In January 2007, Huntsville, Texas, resident Robert Barley switched the diet for Pearl, his 5-year-old German Shepherd/Labrador mix, and started feeding her Beneful brand dog food. Soon afterwards the seemingly healthy dog died. Around the same time another resident of Huntsville, Janet Rambeck, also began feeding Sooner, her 7-year-old Dachshund, from a bag of Beneful she had purchased at WalMart the previous month. A few days later her dog was dead, too. Those two incidents were a few of dozens of similar cases reported by dog owners to the canine product web site DoggyBling.com, each involving Beneful brand dog food purchased at WalMart. Most or all of the afflicted dogs displayed common symptoms, including white gums, glazed eyes, trouble standing erect, sluggishness, lethargy, and loss of appetite.
Does this pattern indicate a manufacturing problem (on the part of Purina) or a handling/storage issue (on the part of WalMart) that might have introduced some form of toxin (such as aflatoxin) into bags of Beneful, or could the stricken dogs have become ill through other causes (with the Beneful connection being purely coincidental)?
On 6 February 2007 Beneful’s manufacturer, Nestle/Purina, sent us a response indicating they had investigated the Hunstville deaths and analyzed samples of the product involved, and that “the results confirmed the safety and quality of the products made at our factories” and “the samples showed no presence of aflatoxin”:
Purina Beneful Update
In recent days, Purina learned about the unfortunate deaths of two dogs in the Huntsville, Texas, area. Concerns were raised about the possible link between consumption of Purina’s Beneful dry dog food and the deaths of the two dogs. Purina takes these matters seriously, and initiated a thorough investigation. Purina’s quality testing, including testing at independent laboratories, confirm the safety and efficacy of our products and confirm that the two dogs’ unfortunate deaths were unrelated to our product.
Importantly, one of the Huntsville, Texas, consumers also requested product testing through her veterinarian. The veterinarian submitted a sample of product to the Texas Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory for aflatoxin analysis. We received confirmation from the consumer’s veterinarian late Monday, Feb. 5, that the results for aflatoxin were negative.
Additionally, we have conducted physical inspections and analytical testing, all of which confirm that our Beneful dry dog food products are safe, and meet all quality assurance specifications. Purina initiated the testing, which was conducted by an independent third party analytical laboratory, as part of its investigation related to the two Huntsville consumer contacts. As soon as we could contact the consumers to verify product code and packaging information, we secured finished product from our factories with the same production run and date code as the products in question and submitted the samples for testing. We received test results for the samples late Monday, Feb. 5, and the results confirmed the safety and quality of the products made at our factories. More specifically, the samples showed no presence of aflatoxin.
Because the quality and safety of our products and the trust of our consumers are top priorities, Purina took additional steps, including visiting the store in Huntsville, Texas, to confirm the quality of product at retail. We obtained additional samples for any available product matching date codes and production runs related to these consumer contacts. We then submitted samples of the product for analytical testing, which also showed no presence of aflatoxin.
We at Purina are saddened to hear of the loss of these consumers’ pets and appreciate the opportunity to investigate and demonstrate how seriously we take matters of this kind. We stand firmly behind the high quality of our products and reassure consumers that they can continue to feed Purina products with total confidence.
Complaints about pet deaths due to Beneful saw a resurgence in January 2013, such as the following example:
My husband and I lost our best friend, Cruise, on Dec. 30 . On Dec. 17, I changed his food to a softer food that still had substance to help prevent tartar buildup. I chose Purina Beneful. He was eating the Beneful up until Dec. 24, when he started vomiting and had very loose bowels. We immediately admitted him into the Animal Emergency Center with a temperature of 104.
They administered IV fluids, the x-rays showed an enlarged liver and gall bladder, and the pancreas was fine. The blood results showed the liver enzymes at more than three times the normal level. On Dec. 26, his temperature returned to normal, he was transferred to The Animal Hospital, they continued fluids and ran a barium test. On Dec. 27, the vet was concerned that he may have a mass blocking the intestines. He opted for exploratory surgery. No mass was found, the liver and gall bladder were enlarged, but the color looked good. They sent away for a biopsy of the liver. They were feeding him with a syringe, but nothing was staying down. My husband and I would go everyday to try and hand feed him chicken and rice, but to no avail.
