Cause: Potential for mold growth
Announcement: Email to customers of Pet Supplies Plus, dated April 30, 2021 (archived here)
What was removed: All flavors and sizes of Zuke’s Mini Naturals dog treats, including the following:
- Zuke’s Mini Naturals Chicken Recipe, 6 oz. and 16 oz., SKU 013423330517 and 013423330210
- Zuke’s Mini Naturals Chicken Recipe, 0.5 oz. sample size, no SKU number
- Zuke’s Mini Naturals Peanut Butter & Oats Recipe, 6 oz. and 16 oz., SKU 013423330524 and 013423330227
- Zuke’s Mini Naturals Duck Recipe, 6 oz. and 16 oz., SKU 613423330533 and 613423330236
- Zuke’s Mini Naturals Salmon Recipe, 6 oz. and 16 oz., SKU 013423330548 and 013423330241
- Zuke’s Mini Naturals Pork Recipe, 6 oz. and 16 oz., SKU 613423330557 and 613423330250
- Zuke’s Mini Naturals Rabbit Recipe, 6 oz. and 16 oz., SKU 613423330564 and 613423330267
- Zuke’s Mini Naturals Beef Recipe, 6 oz. and 16 oz., SKU 613423330588 and 613423330601
No other Zuke’s treats or products are part of this action, which the company is taking pains to call a “voluntary removal” of products from stores rather than a recall. In a comment thread on Twitter, the company replied with the following statement, which said the problem was simply a “quality issue with a recent batch”:
“Thanks for reaching out. We’re pet parents, too, and only want the best for our four-legged family members. For this reason, we are proactively and voluntarily removing Zuke’s Mini Naturals from store shelves as well as various online retailers, due to a quality issue with a recent batch of products.”
A Twitter user asked if the product removal applied to all Zuke’s Mini Naturals or just the chicken. The company responded that “all Zuke’s Mini Naturals” are being removed from sale “to ensure pet parents only have the best experience with our products.”
Customers were finding mold in Zuke’s Mini Naturals months ago.
Back in November 2020, Twitter user kmaud posted this photo of what she called a brand-new bag:
— kmaud 👻 (@spooooookyszn) November 29, 2020
On February 17, 2021, a Twitter user named George Thomas tweeted a photo of mold in a bag of Zuke’s Mini Naturals that he had just bought on Amazon:
— 🦖George Thomas 🦕 (@_grthomas_) February 18, 2021
Then, about a month after that, on April 3, 2021, another Twitter user, Samantha L., posted a photo of mold in her dog’s bag of treats:
Went to give Enzo his bedtime treats. Came out with a hand full of mold. Has anyone else had issues with @ZukesPets lately? This is a practically brand new bag, nowhere near the expiration date, and Enzo was so sad about it. pic.twitter.com/EhZKC5BKaG
— Samantha Lampear (@SammieLou5188) April 3, 2021
Twitter user LoriLind posted photos of mold she had discovered on April 22, 2021, in a bag of chicken-flavored Zuke’s Mini Naturals. “You have serious quality control issues!” she tweeted to the company.
@ZukesPets I bought a bag of your chicken minis on 4/22/21 and it is full of mold, see pictures. Amazon says this is not returnable! You have serious quality control issues! I would have DMed you but you don’t allow messages!? pic.twitter.com/jcMO7uHwva
— LoriLind (@LoriLind) April 30, 2021
“We are so sorry about this experience,” Zuke’s responded by Twitter.
Reports of Sickened Dogs
LoriLind later tweeted that “This is not just a bad batch. There are hundreds of dogs who have been sickened.” She referenced reviews on Zuke’s store on Amazon, which she said “has hundreds of complaints about all the different flavors.”
Sure enough, some of the reviews of Zuke’s Mini Naturals on Amazon tell a story of a possibly much bigger problem than Zuke’s is letting on about.
For example, in February 2021, a customer named Stacy F. posted a photo of a moldy bag along with a story about how her dog had been sick for days:
Another customer posted a similar photo on April 6, 2021. She called it a “horrible” and “gross product” that “could have poisoned my dog.”
