The Terrible Truth About Euthanasia Drugs in Pet Food

There needs to be more accountability and quality control in the pet food industry.

The pet food industry needs to step it up to keep our pets healthy. By: massahirotama

Petful has been dutifully following the most recent recalls on pet foods containing pentobarbital. Last year, a number of Evanger’s dog foods were found to contain pentobarbital. This year, numerous Smucker’s products, including Gravy Train, were recalled.

Although all recalls are of concern because they put our pets in danger and make us lose even more faith in the pet food industry, many pet foods recalled for problems stemming from salmonella, for example, may occur from human error, not human deceit.

When significant doses of pentobarbital is found in pet food, that may be a horse of a different color.


Pentobarbital is a barbiturate, most commonly used in the euthanasia of pets and horses. Animals or animal byproducts intended for food consumption are never supposed to be euthanized with a drug like pentobarbital. They are supposed to be killed in slaughterhouses, usually by the captive bolt method.

Only the sickest “downer” cow that can’t make it in transit might be euthanized with pentobarbital. These animals are picked up by animal renderers. If the renderer knows the animal was euthanized with drugs, no part of that animal or animal byproduct should be sold to a pet food company.

Why It’s in Pet Foods

The most likely explanation for pentobarbital in pet food is the presence of a euthanized animal in the food chain.

When pentobarbital is found in pet food, people have jumped to the unsettling conclusion that euthanized dogs and cats were used to manufacture the pentobarb-contaminated pet food, since euthanizing dogs and cats is the most common use of this drug.

Dog and cat meat has not been found in any of these recalled foods. DNA testing has proven that horse meat was found in the Evanger’s pentobarb-tainted food, and Smucker’s is reporting that only DNA from cows, sheep and pigs was found in the animal fat contaminated with pentobarbital. They claim they are stepping up their screening for pentobarbital.

Is it too little too late? All batches should have been screened for pentobarbital at all times. Smucker’s should also reconsider the use of the cheapest meal and fat products in their foods and check the integrity of their supply chains before winning back the public’s trust.

Pentobarbital Danger

Let’s look at the most highly documented cases researched by the FDA regarding pentobarbital in pet food:

  • In 2002, after pentobarbital was found in pet food, the veterinary division of the FDA did an in-depth study of how dangerous pentobarbital is when consumed by dogs. The levels found in 2002 were considered not dangerous and at least 50 times below a level that would even make a minor change in a dog’s liver.
  • Pentobarbital was found in Evanger’s dog food last year. The level was high enough to cause death in a dog. More on this sad case in a bit.
  • The most recent case involving the multiple Smucker’s pet foods is pointing to a low level of the drug in the food, hopefully not enough to cause long-lasting or even mild chronic damage to a dog. This is still under investigation.

Small amounts of pentobarbital is cleared as a toxin in a normally functioning liver of an animal or person. Take it from me — I checked into this the first time I inadvertently sprayed euthanasia solution all over my face and tasted that thick, bitter drug on my lips and in my mouth. (This happened because my needle was not securely on the syringe.) Yuck and stupid on many levels!

The few drops of 100% straight pentobarbital solution I ingested was a much greater dose than the trace levels of the drug found in most of these tainted pet foods. That being said, I don’t intend to repeat the event, and pentobarbital should never be found in any foods.

There’s more to read! Continue reading here:

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Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD

View posts by Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD
Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, is a small animal and exotics veterinarian who has split her time between a veterinary practice in Pelham, Massachusetts, and her studio in New York City. Dr. Lichtenberg is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine with 30 years of experience. Her special interests are soft tissue surgery and oncology.


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