When an animal receives an excessive amount of vitamin D in its diet, it develops a condition known as Hypervitaminosis D, or vitamin D toxicity. What is the significance of vitamin D toxicity, and when should a dog owner suspect that a canine family member is suffering from this condition? Here is the answer that I found in the 1996 textbook Clinical Endocrinology of Dogs and Cats: An Illustrated Text, by Adam Rijnberk. I've inserted "translations" of technical terms in square brackets where appropriate.
"Hypervitaminosis D may result from excessive supplementation of vit D in the diet..." It leads to increased formation of 25-OHD [a form of vitamin D], augmented calcium and phosphate absorption from the intestine, and increased calcium and phosphate reabsorption in the kidneys.""The clinical picture may be dominated by one or more of the signs of hypercalcemia [elevated calcium] such as polydipsia/polyuria [excessive thirst/excessive urination], dehydration, weakness and anorexia [loss of appetite]. If complicated by renal insufficiency [inadequate kidney function], there may be vomiting and other signs of azotemia [abnormally high nitrogen compound levels in the blood]. Routine laboratory investigations will reveal that calcium and phosphate concentrations in plasma and urine are elevated."
Last Friday, researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) alerted pet owners to a link between Blue Buffalo dog food and 16 cases of excessive blood levels of Vitamin D in dogs. The sick dogs had increased thirst and urination; some of them also suffered weight loss, anorexia and signs of kidney damage.
MSU also announced that it was cooperating with FDA and the Michigan Department of Agriculture in an investigation of the dog food. Shortly after this announcement, Blue Buffalo recalled the following products:
- BLUE Wilderness Chicken Flavor: 4.5 lb; Best if used by JUL2611Z, JUL2711Z, JUL2811Z
- BLUE Wilderness Chicken Flavor: 11 lb; Best if used by JUL1211B
- BLUE Wilderness Chicken Flavor: 24 lb; Best if used by JUL1211B, JUL1311B
- BLUE Basics Limited Ingredient Formula Salmon and Potato Recipe: 11 lb; Best if used by AUG2111B, AUG2211B
- BLUE Basics Limited Ingredient Formula Salmon and Potato Recipe: 24 lb; Best if used by AUG2111B, SEP2311P, OCT2611P
- BLUE Life Protection Formula Natural Chicken & Brown Rice Recipe Large Breed Adult: 30 lb.; Best if used by SEP2211P, SEP2311P, OCT2611P
By the time the recall was announced, the known number of sick dogs had risen to 36.
In its recall notice, the Company explained that "...a sequencing error had occurred at the supplier of the dry ingredients for these products. Immediately before producing the ingredients for these specific production runs, the supplier had run a product for another customer that contained a more potent form of Vitamin D used in chicken feeds. It is now believed that there was some level of carry over of this Vitamin D product into the ingredients for the specific manufacturing runs of the BLUE products, thereby increasing the Vitamin D activity to unacceptable levels in the Blue ingredients."
Since posting the original story, I have received comments from some readers, who have described their own experiences with Blue Buffalo and its dog foods. Their descriptions hint at the possibility of additional problems with the company's products. Here is what they had to say.
From Las, who posted this comment on October 12th:
"We have two dogs on this food. They have only been on it since early August. Three weeks ago one of our dogs had a horrible kidney infection. Last night we took our "puppy" (19 months) to the vet because she started drinking so much water and then having accidents. The vet was a little worried and gave us a run if antibiotics and told us to watch her water intake for the next few days and bring her back at the end of this week.
This morning we got a panicked call from him telling us he treated another dog with the same symptoms and the owner had mentioned the food recall. He put two and two together and I have to bring in my girls later today to have lab work done. My girls are feeling very ill and you can tell they don't feel well either.
As for classy, I called Blue Buffalo and.... I wouldn't call the terrible customer service I got today "class"."
From Alice, who emailed me privately on October 11th:
"I had my three Goldendoodles on Blue Buffalo Life Protection Formula Chicken and Rice Adult. I had seen your notice of the recall on Blue Buff. food, and figured that since it was a different variety from the Life Protection, I was ok. however, the last 40 lb. bag I purchased had an inordinate quantity of their "Life Source Bits". Well over half of the bag was these "bits". Since they tout them as being the blend of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, I was concerned that my dogs would get too much of a good thing and I decided to mix the food with another brand to balance the ingredients. In the meantime, I sent a request to Blue Buffalo asking if there would be a problem in feeding it to my dogs without mixing it and in the request, I asked for a prompt reply. I sent my request on 9-24-10 by email. I finally received a reply tonight, 10-10-10. Their reply will follow my long diatribe to you. It includes the text of my email to them. I do not store my dog food in the original bags, so do not have the bag from the food, nor do I have the receipt, however it was purchased at Petsmart and I can show the purchase date from my debit card transaction. I usually save the production information just in case, but for some reason unbeknownst to me, I didn't save it this time.
Now, my questions: What do I do next? I am no longer feeding it to my dogs, but have about half of the bag's quantity left. I do not want another bag of Blue Buffalo!! Is there someplace that I should report this to, and if so, who and where? Needless to say, I am not a happy camper!!"
Blue Buffalo offered the following explanation for Alice's experience, and suggested that she return the product to the retailer for an exchange.
"It sounds as if you may have purchased a bag from the beginning or end of a production run."
And from Anonymous, who posted this on October 13th:
"I wouldn't be surprised if they recall other flavors of their dog food too. My dog got horribly sick several times this summer and I narrowed it down to the Blue Buffalo Lamb & Brown Rice. I took it back to the store and they refunded me. I wish I still had it so they could test it."
My first reaction to Blue Buffalo's recall announcement was a favorable one – it's not often that a company immediately offers to reimburse "... any veterinary or testing expenses related to illness caused by..." a recalled product. But delays in responding to consumer complaints and comments about "terrible" customer service are worrisome. As is Blue Buffalo's complete lack of response to my request for information on the retail distribution of the recalled products.
In the absence of a response from Blue Buffalo, I have surveyed most of the pet supply chains listed on the company's Store Locater web page. I have found only two that have posted Blue Buffalo recall notices on their web sites – PetCo and Pet Supplies Plus. I encourage readers who purchased recalled product from other retailers to post the information below, or to email me directly with the information so that I can help to spread the word.
I hope Blue Buffalo realizes that its reputation for quality products and customer service will be harmed permanently if it does not respond promptly and effectively to complaints and questions. As Alice said in granting me permission to share her experience,
"I hope that Blue Buffalo's rush to enter the market with quality foods is the reason for the problems that they are having. I know they've spent a lot of time and money to introduce it and to promote it to the pet stores. Sloppy production practices may cost it dearly. I know I won't use any of their products again. I had such high hopes for them."
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