Over the Hill's, Not Far Away

Hill's Pet Nutrition Recall 2019

Another month, another (repeat) offender, another pet food recall.

Unfortunately these are becoming more and more frequent. So what's this one all about, who's involved, and what do you need to know?

Setting the Scene

While the latest recall has caused quite a stir, this scene actually started to unfold in the US in October last year.

Arising from consumer reports and concerns voiced by State authorities, the FDA initiated an investigation into links between dry kibble and dogs falling ill. What followed was a stream of recalls from 11 manufacturers due to Hypervitaminosis D.

Essentially this is excessive levels of Vitamin D, with potential symptoms including:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased thirst
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood in faeces and vomit
  • Constipation
  • Muscle tremors
  • Seizures

Unlike many dietary issues, which can have a gradual negative effect over time, Hypervitaminosis D occurs quickly and brutally, soon after ingestion and is medically considered a poisoning.

Plot Development

Amidst the drama, there was a clamour from consumers for answers. We wanted to understand how something so serious could have been overlooked by organisations who we trust our pet's health with.

So what was the reason we finally received...?

‘a formulation error’

That’s it.

3 words that tell us nothing. No acceptance of responsibility. None of the companies involved nor the FDA cared to elaborate on the cause or nature of this ‘formulation error’ so onlookers were left in the dark.

From a nutritional standpoint, it would be understandable perhaps (not forgivable) for a small error to have occurred. However, state and private laboratory testing found Vitamin D levels of up to 70 times the safe amount in foods tested.


A Brief Aside

We’ve written before about how Vitamin D can be a confusing one for pet parents to figure out when wishing to feed a balanced diet - too little is as bad as too much.

Dogs can't manufacture Vitamin D like we can, so they must obtain it through their diets. Historically (and through similar unfortunate health impacts), dry food manufacturers discovered that deficiencies in their food were causing health issues. So they started to add extra to their formulations.

The problem here though is what’s added are synthetic, batch-made, ‘premix’ Vitamins. These have inherently different molecular structures than their naturally occurring counterparts, and are less bio-available so are at greater risk of the aforementioned error: human error, quantity error, ratio error etc.

Act 2

January 31st 2019.

While there was a brief 8 week interlude, Hill's Pet Nutrition came forward and issued the following statement:

“Hill’s Pet Nutrition is voluntarily recalling select canned dog food products due to potentially elevated levels of Vitamin D….distributed through retail pet stores and veterinary clinics nationwide.

Hill’s Pet Nutrition learned of the potential for elevated Vitamin D levels in some of our canned dog foods after receiving a complaint in the United States about a dog exhibiting signs of elevated Vitamin D levels. Our investigation confirmed elevated levels of Vitamin D due to a supplier error.”

Hill's Press Release - 31st January 2019


As is often the case, this was first flagged in the US but was soon rolled out across 26 countries, including Australia and involved over 30 varieties of canned dog food. 

The Courtroom Segment

As of the end of February 2019, Hill’s Pet Nutrition is subject to 3 separate class action lawsuits in US Federal Court. The plaintiffs, located in New York, Washington, Florida, California and North Carolina, allege their dogs became ill after eating the product, with four either dying or having to be euthanized as a direct result.

The allegations include:

  • Negligence
  • Breach of Express and Implied Warranty
  • Strict Product Liability
  • Failure to Warn
  • Unjust Enrichment
  • Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices
  • Excessive and Unwarranted Delay in notifying customers and regulatory agencies

We can reasonably expect this number to increase and it will be interesting to view how it plays out.

If you are concerned about whether your dog could have been exposed, please refer to the Press Release or consult your vet.

Up next, we're in the process of developing another exciting blog - this one is about a recent study that's adding some much needed science to something many raw feeders have known for years... that a balanced, species appropriate diet contains all the requisite vitamins and minerals needed by our furry friends to lead happy, healthy lives.

Stay tuned!


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