The morning of Dec. 30, we received a call that Cruise had passed away. The biopsy results showed necrosis of the liver. Premature death of cells and living tissue. Necrosis is caused by external factors, such as infection, toxins or trauma.
We want to make other pet owners aware. It doesn’t matter the breed, the age, or the length of consumption time, these pets are becoming seriously ill or dying.
If Purina has chosen to turn a blind eye to this and the FDA does not issue a recall, then we have a responsibility to get the word out before another innocent animal has to endure what our best friend had to endure.
We are contacting family members and friends, warning them that Beneful is not on the FDA recall list. We have contacted the store where I purchased the food. We have contacted a lab for testing of the food, but they informed us that they could “only test for salmonella.” We have contacted the FDA and are awaiting a return call.
In response to rumors in 2013, Nestle/Purina sent us the following statement:
Beneful is a high quality, nutritious product that millions of dogs enjoy every day. We are aware of some recent unsupported and misleading allegations circulating on-line and in social media, which can cause undue concern and confusion among consumers. There are no known product issues with Beneful dog food. Our products are formulated by professional pet nutritionists and veterinarians and are produced under quality standards that are among the strictest in the United States. Each of our U.S. facilities where Beneful is made have on-site quality assurance laboratories and staff. We have a comprehensive food safety program, and we test and monitor to help ensure product quality and safety.
For more than 80 years, Purina has stood for trust with pets and the people who love them. We’re pet owners, too, and the quality and safety of our products are our top priorities. Consumers can continue to feed Beneful to their pets with total confidence. We always appreciate hearing from our consumers, and we encourage anyone with a question or comment about Beneful to call us at 1-888-236-3385.
A class action lawsuit against Nestle/Purina’s Beneful brand was initiated on 5 February 2015. A Twitter account associated with the Beneful brand replied to a number of worried pet owners and denied the existence of any pet health issues related to the product:
We believe the lawsuit is without merit and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves. There are no product quality issues.
We feel the lawsuit is groundless. We intend to vigorously defend ourselves through the legal process
On 25 February 2015, Nestle/Purina forwarded a statement to us regarding the lawsuit filed that month. The brand reiterated their position on Beneful’s safety and described the suit as “baseless”:
First and foremost, there are no quality issues with Beneful. Beneful is a high quality, nutritious food enjoyed by millions of dogs every day. In fact, in 2014, nearly 1.5 billion Beneful meals were served to millions of happy, healthy dogs who enjoy and thrive on this food.Recently, a class action lawsuit was filed against Beneful in Northern California. We believe the lawsuit is baseless, and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves and our brand. Beneful had two previous class
action suits filed in recent years with similar baseless allegations, and both were dismissed by the courts. Class action suits are common in business these days. They are not indicative of a product issue. Beneful is backed by Purina’s strict quality controls and comprehensive food safety program.
Like other pet foods, Beneful is occasionally the subject of social media-driven misinformation. On-line postings often contain false, unsupported and misleading allegations that cause undue concern and confusion for our Beneful customers.
Bottom line: Consumers can continue to feed Beneful with total confidence.
At Purina we’re passionate about pets. We encourage anyone with a comment or question about Purina to contact us directly at the toll-free number on every package. For answers to FAQs about Beneful, go to https://www.beneful.com/frequently-asked-questions,
An analysis of 28 samples revealed three types of toxins: propylene glycol; mycotoxins, a fungal mold on grain; and the heavy metals arsenic and lead.
But the level of toxins found in the dog chow did not exceed limits permitted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Plaintiffs’ expert analyzed 28 of 1,400 dog food samples from incidents of dogs that got ill after eating Beneful. The sampling was limited because not all dog owners had kept the chow.
The expert, animal toxicologist Dr. John Tegzes, claimed the FDA based its dog chow toxin limits only on short-term exposure and did not consider the effects of long-term exposure.
Purina released a statement on their web site in response to the ruling:
We are pleased that after hearing arguments from both sides, the Judge dismissed all claims. Today’s ruling confirms what millions of pet owners already know – that Beneful is a safe, healthy, and nutritious dog food that millions of dogs enjoy every day.
Smith, Stewart. “Two Owners Hope Tests Reveal Cause of Dogs’ Deaths.”
The Huntsville Item. 31 January 2007.