Dog Food Recall: Hills + Vitamin D Toxicity (update)

Keep reading to learn about the recent Hills diet recall + how they responded to me.

Now, that might sound ridiculous, but there's just been an FDA announcement that a large number of pet foods have been recalled because they contain massive levels of Vitamin D, a strategy that is used to deadly effect in some rat poisons.


At the moment I seem to be talking all about pet food. My last post was all about raw food potentially giving cats tuberculosis and not too long ago I was discussing the potential link between grain free diets and heart disease in dogs!

Well today I want to talk about the recent FDA announcement that a large number of different dog foods have been found to contain really high levels of vitamin D.

Why is vitamin D poisonous?

What vitamin D does is to primarily increase the absorption of calcium and so maintain blood calcium levels. If we get really, really high levels of vitamin D, essentially an overdose, then we get really high calcium levels within the blood.

What happens next is that this calcium starts to be deposited in different organs within the body. So you get little clumps calcium crystals being deposited in all the different body organs. The really common and serious one is the kidneys.

Now the kidney's are rubbish at healing themselves and at the same time they can be very sensitive to damage. Once a certain amount of kidney damage has taken place then that's simply game over. It's fatal.

This is exactly what happens when we give our rats a really high dose of Vitamin D. They effectively die because their kidneys fail after effectively being transformed into big blocks of calcium. Most rat baits are actually warfarin based which does nothing to calcium levels but instead causes uncontrolled bleeding. While that sounds bad, it is actually much more treatable than your dog ingesting a vitamin D based rat poison.

Don’t be mistaken by the fact that because vitamin D is becoming increasingly recommended as a supplement for humans this is a minor issue that is being overblown.

What dog diets are affected?

The FDA announcement states that the levels of vitamin D that have been found in the affected dog diets are around 70 times the recommended amount! That is a huge error and the implication could be deadly.

The problem seems to be that all of these affected dog food producers have bought their ingredients from one single manufacturer. So one single manufacturer has produced a batch of a certain ingredient(s) or even complete foods where a significant error has been made in the manufacturing process, and this has then been distributed or included in the dog diets sold by different brands. To make matters worse, the long list of known affected dog foods may not be complete and it's certainly possible, the FDA say, that even more dog foods will be included in this recall as more information comes to light.

So the list of dog foods that have been recalled is too many for me to list here. Make sure you check out all the latest on the FDA website.

The signs of vitamin D poisoning in dogs

If you've got any concerns that your dog is showing any signs of illness because of vitamin D then it is vital you get them to your vet as soon as possible. So what are the signs of vitamin D poisoning? Well, they can be varied but may include:

  • Vomiting

  • Weakness + Depression

  • Loss of appetite

  • Increased drinking + urination

  • Vomiting + diarrhea

  • Constipation

  • Seizures + muscle tremors

  • Abdominal pain

  • Excessive drooling

If you're feeding your dog any of these affected diets you should definitely stop feeding them. This is not something that we want to mess around with. Once we get really high vitamin D levels, then actually treatment is incredibly challenging. Once calcium has started to be deposited in the kidneys, or elsewhere within the body, then there's no way we can really reverse that. And so once a dog is past a certain point then death is pretty much inevitable.

To be on the safe side, if your dog is being fed any of these affected diets and they're experiencing any illness then just take them to your veterinarian. Let them know what your dog had been eating, have them checked over, get some blood tests run and see what the problem is. If it is vitamin D poisoning then getting treatment early means there may be a chance that your dog will be able to fully recover.

Just last week the pet manufacturer Hill’s issued a recall of some of their prescription diets (find out which ones here) because they were found to contain very high levels of vitamin D. I reached out to them for some answers

“Hill’s Pet Nutrition is voluntarily recalling select canned dog food products due to potentially elevated levels of vitamin D.”


I know I was not the only one to be worried by this news, and also let down as I have always considered Hills to be one of the leading pet food manufacturers, leading the way in the creation of diets proven to help treat multiple diseases as well as maintain and optimize health in general.

And so I reached out for some answers, advising them that I was also asking on behalf of the Our Pets Health Community:

“I hope you will be able to answer some questions I have in relation to the recent recall of some Hills canned products.

  • Is this linked to the same supplier that was responsible for the recall of other brands of pet food?

  • If there is a link, then why has it taken Hills so long to discover that some product lines were affected given the other recall took place 2 months ago?

  • What quality controls do each and every batch of all your diets go through before being released? How is this now changing to ensure similar problems in all key ingredients does not happen in the future (not just vitamin D)

  • One of the big reasons for recommending premium brand maintenance diets is not just the benefits to health, but also the perceived guarantee in ingredient safety and quality. Having always been a Hills fan, this current recall seriously questions this perception when it involves a significant abnormality in a key ingredient that would be thought to have been closely monitored, especially given the implications of getting levels wrong with vitamin D in particular. This recall in that respect is very different from the historic melamine recall.”

After a couple of days, this is the reply I received:

“First and foremost, we’re heartbroken about this situation, which involves a limited quantity of our canned dog foods, and we are taking it very seriously. Hill’s people are working with pet parents to listen to their concerns.  As pet parents ourselves, we understand the gravity of health issues with our pets. Our team of veterinary professionals is engaged with vet hospitals and clinics to respond to their questions.

In the case of Hill’s, our investigation confirmed that, due to a supplier error, a certified ingredient was shipped to Hill’s that contained elevated levels of vitamin D outside of our specifications. We are not aware of any connection between Hill's recall of specific canned dog foods and other recent recalls of pet food due to excess vitamin D.

To prevent this from happening again, we now require the supplier of our vitamin mix to conduct additional quality testing on every batch of this ingredient delivered to Hill’s.  In addition, we are also strengthening our own testing protocol for incoming ingredients as an additional safeguard.

Whether it’s conducting industry-leading research, developing breakthrough nutrition, or working with veterinary professionals, Hill's is driven by science and a passion for pets.”

How do you feel about this answer? I know it will be no consolation to anyone whose pet has become unwell or died as a result of this vitamin D poisoning. It’s certainly going to have serious implications for Hill’s as a company and it’s going to take them a long time to win back trust in their products.

I only hope that all the pet food manufacturers can learn a serious lesson from this situation so that it never happens again.

If you are at all worried about your pet as a result of this recall then get in touch with your veterinarian.

Our Pet's Health: because they're family.