Dog Food Recall: Popular Brands Could Contain Euthanasia Drug

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a dog food recall on Friday (Feb. 16) after cans of a popular brand were found to contain a drug used to euthanize animals.

According to a statement by the federal agency, cans of Gravy Train dog food, produced by the J.M. Smucker Company, tested positive for pentobarbital, a powerful drug commonly used to sedate or end the life of animals. Though the cans contained low levels of the drug, no amount of the substance is allowed under federal law.

"Any detection of pentobarbital in pet food is a violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act—simply put, pentobarbital should not be in pet food," it said.

The statement went on to say that dogs that consume pentobarbital may "experience drowsiness, dizziness, excitement, loss of balance, nystagmus (eyes moving back and forth in a jerky manner) and inability to stand. Consuming high levels of pentobarbital can cause coma and death."

In addition to Gravy Train, J.M. Smucker is also recalling certain lots of Kibbles 'N Bits, Ol' Roy and Skippy canned dog food over fears it may contain the drug.

In a statement, the company claimed the contamination came from a "single supplier and a single, minor ingredient." It also said it took the problem "very seriously" because it "loves pets."

J.M. Smucker--and the FDA--came under fire after an investigation by Washington, D.C., ABC News affiliate WJLA TV found that 60 percent of Gravy Train dog food cans tested contained pentobarbital. The station tested 62 samples from over two dozen dog food brands when a local woman's dog died after eating pentobarbital-laced dog food from Evanger's. Of the 15 cans of Gravy Train tested, nine came back positive for pentobarbital. All Evanger's cans tested came back negative.

Dog food in can

According to WJLA, the drug may get into dog food because some unscrupulous pet food suppliers use the meat of euthanized animals in their products.

"These animals could be dogs, they could be cats, they could be horses," said Dr. Nicholas Dodman, the chief scientific officer for The Center for Canine Behavior Studies, who was interviewed as part of the investigation. "But how is it getting into the pet food?"

According to pet food industry experts, renderers pick up euthanized animals from animal shelters, farms, and other locations and mix them into the pet food. Federal law states that euthanized animals are considered "adulterated ingredients" -- the term for any animal that died through means other than slaughter -- and are unfit for human and animal consumption.

However, the FDA's pet food compliance policy contains a troubling contradiction to federal rules.

"Pet food consisting of material from diseased animals or animals which have died otherwise than by slaughter, which is in violation of 402(a)(5) …will be considered fit for animal consumption," the policy states.

WJLA asked the FDA to explain why it allows illegal adulterated ingredients in pet food. The agency at first declined but then agreed to investigate the presence of pentobarbital in dog food.

The recall is a result of that investigation.

Visit the FDA website for a full list of brands included in the dog food recall.