On January 5 2020, Facebook user Nikki McDonald shared the following post about the brand Blue Buffalo’s Dental Bones product, reporting that her dog Dallas was gravely injured and nearly killed after she gave him the product:
In under a week, the post was shared hundreds of thousands of times. Facebook’s “view edit history” function was not operational for the post, which had clearly been updated to include responses to comments, information about a lawsuit, and captions indicating the user had licensed the photographs to an agency.
In the edited version of the post visible to users on January 10 2020, the poster wrote “Dallas is continuing to improve and should make a full recovery,” beginning:
There are hundreds, possibly getting into the thousands of cases like Dallas. I can’t go through all the comments 😞
Attorney handling the class action lawsuit against Blue Buffalo is Michael Reese at [email protected]
If your pet got sick please report it to the FDA at https://www.fda.gov/…/SafetyHe…/ReportaProblem/ucm182403.htm and on www.consumeraffairs.com and contact Blue Buffalo for a complaint form.
Vets diagnosis is hemorrhagic gastritis (HGE) same as so many others💔. It is a severe reaction to one of the ingredients (unknown which) in this product. I’ve received hundreds of messages from people who have endured the exact same thing (especially since November/December) from various Blue Buffalo products 😥💕
I’ve added a few screenshots of other people’s stories with permission****I can’t add them all there are so many 😞
McDonald’s original post appeared to be the portion below, and started with describing how she purchased Blue Buffalo Dental Bones on January 4 2020 at a PetSmart location. She stated she gave Dallas one of the bones on the night of January 4 2020, adding that her pet vomited blood overnight.
After watchful waiting, Dallas’ condition purportedly deteriorated and he was transported to a veterinarian for additional testing:
OP—>Don’t buy this shit. I grabbed these at Pets Mart on Saturday thinking Blue Buffalo $40 dental “bones” would be good stuff (heathy, holistic, wheat free, no chemical dye) for a bit of tartar buildup. My dog Dallas had one yesterday evening (we supervised him and he chewed it up). Sometime overnight he started throwing up blood ( total was 14-18 times before the vet got it under control with meds). I initially wrote it off to a bit of gastro upset and the red in his vomit to the dehydrated beets in it. But he wouldn’t eat chicken and rice and couldn’t even keep water down. Then he started drooling and dragging his feet and then couldn’t even stand.
Needless to say we rushed him to the vet. When I looked up this brand I was shocked to find similar experiences posted online, especially in the last few weeks.
He tested negative for pancreatitis. X-ray showed no obstruction (which we were fairly positive of even beforehand seeing as we watched him eat it) but it showed that his stomach is super irritated and pancreas was a bit off too. Bloodwork is all wonky cause his RBC is so high from dehydration.
At that point, McDonald noted that the veterinarian’s tests were inconclusive — her conclusion that Blue Buffalo Dental Bones had caused Dallas’ idiopathic illness was based on information she obtained by searching on Google for complaints about that specific product. McDonald said that Dallas was infrequently ill and rarely had stomach problems, that she supervised his consumption of the Blue Buffalo Dental Bones, and that she located several similar complaints from owners whose dogs had fallen ill after consuming the same product:
He’s staying overnight at the vet on IV fluids. Endoscopy showed a lot of damage in his stomach, too much for surgery. We will know more tomorrow. This has been a nightmare 💔 feels so wrong being at home without my dog and I’m beating myself up for not doing my research first like I usually do 😥
I’m sharing because;
1. This guy has an iron stomach and usually nothing gets to him. 5 yo and NEVER had any previous health issues or food allergies ☹️
2. He ate ONE and it was supervised, he broke it down and consumed it properly
3. If you google this brand there are eerily similar complaints especially in the last few weeks. Diagnoses I keep seeing are pancreatitis and HGE.
If it saves even one person the heartache we are enduring right now then it’s worth it. A higher price doesn’t mean better quality or safe!
ETA: If you can’t share my post you might have to click the original post. It is shareable on my wall but some page settings have sharing turned off.
According to McDonald, the diagnoses mentioned by other distressed dog owners were pancreatitis and HGE, presumably “hemorrhagic gastroenteritis.” McDonald also updated to include additional anecdotal reports from dog owners whose pets became ill or died in a similar fashion. Those commenters also believed that their pets were sickened by Blue Buffalo Dental Bones (or possibly other Blue Buffalo products.)
We checked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) animal/veterinary recalls site for any complaints involving Blue Buffalo Dental Bones; the only result related to Blue Buffalo on a whole involved a 2017 voluntary recall of “one production lot of BLUE Wilderness® Rocky Mountain RecipeTM Red Meat Dinner Wet Food for Adult Dogs, as the product has the potential to contain elevated levels of naturally-occurring beef thyroid hormones.”
