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Why Purina, a pet food company is currently facing a lawsuit?

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Posted on 27th Feb, 2015: A dog parent recently filed a lawsuit against a popular pet food brand in the US, claiming that thousands of dogs have either gotten sick or died from eating its dry dog food.

Pet parent Frank Lucido filed the lawsuit on February 5 in US District Court in the Northern District of California against Nestle Purina PetCare Company.

What led Frank to resort to such extreme measures?

Frank alleges that he fed his three dogs Beneful (part of Nestle Purina PetCare Company), and within a short period of time, two were sick and one was dead.

First, Nella, a 4-year-old German shepherd, started to lose her fur and took on a strange smell. Then, she became ill, and veterinarians learned that she was bleeding internally and her liver was malfunctioning, according to the complaint. She survived but still has health problems.

Five days later, Frank’s wife found their 8-year-old English bulldog, Dozer, dead in the yard, according to the complaint. Vets determined she, too, had internal bleeding and lesions on her liver.

Finally, their third dog Remo, an 11-year-old Labrador, has been unwell since the other two became sick, and is undergoing tests, according to the lawsuit.

What’s shocking is that the lawsuit alleges that Beneful dry dog foods contain propylene glycol, an ingredient toxic to animals. Turns out this chemical is used in automobile antifreeze. But on Purina’s website, the company notes that propylene glycol is an FDA-approved food additive that’s used in human food products. Purina even went to the extent of issuing a statement on their website saying, “There are no quality issues with Beneful”.

The lawsuit claims that Beneful also contains harmful mycotoxins, which are toxins produced by fungus that occurs in grains.

In recent years, Beneful has faced two lawsuits that were dismissed by the courts, according to Purina’s statement.

Frank alleges that in the past four years, there have been more than 3,000 complaints online about dogs getting ill or dying after eating Beneful, having shown symptoms such as stomach and related internal bleeding, liver malfunction or failure, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, weight loss, seizures and kidney failure. The complaints were made by vets and pet parents to law firms, the Food and Drug Administration and attorneys general around the US.

This brings to mind the lawsuit against Menu Foods (a pet food company in the US) in 2007. Even then, pet parents believed that thousands of pets throughout the United States who ingested Menu Foods’ products either became ill and/or died, causing their parents to face substantial emotional distress as well as veterinary costs and related expenses. In response, Menu Foods admitted that certain of their products were defective and caused injury and death to household pets. On November 18, 2008, after a full-day Final Approval Hearing, Judge Hillman issued an order and 65-page opinion approving a $24 million settlement with Menu Foods and denying all objections to the settlement.

Complaints about Beneful date back several years, James Young, a lawyer in Tampa, Florida, told ABC News. He added that lawyers across the country teamed up when they realized there was a common denominator in the dog illnesses and deaths. “It’s all Beneful dog food. That’s the common denominator,” James said. “Statistically speaking, the fact that this many dogs were affected by the same brand of dog food is pretty compelling.”

The legal filing cites versions by several pet parents. One of them states that, “After eating Beneful for just over a week, my dog’s liver failed. She was drinking way more than usual, stopped eating and was vomiting. She spent 2 days in intensive care with IV fluids and antibiotics.”

The lawsuit is asking the court to get further details on the case and include other pet parents whose dogs got sick or even worse, died because of Beneful. And pay them unspecified damages and compensation for their loss.

Purina as a brand is not yet widely available in India – so parents need not worry about this as of now. But this brings us to an important question: what can we as pet parents do to ensure that our pets get safe pet food? Of course for starters, a lot of us give home cooked food to our pets but that’s always not possible especially in case of DIPPs (double income pet parents). So for those who are giving packaged pet food to their dogs & cats, do check the ingredients and ensure that you research any suspicious sounding ingredient (just like how you would do in case of baby food). It is always a good idea to consult your vet on packaged food for they are the first one to know in case any particular brand is causing trouble to pets. Also, in case you switch to a new brand of pet food, keep a close watch on your pet for any signs of abnormality such as change in food or water intake as well as bowel movements. 

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