Pet owners seeking justice as class action lawsuits filed against Hills

February 15, 2019
Maureen McKinney, Associate Editorial Director

dvm360, dvm360 April 2019, Volume 50, Issue 4

The pet food recall announced by Hills on January 31 has left untold numbers of pet owners devastated and outraged, and many are now seeking justice.

At least two law firms have filed class action suits on behalf of individuals who claim they lost their pets as a result of the Hill's recall.

San Francisco law firm Schubert Jonckheer & Kolbe LLP announced yesterday that it has filed a class action lawsuit against Hill's Pet Nutrition for selling dog food containing excessive and dangerous amounts of vitamin D.

It's unclear how many dogs have died as a result of eating the recalled Hill's products, but a quick glance through social media indicates that hundreds of owners believe their pets have been affected.

Filed on February 12 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the lawsuit seeks monetary damages and injunctive relief to prevent Hill's from selling pet food with potentially toxic levels of vitamin D.

To say that affected owners are devastated and angry is an understatement. dvm360 spoke with several grief-stricken owners who believe their dogs have died as a result of eating the recalled foods.

The victims' stories

The stories pet owners are sharing are eerily similar.

When Los Angeles pet owner Kimberly Mull's 13-year-old pug-bichon frise mix Precious was diagnosed with diabetes in November, her veterinarian prescribed Hill's Prescription Diet w/d. Mull started noticing signs of serious illness in January, a week before the recall announcement. In a Facebook post she said of Precious: “Her little body couldn't handle the kidney dysfunction and she took a rapid turn for the worse and died.”

Mull describes Hill's response as “very cold, very stock” when she contacted the company. “They were less than compassionate or caring that they killed my fur baby, my daughter's best friend,” she told dvm360.

A Pennsylvania pet owner, who wishes to remain anonymous because she is in discussions with the Chicago law firm Cafferty Clobes Meriwether & Sprengel to become the fourth plaintiff in its suit filed against the company, experienced the loss of her dog in much the same way as Mull, but her experience with Hill's was more compassionate. “The gentleman was very nice on the phone,” she told dvm360. “He kept apologizing for the incident and offered his condolences.” But that didn't make up for her loss.

Her dog began eating one of the Prescription Diet w/d recalled products in early December after being diagnosed with sudden-onset diabetes on November 30 and died about four weeks later. Just before his death, the dog's blood urea nitrogen level exceeded 300 mg/dl and his pancreatic lipase was 4462 U/L (normal range, 200–1800), the pet owner says.

Christina Marie Sawyer also lost her 13-year-old dog Taco a week before the recall announcement.

“Taco's battle started at Thanksgiving when she was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis,” Sawyer told dvm360. “We put her on Science Diet Youthful Vitality Chicken & Vegetable Stew, which she loved.”

Taco stopped eating and started losing weight rapidly after about a week on the diet. He died on January 24. “For a company as large as Hill's not to recognize a potential threat is unfathomable,” she says. “Hill's really dropped the ball on this one and it cost me my family member and friend.”

What pet owners should know

Although Hill's insists that the recall extends only to varieties of canned dog foods, many pet owners are calling for the company to look more carefully at its dry foods after they claim their pets exhibited signs of vitamin D toxicity while on dry Hill's diets.

Many other pet food products have been recalled in recent months for excessive vitamin D levels. Those companies and products are listed here.

Affected pet owners can reach out to Hill's via social media or phone at 800-445-5777.

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