine, which also had a high PH balance. The
vet put the dog on another medication.
“In the meantime other than
the restless pacing to go outside, she seemed disinterested
and lethargic,” Amy says. “Then she began having extremely
loose bowel movements (an awful bright yellow) in the house.”
Amy launched her own investigation and discovered the scores of complaints about
NUTRO on ConsumerAffairs.com.
“I couldn't believe my eyes.
Could it really be the dog food I had trusted so much making
my beloved pet ill? I immediately threw away all my NUTRO
Amy is now feeding her dog another brand of pet food. “And I’m thrilled to say she is
her old self again. She no longer has to take any medicines and has no more accidents or uncontrollable urges. Thanks to
this Web site and everyone who took the time to file a complaint, I have my healthy happy dog back.”
Not a fluke?
A pet owner in New York told us his puppy had the same experience as Amy’s dog after eating NUTRO. And he’s convinced it’s not a fluke.
“We got our dog two weeks ago and our puppy was healthy when we got her,” says Manny of Fresh Meadows, New York. “She started eating NUTRO Natural Choice for puppies, since it was recommended by a friend of ours. A week later, she started squatting to urinate, but only small drops or none at all came out. When she can urinate, it is frequent, in small amounts, and contains blood.”
Manny took his puppy to the vet, who prescribed amoxicillin.
“She received a sonogram, culture test, and urinalysis test. The results showed that
she may have a stone in her bladder. The blood in her urine is caused by the stone scraping the bladder walls. The
urinalysis test showed that she had a high PH balance. I don't think it is a coincidence that I have the same exact
problem as Amy,” adds Manny. “I wonder if something is wrong NUTRO pet food again. Our puppy is still sick.”
Our investigation into the complaints we’ve received about NUTRO pet food has also revealed:
• Six dogs unexpectedly died — or were euthanized — in 2008
after eating NUTRO pet food. Those dogs include two Italian Greyhounds in Indiana, a Beagle/Whippet mix in Pennsylvania,
two German Shepherd puppies in North Carolina, and a Doberman Pinscher in Texas;
• The FDA investigated the April 2008 deaths of two Italian
Greyhounds dogs in Indiana. The FDA tested samples of the
NUTRO food those dogs ate, but did not find any toxins. An
autopsy indicated the dogs died from antifreeze poisoning.
The dogs’ owner doesn’t believe those results, saying there
is no antifreeze around her home. No one has tested the
NUTRO food the other dogs ate before they died;
• Two Italian Greyhounds at a military base in Italy became
sick after eating NUTRO food. The dog’s owner told us she
hopes the FDA is investigating NUTRO and urged the agency to
move quickly. “It is hard to tell how many people at
overseas military bases are feeding this (food) to their
dogs and possibly killing them,” says Michelle M. who bought
her dogs’ NUTRO food at the base’s commissary.
• A pet nutrition specialist for NUTRO told us she’s heard
complaints about the company’s food making dogs and cats
sick. She reported those concerns to her supervisor, but
said they were ignored. She later resigned.
Some pet owners, however, tell us NUTRO is the only brand of food their dogs and cats can eat.
“My Shar-peis are the most
sensitive dogs I have ever owned,” says Allison R. of Nampa,
Indiana. “On the wrong food their hair falls out, their eyes
weep and their ears get nasty. It takes me a good 3 months
of only NUTRO dog food in order to reverse the affects of
the other food. I have found that the senior diet is what
works best, not sure why, but it seems to keep my Shar-Peis
A Tennessee pet owner also
defends NUTRO pet food — and warns consumers not to jump to
conclusions based on Internet complaints.
“I feed all of my dogs and
cats Nutro products and they are just as healthy as they
have ever been,” says Brenda of Springfield, Tennessee.
“They have healthy shiny coats and their stools are firm.”
Brenda also had some advice to
pet owners switching brands of food.
“Do a gradual transition from
the old food,” she said. “If you don’t, your dog will likely
experience these issues. Not every bout of diarrhea,
constipation, bladder infection, liver and kidney failure
and loss of excitement to go on walks should be attributed
to food. Your first responsibility as a pet owner should be
to take your dog to the vet before you blame anyone. Do your
research and don't let any Web site diagnose your pet.”
NUTRO has repeatedly insisted
its food is “100 percent safe” and meets all standards set
by FDA, the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the
Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). A
spokeswoman said all NUTRO products are tested for melamine, molds, toxins and
other bacteria. And she called the complaints we’ve received “isolated reports
of inaccurate information posted online.”
The company, however, set up a
special a section on its Web site in response to the issues
and concerns raised in our stories. NUTRO said it takes all
customer complaints seriously and encouraged pet owners with
concerns about the food to contact the company at
During our investigation,
we’ve also contacted veterinarians about the problems pet
owners say their dogs and cats have experienced after eating
NUTRO. They’ve said it’s not uncommon for pets to have
sudden bouts of vomiting, diarrhea, and other
gastrointestinal problems. They also said a number of
factors — pet food, stress, or a viral infection — could be
We also asked Dr.
Steven Hansen, a veterinary toxicologist with the American
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), to
review some of our NUTRO complaints, in an effort to find
out why so many pets have become sick — or even died — after
eating NUTRO food.
“Unfortunately the cases are not consistent and appear to be anecdotal with
no real definitive diagnostic findings,” Dr. Hansen told us.
“Without any consistent trends in findings we can not do
anything any further. This does appear to us to be a
situation where bad things happen, but they are not likely
Hansen, however, said consumers who suspect NUTRO’s food is a factor
in their pets’ illnesses should have their animals examined
by a veterinarian and document the problems.
“I would also
recommend that if they suspect the food is the problem, they
should take a freezer bag full of it — along with the label
information that has the product’s name and lot numbers — to
their vet,” he told us. “If the vet suspects the food is the
cause, the vet should then contact the company and FDA. If
there’s a problem, we need to document it and get supporting
The arguments back and forth
don't mean much to anxious pet owners, who say it’s about
time some federal agency investigated NUTRO and its
“After so many complaints, how
can this dog food still be on the market for consumers to
purchase and feed to their dogs?” Andrea G. of Sicklerville,
New Jersey asked us. “I have been feeding my Dachshund NUTRO
Ultra dry dog food for many months. Suddenly, 10 days ago,
he started vomiting yellow bile 1- 2 times daily.
“It makes me sick to think
that I might be the one responsible for my dog's vomiting by
feeding him this food. I can only hope that something is
done, very soon, to prevent other pets from becoming ill.”
Reprinted with permission - http://www.consumeraffairs.com/ April 20, 2009
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