Pentobarbital Contamination: FDA Alerts Pet Owners, Confirms Investigation

February 20, 2018
American Veterinarian Editorial Staff

A variety of dog food products from 4 popular brands are being removed from stores following allegations that pentobarbital has been found in the products. American Veterinarian® will continue to update this article as new information is publicized.

UPDATE (February 20) — Additional products from Skippy's line of dog food have been added to the list of varieties being voluntarily withdrawn from stores. The table below reflects the update list.

Product Name

UPC Item Code(s)

Gravy Train 13.2-oz with T-Bone Flavor Chunks

7910052541

Gravy Train 13.2-oz with Beef Strips

7910052542

Gravy Train 13.2-oz with Lamb and Rice Chunks

7910052543

Gravy Train 22-oz with Chicken Chunks

7910051645

Gravy Train 22-oz with Beef Chunks

7910051647

Gravy Train 13.2-oz with Beef Chunks

7910034417

Gravy Train 13.2-oz with Chicken Chunks

7910034418

Gravy Train 13.2-oz Chunks in Gravy Stew

7910051933

Gravy Train 13.2-oz Chicken, Beef & Liver Medley

7910051934

Gravy Train 13.2-oz Chunks in Gravy with Beef Chunks

7910034417

Kibbles ‘n Bits 13.2-oz Burger Bacon Cheese and Turkey Bacon Vegetable Variety Pack 12-Pack

7910010377,

7910010378

Kibbles ‘n Bits 13.2-oz Beef, Chicken, Vegetable, Meatball Pasta and Turkey Bacon Vegetable Variety Pack

7910010382, 7910048367, 7910010378

Kibbles ‘n Bits 13.2-oz Beef, Chicken, Vegetable, Burger Bacon Cheese and Beef Vegetable Variety Pack

7910010380, 7910010377, 7910010375

Kibbles ‘n Bits 13.2-oz Wet Variety Pack

7910010375,

7910048367

Kibbles ‘n Bits 13.2-oz Chef’s Choice Bistro Tender Cuts with Real Beef & Vegetable in Gravy

7910010375

Kibbles ‘n Bits Chef’s Choice Bistro Tender Cuts with Real Turkey, Bacon, & Vegetable in Gravy

7910010378

Kibbles ‘n Bits Chef’s Choice Homestyle Tender Slices with Real Beef, Chicken & Vegetables in Gravy

7910010380

Ol’ Roy Strips 13-oz Turkey Bacon

8113117570

Skippy 13.2-oz Premium Select Cuts in Gravy with Beef & Bone Marrow

7910071860

Skippy 13.2-oz Premium Select Cuts with Burgers & Cheese Bits

7910050243

Skippy 13.2-oz Premium Chunks in Gravy with Smoky Turkey & Bacon

7910050246

Skippy 13.2-oz Premium Chunks in Gravy with Beef & Chicken

7910050247

Skippy 13.2-oz Premium Chunks in Gravy 3 in 1 Chicken, Beef & Liver

7910050248

Skippy 13.2-oz Premium Chunks in Gravy Chunky Stew

7910050249

Skippy 13.2-oz Premium Strips in Gravy with Chicken

7910050244

Skippy 13.2-oz Chunks in Gravy with Beef

7910050250

Skippy 13.2-oz Premium Strips in Gravy with Beef

7910050245

UPDATE (February 16) — The FDA has issued an alert to pet owners about the potential pentobarbital contamination in certain canned dog foods manufactured by The J.M. Smucker Company. The agency also confirmed that it is monitoring for reports of any pet illnesses associated with pentobarbital contamination in the withdrawn products. The current list of dog foods being removed from stores includes products from the Gravy Train, Kibbles 'n Bits, Ol' Roy, and Skippy brands. The withdrawals include all lots of the following products manufactured from 2016 through the present.

(February 15) — After an independent study uncovered pentobarbital in multiple samples of Gravy Train wet dog food, the FDA is reportedly investigating the brand.

As part of an independent investigation, Washington, DC TV station WJLA partnered with Ellipse Analytics, a lab that specializes in testing food for contaminants, to test 62 samples from 2 dozen brands of wet dog food for the presence of pentobarbital. According to the station’s consumer alert, after months of testing, 1 brand repeatedly came back positive for pentobarbital—Gravy Train. Of the 15 Gravy Train cans examined, 9 tested positive.

While the pentobarbital levels found were not lethal, federal regulations stipulate that that it is illegal to for a pet food product to contain any amount of the drug. According to a 2002 FDA report, the most likely way pentobarbital could get into dog food would be in rendered animal products.

Gravy Train is made by Big Heart Pet Foods and owned by Smucker’s. Big Heart Pet Foodsvalso manufactures Meow Mix, Milk Bone, Kibbles’n Bits, 9 Lives, Natural Balance, Pup-Peroni, Nature’s Recipe, Canine Carry Outs, Milo’s Kitchen, Alley Cat, Jerky Treats, Meaty Bone, Pounce, and Snausages.

Since the WJLA investigation, a class action lawsuit has been filed against Big Heart Pet Foods calling for the company to disclose that its pet food sold throughout the United States contains pentobarbital and to repay consumers and businesses who purchased the contaminated products. The suit names the specific Gravy Trains product found to have pentobarbital as:

  • Gravy Train Chunks in Gravy with Beef Chunks
  • Gravy Train Chunks in Gravy with T-Bone Flavor Chunks
  • Gravy Train Chunks in Gravy with Chicken Chunks
  • Gravy Train Strips in Gravy Beef Strips
  • Gravy Train Chunks in Gravy with Lamb and Rice Chunks

A petition has also been started on Care2 that details the story of Toula, the dog that sparked WJLA’s investigation. The petition is calling on Smucker’s to recall all of its dog food products and change its regulatory standards. Toula died not after eating Gravy Train, but rather a product from Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Company. In February 2017, Evanger’s recalled 5 lots of its Hunk of Beef product due to potential contamination with pentobarbital.

On February 8, Smucker’s issued a statement to WJLA noting that the company is “conducting a thorough investigation, including working closely with our suppliers, to determine the accuracy of these results and the methodology used. While we are confident in the safety of our products, should additional actions be required, we will communicate that quickly to consumers and our retail partners.” The company has also voluntarily pulled a variety of its dog food products from stores.

On its website, Gravy Train also posted a statement about the investigation. It reads in part: “Please know our internal investigation into this situation is ongoing. We take this very seriously and are extremely disappointed that pentobarbital was introduced to our supply chain. We have narrowed the focus of our investigation to a single supplier and a single, minor ingredient, used at one manufacturing facility. We will take the appropriate steps to ensure this does not occur again.”

Last week, results of the independent tests by Ellipse Analytics were given to the FDA, which declined WJLA’s requests for an interview but noted in a statement that it “will investigate the matter and take appropriate enforcement action.” The agency has so far not issued an update on its website confirming an investigation.