She added that her dog has been vomiting recently, and “rancid, expensive treats may be the cause.”
Even on Zuke’s own website, there are unsettling reviews pointing to possible issues with the product. About a month ago, a customer commented:
“I got these treats as they were recommended by my dog trainer. My puppy absolutely went crazy for them but after MAYBE 10 treats spaced out over an entire day, my puppy started having severe diarrhea which lasted 48 hours. He is about 20 pounds and has never had sensitivity issues. He is very healthy and consistent with his bowel movements so I knew something was up with the treats as nothing else was new.”
Other customers speculated that “something changed” with the formula.
“My 4 lb Yorkie used to love these treats but they must have changed the formula bc she won’t even touch them now. You can see the difference, they are bigger and lighter in color,” one said.
Another commented, “Based on my interaction with customer service, the ingredients have changed which has made them dry and basically crumble. Our puppy who once lived these and was trained with these began spitting them out and eventually not even attempting to eat them.”
In a private message to a customer, obtained by Petful, a company rep said recent batches of Mini Naturals treats “may have an increased potential to develop mold over time.”
Not a Recall. Really, Though?
Zuke’s maintains that this is not a recall but a “voluntary removal.” And what they seem to mean by that is a market withdrawal.
In a private message to a customer, obtained by Petful, the company stressed that, “to clarify, we did not recall any of our treats…. We did, however, proactively and voluntarily remove Zuke’s Mini Naturals from store shelves as well as several online retailers…. This is a production issue and not a food safety issue!”
Separately, on Twitter, a company rep stressed that “A quality issue is what is happening, they are not meeting our high quality standards. A food safety issue would mean there is a safety concern.”
So, what’s the difference between a recall and a market withdrawal?
Mold may not qualify as just a “minor” concern — especially if it turns out dogs have been sickened after consuming the treats. If that were the case, it would probably qualify as at least a Class I recall, where “There is a reasonable probability that the use of or exposure to a violative product will cause serious adverse health consequences or death.”
So Zuke’s may be refusing to call this a recall, but the FDA will have the last word once more information becomes available.
No Prior Recalls in Over 25 Years
Zuke’s has been around since 1995 and has never issued a recall, to our knowledge.
The company’s Mini Naturals treats, introduced in 2003, are described on the Zuke’s website as “wholesome, tender mini bites” that are “the perfect little size to fit every trainable moment that pops up.” They contain no corn, wheat or soy and are sold in 6 oz. and 16 oz. pouches.
Based in Durango, Colorado, Zuke’s Performance Pet Nutrition was acquired by Nestlé Purina PetCare in 2014.
At the time of that announcement, pet parents were vocal in their dismay. “This is not something to be proud of. Purina makes some of the worst dog foods on the market,” a woman named Christina L. posted on Facebook.
Yet the company maintained that the deal was “exciting” and promised that “every recipe will remain the same, or be improved, but will never be compromised.”
Four years later, Zuke’s integrated its operations with Merrick Pet Care, which is also part of the Nestlé Purina lineup. “When you take our strong legacy and deep expertise in natural treats, plus Merrick Pet Care’s premium, fast-growing brands, you have a terrific recipe for success,” said Brent Gleckler, general manager at Zuke’s.
Most of Zuke’s employees were laid off as part of the 2018 Merrick deal, and the company’s headquarters was moved to Texas from its longtime home in Colorado.
What to Do If You Have Zuke’s Mini Naturals Dog Treats
All sizes and flavors are being removed from stores. It is unclear when and if they will return.
If you have any Zuke’s Mini Naturals, we recommend disposing of them and not feeding them to your pet.
Zuke’s maintains the issue is not a “food safety issue” but says it will issue refunds for customers who are not satisfied with their purchase. For additional information, you can contact Zuke’s by email or by calling 1-866-985-3364.
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There were more recalls in 2021. See the previous one:
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