Complaints that Purina pet food has sickened pets have been circulating on social media in recent weeks, sparking fear for dog and cat owners.
But Purina adamantly denies there are any issues with its products.
“Pet parents continue to be understandably scared by an online rumor that there is an issue with Purina pet foods. This rumor is false, and we are saddened to see the confusion and fear that it has caused,” the company said in an online statement Monday.
The claims got amplified in a Facebook group for pet owners, called Saving Pets One Pet @ A Time, in early December. Group administrator Kelly Bone wrote in a post that she had received multiple reports of dogs or cats becoming suddenly ill or dying after eating Purina Pro Plan, a pet food formula for dogs and cats that comes in wet and dry varieties.
“I started noticing in my group that we started having quite a few pets getting sick,” Bone said. “When I would follow up with [owners] to say, ‘Well, what are they eating? When were their most recent vaccinations, flea, tick medications, all that other stuff?,’ the common denominator was Purina.”
Bone said she has received 969 reports of dogs or cats getting ill after eating Purina food, including 234 deaths. The symptoms have included lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle weakness, seizures, rapid weight loss and rectal bleeding, she said.
The theory has also proliferated on TikTok, where users warned about Purina products, citing the Facebook conversations.
Purina said its quality assurance team investigated the rumor and “found no data or trend that would indicate an issue.”
“There are no health or safety issues with our products, and they can continue to be fed with confidence,” the company said in its statement.
This back-and-forth has left some pet owners searching for answers — including James Diehl, a resident of Long Island, New York.
One of his dogs, Carly, suddenly lost her appetite in September, Diehl said. By the following month, the 14-year-old rottweiler was lethargic and had diarrhea, he added. Diehl said doctors discovered a blood clot in her heart but didn’t think it had caused the gastrointestinal symptoms. Carly died in November.
The next month, Diehl’s dog Petri lost his appetite and was lethargic, he said. The 17-year-old dachshund died two days before Christmas.
Diehl still has two dogs, an 8-year-old dachshund named Bear and a 6-year-old rottweiler named Graham. Bear developed similar symptoms in December, Diehl said, and was in critical care. He is still struggling to eat back at home, Diehl added.
Diehl’s wife, Irene Nunes-Diehl, said the three older dogs consumed Purina products all their lives. Carly and Petri had been eating Purina Pro Plan wet food when they developed symptoms, she said, and Bear had been eating Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets NeuroCare. Graham, however, was adopted from a shelter last month and has not gotten Purina food, Diehl said, nor has he had health issues.
Diehl said his veterinarian couldn’t explain why the other dogs got sick. But a friend told the couple about the Purina rumors, and the two now attribute the illnesses to the food.
“This is the only explanation I can come up with,” Diehl said. “I mean, God, to lose two dogs in a month and almost lose a third, there’s got to be some correlation. But proving it? I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to prove it.”
Lorie Westhoff, a Purina spokesperson, said Nunes-Diehl filed a complaint with the company on Monday, and it has reached out. Purina plans to request more information, including veterinary records, Westhoff added.
She said the Saving Pets One Pet @ A Time group has not given the company details about the complaints it received.
For example, Westhoff said, Purina “spoke with one person from this group who had shared her story and was unwilling to provide us with vet records or food samples and would not allow us to contact her veterinarian.”
“Without more information, we simply cannot investigate despite being more than willing to do so,” she said.
Westhoff further suggested that two people who helped spread the allegations have promoted brands that compete with Purina in the past. One is TikTok creator Rachel Fusaro, who has more than 276,000 followers on the platform and posted videos about Purina that have since been taken down. Fusaro’s Instagram has featured several paid partnerships, and according to her Amazon page, she may earn commissions on purchases of certain dog food brands. She did not respond to a request for comment.
Westoff also named Dr. Judy Morgan, a veterinarian who partners with a particular dog food brand and is a moderator for the Saving Pets One Pet @ A Time group. Morgan warned about Purina products on YouTube and Instagram earlier this month.
“There seem to be clear benefits to them promoting this rumor,” Westhoff said.
But Morgan told NBC News she has not profited from her warnings to pet owners. She recommends multiple dog food brands on her social media accounts and e-commerce site, she said, adding that she is paying to get Purina food tested in an independent laboratory.
“I am not trying to make money off of this. I am actually spending my own money to get this problem solved,” Morgan said.
She said she grew concerned about Purina pet food after reading reports in the Facebook group, as well as customer reviews on sites like Chewy and Amazon.
Purina has not recalled any product on the market, and the Food and Drug Administration has not requested or mandated that it do so. The FDA said pet owners and veterinarians can report illnesses via a form online.
“While the agency cannot comment on specifics of these particular illness reports at this time, generally speaking when the FDA becomes aware of pet illnesses, we will evaluate them and determine what — if any — FDA action may be warranted,” an FDA spokesperson said.
Kenneth Simpson, a professor of small animal medicine at Cornell University, said he had not heard from colleagues or pet owners about problems related to Purina products.
“In my experience the vast majority of commercial pet food producers are ethical and rank diet safety as their top priority,” Simpson, who serves on Purina’s scientific advisory board, said, adding: “If a pet food manufacturer becomes aware of an issue after manufacture when a food is in the marketplace, they will issue a recall.”
Purina voluntarily recalled a prescription dog food, Pro Plan Veterinary Diets EL Elemental, early last year due to potentially elevated levels of vitamin D. The nutrient is essential to dogs, but excess amounts can be toxic.
That recall has no known link to the illnesses recently reported on social media.