When Nikki Mael of Washougal, Washington, made her New Year’s Eve preparations last year, the last thing she expected was an emergency trip to the vet.
But, sadly, that is exactly what happened when her four dogs suddenly took ill after eating from a can of Evanger’s wet dog food, a J.M. Smucker brand. Although the company is most widely known for Smucker’s jellies, it also produces a number of pet food products through other brands, including Ol’ Roy, Kibbles ‘N Bits, Snausages, and Gravy Train, and Skippy.
When she saw what had happened, Mael immediately brought the dogs to the vet for emergency care. Three of them recovered, but one dog, Talula, didn’t make it.
In an effort to find out what had made her dogs so sick, Mael took what was left from the can of food and sent it to a lab to have the contents analyzed. When the testing had been completed, the results confirmed her suspicion that the food had indeed been contaminated with a harmful substance.
The lab report showed that the food contained amounts of pentobarbital, a drug commonly used in the euthanization of cats, horses, and dogs. As one would expect, the addition of pentobarbital to pet foods (or any foods) is prohibited, so its presence in Evanger’s wet dog food naturally raised concerns and questions from Mael and other pet owners.
The news team of ABC affiliate ABC7 of Washington, D.C., did some additional digging and tested 62 samples of wet dog food from more than two dozen brands. The results were startling: 60 percent of the Gravy Train samples—a product of Big Heart Brands, another J.M Smucker company—contained pentobarbital. Afterwards, the FDA got involved, warning pet owners to stay away from brands of dog food that tested positive for the lethal drug.
In response, Smuckers spokesman Ray Hancart said, “Veterinarians and animal nutrition specialists, as well as the FDA, have confirmed that extremely low levels of pentobarbital, like the levels reported to be in select shipments, do not pose a threat to pet safety. However, the presence of this substance at any level is not acceptable to us and not up to our quality standards. We sincerely apologize for the concern this has caused.”
Still, for Nikki Mael and her dogs, the damage has already been done. “Nobody should have to go through what we went through,” Mael told reporters. “Nobody. Not fair. I mean, I would give anything to see Talula again.” Mael is moving ahead with a class action lawsuit against Evanger’s.
At this time, one of the most important questions of how a drug used in the euthanasia of animals found its way into pet food products remains unanswered. In the meantime, one of the potential explanations for the contamination—that the bodies of euthanized animals somehow made their way into the foods during their production—certainly provides no comfort for wary pet owners.