A new lawsuit is blaming a common brand of dog food for the deaths of thousands of pets.
Plaintiff Frank Lucido claims that one of his dogs died and two others became ill after being fed exclusively Beneful for over a month. All three of the pets were being kept in separate houses at the time due to home renovations.
"All three of them weren't exposed to a singular condition," Jeffrey B. Cereghino, Lucido's lawyer, told NBC. "The one constant they had was they were all eating the same dog food."
The lawsuit, which was filed Feb. 5, seeks $5 million U.S. in damages, according to CNN.
This is the first time Purina has faced legal action over Beneful, but rumours about the food's culpability in pets' illnesses and deaths have existed for years. The customer complaint website Consumer Affairs contains hundreds of stories of pets who developed seizures, diarrhea, skin problems and even liver failure after eating the Beneful line of foods.
One pet owner, Barbara from Farmington, N.H., wrote that she fed her 10-year-old Golden Retriever, Oliver, Beneful wet food on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and noticed nothing abnormal. But in the evening of the 25th, she found him dead on her living room floor with a bloated stomach. A vet visit a week beforehand found he was healthy, she wrote.
"I can't be certain that this is what killed my dog, but it seems probable after reading what other people have written."
The suit names two substances it says are toxins: propylene glycol, a Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved food additive that Purina says on its website is also used in salad dressings and cake mixes. The company uses it to keep its dry kibble moist.
It also hasn't been found to be toxic.
But the lawsuit names another possible culprit: mycotoxins, a byproduct of mold found in many grains, according to the Daily Beast.
Dr. Gregory Möller, a professor of environmental chemistry and toxicology at the School of Food Science at the University of Idaho and Washington State University, told the site that mycotoxins can be missed in testing, and that pet food safety isn't regulated the same way as human food.
“It is a very large industry. There is attention and concern about quality, but there is a difference in how the concern is managed."
Purina told NBC in a statement that Beneful had no quality issues.
"We believe the lawsuit is baseless, and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves and our brand. Beneful had two previous class action suits filed in recent years with similar baseless allegations, and both were dismissed by the courts."
However, the company, along with pet treat maker Waggin' Train LLC, agreed in May of last year to pay $6.5 million U.S. to pet owners who believed the companies' jerky treats, which were made in China, were to blame for thousands of illnesses and deaths.
Just weeks before, the FDA said treats, many imported from China, were linked to more than a thousand dog deaths, thousands of complaints about illnesses, and even sickness in three humans.
A connection between Beneful and pet deaths hasn't been proven, but hundreds of pet owners, including Barbara, are looking for answers.
"People should definitely be forewarned about this possible threat and danger to dogs. I can't help but think that my beautiful, loyal, most loveable dog might possibly still be alive if I hadn't given him Beneful dog food as a Christmas 'treat.'"
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