That release described a specific “lot” of one variety of canned dog food, and a completely different and unrelated risk posed by that voluntarily recalled product:
Dogs ingesting high levels of beef thyroid hormones may exhibit symptoms such as increased thirst and urination, weight loss, increased heart rate and restlessness. These symptoms may resolve when the use of the impacted food is discontinued. However, with prolonged consumption these symptoms may increase in severity and may include vomiting, diarrhea, and rapid or difficulty breathing. Should these symptoms occur, contact your veterinarian immediately.
According to the release, it appeared that illness in one dog — not a large number, as the Facebook post implied about Blue Buffalo’s Dental Bones — triggered the widespread recall. In that instance, the FDA and Blue Buffalo monitored the case, and the dog made a full recovery:
Although the Blue Buffalo Customer Care Resource Team has not received any reports of dogs exhibiting these symptoms from consuming this product, the FDA advised Blue Buffalo of a single consumer who reported symptoms in one dog, who has now fully recovered. Blue Buffalo immediately began an investigation, however, and after working with the FDA, Blue Buffalo decided it would be prudent to recall the one production lot in question.
An absence of reports was not due to the FDA not logging reports like the one in the Facebook post. On page 10 of 12 unlabeled consumer reports, a separate brand of dental bones were cited by a consumer as the cause of her dog’s euthanization. Unlike the dog in the Facebook post, that pet had consumed many of the dental bones over a long period before falling ill:
My dog began vomiting at around 7:00pm on Monday, February 4, 2013. He continued to vomit throughout the night, at least once per hour. He became very lethargic and would cry out in pain if touched. I took him to the vet the next morning when he had not improved. He was on IV fluids all day and put out < 2cc of urine, and that urine was mostly blood. The blood tests revealed that he was in complete renal failure. The veterinarian told me that he would die within 24 hours due to his complete loss of kidney function, and that my best option was to have him euthanized because he was in pain and would continue to get worse as death grew closer. Prior to this, he was a happy and healthy indoor dog. He was playful and loving, and I took care of him as if he were my child. He was on a diet of Blue Buffalo Brown Rice and Lamb formula, and he was not allowed any table scraps or other foods. I recently began feeding him “Dingo Dental Bones For Total Care Minis” at a rate of about one bone per day or every other day. This is the only product out of the ordinary that he came into contact with.
In the consumer-submitted report, the dog’s owner described a dental bones brand separate from Blue Buffalo as “the only product out of the ordinary that he came into contact with.” That descriptor alluded to the difficulty in pinpointing sudden and severe illness in a beloved pet, particularly dogs.
More to the point, the majority of pet owner reports involving a pet’s meals in the day or days before the pet fell ill were likely to include one or more prominent national brands, of which Blue Buffalo was one. Dogs could consume any number of non-food items before falling ill in the night, and the pet’s owner would recall having given their pet Purina, Alpo, or Blue Buffalo just prior to their sudden illness. In that respect, narrowing down the cause of illness would be perpetually likely to involve a major brand of pet food consumed the day before the pet fell ill or died.
McDonald appended several screenshots of messages to her post, which had roughly thirty images in total. Of all the times readers shared this post, that indicated that perhaps one or two dozen users contacted her with suspicions about the safety of Blue Buffalo Dental Bones or other Blue Buffalo products.
The two messages visible on McDonald’s main post involved complaints about dog food, but not Blue Buffalo Dental Bones. The first complaint was from a woman who urged fellow dog owners not to feed their pets Blue Buffalo brand dog food, not chews. The second was even more vague, albeit heartbreaking, containing a woman’s claim that she switched her dog to Blue Buffalo “a few months” prior to the dog’s death due to unspecified causes — not due to dental bones, nor specifically something like pancreatitis or hemorrhagic gastroenteritis.
It is important to remember that Blue Buffalo and similarly prominent pet food brands are fed to millions of pets in the United States on a daily basis. Pets who fall ill or die suddenly are extremely likely to have eaten a brand’s pet food due to their ubiquity and necessity alone. Pets are also unable to provide their owners with information about their illnesses or diets, leading heartbroken “pet parents” to attempt to piece together a definitive account of what sickened their dog or cat. In these examinations, a prominent brand of pet food is almost always likely to be on the list.
Brand-related pet panics typically seem to center at least first around food, an issue addressed during a different panic in 2013. During that investigation, veterinarian Dr. Stephen Ettinger noted that “it is rare that their food is responsible for the illness.”
