Mars recalls kibble in UK over high vitamin D levels

Says 'small number' of pet owners claim dogs have been sickened

Published: January 21, 2021
By Ross Kelly

Mars Inc. photo
Pedigree Mixer Adult Dry Dog Food Original is one of three types of kibble recalled by Mars in the United Kingdom for containing potentially poisonous levels of vitamin D.

Mars Inc. has become the latest pet-food maker to recall products containing dangerous levels of vitamin D, a problem it says is limited to three types of kibble sold in the United Kingdom.

Britain’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) last week issued an alert on the products, which are sold under the brand names Pedigree and Chappie and have best-before dates ranging from February 2022 to May 2022. Dry foods identified by 11 different batch codes are affected.

Mars has been contacted by a "small number" of pet owners claiming their dogs have been unwell after eating the food, according to a company statement emailed in response to questions from the VIN News Service.

The world’s biggest pet-food company said it is working with the pet owners to determine whether any cases of illness are directly linked to the recalled batches.

"We have conducted a detailed investigation including finished product testing, and our data clearly shows that the raised vitamin D levels only appear in the specific products we are recalling," the company stated.

Mars declined to answer several other questions, including the volume of product recalled, when the company became aware of the problem and the identity of its raw-materials supplier. The FSA also did not answer the questions, saying the information was commercially sensitive, and directed VIN News to Mars.

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that helps animals regulate their body’s balance of calcium and phosphorus. However, ingesting too much vitamin D can cause vomiting, diarrhea, drooling and increased urination and thirst. At excessive doses, vitamin D can cause hypercalcemia, or abnormally high blood-calcium levels, leading to bone loss and kidney or bladder stones. Untreated, the condition can cause renal failure and death.

Because vitamin D is fat-soluble rather than water-soluble, excess amounts are not rapidly excreted in urine but are stored in fat tissue and the liver.

Mars warned that its recalled products could harm pets if consumed "over several weeks."

Excessive vitamin D levels led to pet food recalls in 2018 and 2019 in the U.S., the most notorious of which involved Hill's Prescription Diet and Science Diet canned dog foods. The problem spurred ongoing litigation.

"Human error" by a supplier of vitamin premix was to blame for dangerously high levels of vitamin D in the foods, Hill's Pet Nutrition officials said. Hundreds of animals were sickened by the foods and some died, allegedly due to vitamin D toxicosis.

Vitamin mix for Hill's foods was supplied by Dutch chemicals group DSM Nutritional Products, which later revealed that one of its employees had accidentally added an extra drum of vitamin D instead of a drum of vitamin E to batches of Hill's dog food. DSM Nutritional Products is not involved in the Mars recall, its senior director of global communications Gareth Mead told VIN News.

Mars has not disclosed how its raw material was sullied, or whether there will be any recriminations with its supplier.

"We launched the recall after identifying that a raw material supplied to us — an ingredient mix, custom made specifically for these products — was out of specification," the company stated. "We have acted quickly to recall all items that could potentially be impacted and to try and reach as many pet owners as possible with the information."

A tidal wave of class actions filed by pet owners against Hill's accused the company of negligence, fraud, false advertising and being too slow to respond to the problem. Thirty or so of the suits have been consolidated into multidistrict litigation and transferred to the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas. Hill's is based in Kansas.

Attorneys close to the case told VIN News that a preliminary settlement has been reached and will be considered next month by Chief Judge Julie A. Robinson, who is presiding over the litigation.

Other pet food makers involved in recalls for excessive vitamin D since 2018 include Sunshine Mills (multiple brands), ELM Pet Foods, ANF, Natural Life Pet Products and Nutrisca, according to a listing of recalls by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 

Jennifer Fiala contributed to this report.

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