FDA: Pet food plants ‘likely’ contributed to illness or death of hundreds of dogs

Violations of federal protocols at manufacturing plants that produce pet food likely caused hundreds of pets to become ill or die, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday. 

In a warning letter to Midwestern Pet Foods, Inc., the FDA said inspectors found the company’s food safety program to be inadequate, alleging that more than 130 deaths and 220 illnesses in dogs may have been caused by the dog food brand.

According to the letter, the initial inspection of Midwestern’s Chickasha, Oklahoma plant was triggered by reports of illness or death in dogs that had eaten SPORTMiX brand dry dog food manufactured by Midwestern. Samples of SPORTMiX were later found to contain levels of aflatoxin as high as 558 parts per billion (ppb). The FDA considers pet food to be adulterated if it contains more than 20 ppb of aflatoxin.

RELATED: Freshpet recalls dog food due to potential salmonella contamination

According to the FDA, Aflatoxin is a poisonous substance produced by certain molds that can cause illness and death in pets. It can grow on pet food ingredients such as corn, peanuts and other grains. At high levels, aflatoxins can cause illness (aflatoxicosis), liver damage and death in pets. The toxins can be present even if there is no visible mold on the pet food. 

"The FDA is dedicated to taking all steps possible to help pet owners have confidence that the food they buy for their animal companions is safe and wholesome. We are issuing this corporate-wide warning letter because inspections of Midwestern Pet Foods, Inc.’s manufacturing plants revealed evidence of violations, which were shared across multiple plants and were associated with the illness or death of hundreds of pets who had eaten the company’s dry dog food," Steven M. Solomon, director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, said in a statement.


Border terrier puppy 10 weeks old eating from dog bowl (Photo by Tim Graham/Getty Images)

After inspecting Midwestern’s Chickasha plant, the FDA also inspected the company’s three other manufacturing plants. The inspections revealed evidence of significant violations of the Current Good Manufacturing Practice, Hazard Analysis, and Risk-Based Preventive Controls for Food for Animals regulation.

Earlier this year, nearly a dozen brands of pet food from the plants were also voluntarily recalled. 

As of Aug. 9, the FDA was aware of hundreds of deaths and illnesses that may be linked to eating brands of pet food manufactured by Midwestern, according to the agency. Not all of these cases have been confirmed as aflatoxin poisoning through laboratory testing or veterinary record review, so the count is approximate.

The FDA has requested a written response from the company within 15 working days stating the specific steps they have taken to correct any violations. Failure to adequately address any violations promptly may result in legal action, the agency noted.

"It is imperative that manufacturers and distributors of pet foods understand their responsibility to comply with all requirements of federal law and FDA regulations and, when applicable, to implement a robust hazard analysis and risk-based preventive controls program. We’ll continue to hold companies accountable and protect animal health as a core element of the FDA’s public health mission," Solomon continued.

RELATED: Dog food recalled due to elevated levels of vitamin D

Separately, earlier this week, Wet Noses Natural Dog Treat Company also recalled approximately 51,000 packages of Simply Nourish dog food due to it containing elevated levels of vitamin D, according to the FDA.

The FDA advised consumers to immediately stop feeding the products to their pets. Affected Simply Nourish frozen dog food products were distributed at PetSmart stores nationwide.

Dogs ingesting elevated levels of vitamin D may experience vomiting, loss of appetite, increased thirst, increased urination, excessive drooling and weight loss.

When consumed at very high levels or over an extended period of time, vitamin D can lead to serious health issues in dogs including renal dysfunction.