Ettinger further pointed out that anecdotal claims often take center stage when consumers feared danger in pet products:
“When a pet is sick, pet owners often look first to the pet’s food as the cause. However, it is rare that their food is responsible for the illness,” said Dr. Stephen Ettinger in an article published by DVM360.com, a trade publication for veterinarians. Ettinger, an academic veterinarian at Cornell University, recently commented in a ConsumerAffairs story about similar complaints involving Beneful dog food.
“These statements (the consumer postings) are not backed by any scientific studies, and the conditions described in the postings are amongst the most common conditions seen in everyday veterinary practice,” said Ettinger said after reviewing many of the posted Beneful reports.
Veterinary hospital organization VCA Hospitals maintained a page about hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, explaining the condition and citing “dietary indiscretion” as a primary cause:
Acute hemorrhagic diarrhea syndrome (AHDS) (also known as hemorrhagic gastroenteritis [HGE]) is an acute (sudden) disorder of dogs characterized by vomiting and bloody diarrhea. Most cases occur without warning in otherwise healthy dogs. The main and most disturbing clinical sign is large amounts of bloody diarrhea, very often bright red. Some dogs may have a painful abdomen, decreased appetite, lethargy (fatigue), or fever.
What causes AHDS?
The exact cause of AHDS remains unknown (idiopathic). It may be related to dietary indiscretion (ingesting non-food items or different foods), immune-mediated disease, toxins, or pancreatitis. Stress, anxiety, and hyperactivity are thought to be possible contributing factors in many cases.
On January 6 2020, Blue Buffalo specifically acknowledged the viral Blue Buffalo Dental Bones complaint on Facebook, writing:
We’ve heard from many of you on the recent social posts regarding our BLUE Dental Bones. As pet parents ourselves, there is nothing we hate more than hearing of a sick pet. Thank you for reaching out and showing your concern.
We’ve contacted this pet parent to learn more about their pup’s recent health issue and would like to assure our loyal BLUE customers that our BLUE Dental Bones undergo significant quality and digestibility testing to ensure we provide the safest and healthiest product possible. We take all customer complaints very seriously and will continue to investigate this issue.
Many of the top comments came from pet owners lodging complaints about their dogs’ illnesses and Blue Buffalo products. The top comment was from a user who did not mention Blue Buffalo Dental Bones, but rather “product”:
Our healthy 2 year old dog spent days in the er with hemmoragic gastronitis on the 22nd after eating your products as well. Many many dogs are all having the same symptoms. All at the same time all with you being the common denominator. We are getting our food and treats tested. We will never use your products again and are warning everyone we can to never use your products! You are making dogs sick and some are dying horrible deaths!
Other users referenced a completely separate set of anecdotes (regarding reported heart problems in dogs), and several commenters left well wishes for Dallas while also adding that their dogs were healthy users of Blue Buffalo Dental Bones. A second commenter also referenced what appeared to be kibble, not dental bones:
Now we are another customer that just got back from the vet with a dog diagnoses of pancreatitis and a very hefty bill after opening a brand new bag Sunday morning. Luckily he only ate that one meal and then threw it up within the hour and hasn’t had a bite since. We thought we might loose him. Hopefully our wallet will keep him alive because you’re food wants otherwise.
One person relayed a story of a different product being blamed for heart issues in humans, a product purportedly vindicated after a viral controversy. And a third shared a story of a recently deceased pet, referencing similar symptoms but not any specific mechanism or product:
Alarming that your dog food and treats are still on shelves.
My 5 year old completely healthy fur baby showed the same symptoms on the 23rd of December, took her to the vet and she passed away on Christmas.
I will never buy a single product of yours again, and I will make sure everyone I know with fur babies is aware of these incidents and hopefully will also stay away from your products.
A fourth person confidently claimed that 99 percent of veterinarians do not recommend Blue Buffalo. When asked to back up that assertion, the commenter said that they were “just repeating what they heard” from a single veterinarian.
A highly viral January 2020 claim was one of several Facebook pet-related safety warnings, urging dog owners to steer clear of Blue Buffalo Dental Bones due to the purported grave illness of one individual dog and based on a distressed owner’s Google searching. A handful of fellow dog owners came forward to report similar suspicions, but many of their shared stories involved either different health conditions or different Blue Buffalo products. The Food and Drug Administration had no information regarding a safety risk with Blue Buffalo Dental Bones, and its only result among recalls was a voluntary one based on the symptoms of one dog that later recovered. Although it remained possible Blue Buffalo Dental Bones were causing illness and death, the claim was difficult to narrow down due in part to the fact most dogs are fed commercially produced dog food from a handful of national brands — including Blue Buffalo.
Correction: A previous version of this story had the date of the original post as January 5 2019, not January 5 2020. We apologize for the error. -bb