Food In Canada

Hill’s Pet Nutrition sued for alleged fraud

By Food in Canada Staff   

Business Operations Pet Food Editor pick FDA food fraud food law

Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz LLP files a major class action lawsuit against Hill’s Pet Nutrition, a subsidiary of Colgate-Palmolive and a manufacturer of grain-containing pet food products, as well as a group of academic veterinarians and organizations with financial ties to the company.

According to Thomas Burt, a partner with Wolf Haldenstein, the US$2.6 billion damages award sought in the case would be the largest in the history of the United States pet food industry.

The suit, KetoNatural Pet Foods v. Hill’s Pet Nutrition, was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas on Tuesday, February 6th. It alleges Hill’s and the other defendants carried out a co-ordinated scheme to persuade American pet-owners that the grain-free dog food products sold by many of Hill’s competitors increase the risk and severity of a deadly canine heart disease called dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). The scheme allegedly involved a wide range of malfeasance committed by the defendants, most notably fraudulently misrepresenting case data about DCM to the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA spent more than five years conducting a widely publicized investigation into “a potential association” between grain-free dog foods and DCM, only to suspend further investigation updates last year after announcing it had not found sufficient data to establish a relationship between DCM and the products under investigation.

The suit alleges the FDA’s DCM investigation was fraudulently induced by Hill’s-affiliated veterinarians at Tufts University and other major research institutions, all of which have received extensive funding from Hill’s-affiliated entities. The veterinarians allegedly caused the FDA to take drastic action by flooding the agency with hundreds of DCM case reports that were intentionally chosen to overrepresent the commonality of grain-free diets among dogs suffering from the disease.


The FDA’s investigation received major media coverage in 2018 and 2019, sparking a panic over DCM that caused the market for grain-free pet foods to drop by billions of dollars. The suit alleges Hill’s and its co-conspirators then stoked the panic by making false statements about the scientific evidence surrounding DCM, both to the veterinary community and the general public, as well as by manipulating the language of academic papers, using front organizations to hide undisclosed payments to veterinary researchers, and creating Facebook groups and websites to amplify misinformation and suppress dissent.

According to the lawsuit, this scheme produced a financial windfall for Hill’s, a company that had been steadily losing market share to grain-free competitors in the years preceding the controversy. In the four years immediately preceding the launch of the FDA’s investigation, Hill’s lost 20 per cent of its market share. In the five years since the investigation began it has been arguably the fastest growing pet food company in the U.S.

The case was filed on behalf of KetoNatural Pet Foods, a Utah-based petfood startup specializing in the manufacture of low-carbohydrate dog food products. The suit alleges KetoNatural is one of the many smaller pet food brands that were damaged by the false “association” between its products and DCM. Evidence submitted as part of the new suit shows many KetoNatural customers stopped feeding the company’s products to their dogs after being told by veterinarians the products had been shown to raise the risk of canine DCM.

According to Burt, pet food brands such as KetoNatural are just one of several discrete groups that have been harmed by Hill’s and its co-conspirators.

“We know that boutique pet food retailers and pet-owners around the country were also damaged by the false idea that grain-free pet foods increase the risk of canine DCM. As we continue to investigate potential claims against Hill’s and its co-conspirators, we urge anyone who believes they have been harmed by the misconduct described in this suit to contact our offices.”

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