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Pet owners report dog deaths from recalled food on social media

Hill's Pet Nutrition is facing the wrath of dog owners who say their pets became ill or died after eating canned food recalled nationwide for elevated levels of vitamin D that can poison a pooch. Yet the company's late January recall is one of many for other dog food brands for the same reason in the last nine weeks.

"The nine companies with the recalled dry dog food back in late 2018 all share a common contract manufacturer," an FDA spokesperson emailed on Friday.

In addition to Hill's,  the U.S. Food and Drug Agency since early November has posted recalls for dog food with elevated, or potentially elevated, levels of vitamin D from at least eight other brands:

Dog owners worried about elevated levels of vitamin D should be on the lookout for signs their pet is not feeling well, along with more frequent drinking and urination, said Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, who spent last Friday evening calling and emailing lists of recalled products to clients at New York City's Animal Medical Center.

Too much vitamin D increases calcium, which is bad for dog kidneys, but a simple blood test would reveal the problem, and there are drugs and treatments to flush out the excess calcium, said Hohenhaus, a veterinarian and staff doctor at the Animal Medical Center.

"So far, I haven't heard of a major number of dogs" impacted in the recalls, Hohenhaus told CBS MoneyWatch. "But sometimes things start small and get bigger, so stay tuned, and check your labels."

Since announcing its recall, Hill's has "engaged with thousands of pet parents on the phone, online and via email," many of whom confirmed their product was not part of the recall, a spokesperson for Hill's emailed. While Hill's declined to say how many dog illnesses or deaths had been reported to the company, it said it was addressing each inquiry with care and concern.

The recall involves about 675,000 cases of canned food, or less than 4 percent of Hill's annual U.S. sales, according to the company. "We are not aware of any link to any earlier product recall," the Hill's spokesperson emailed.

In a message to pet owners posted on its website, Hill's described itself as "heart broken" over the issue. The company also said it had "identified and isolated the supplier error," which involves a specific vitamin mix, and that additional testing of its products had been put in place as a result.

Hill's' recall notices on its Facebook and Twitter pages were greeted with responses from stricken dog owners, many of whom said their pets had become ill or died after eating the recalled food.

"We are terribly saddened by the loss of Olive. We would really like to speak with you on this," the company replied on Facebook to a post from a man who described the death of his greyhound after consuming the recalled food.

Caitlin Gibson, a features reporter at the Washington Post, tweeted her dog died after consuming prescription food from Hill's, and had displayed symptoms of vitamin D poisoning.

In expanding a nationwide recall of dry dog food two months ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration told CBS MoneyWatch six dog owners had reported their pets becoming ill after eating dry food containing potentially toxic levels of vitamin D. "None of those reports were deaths. FDA is continuing to investigate and monitor for additional reports," a spokesperson for the agency emailed in early December.

The agency did not immediately respond to requests for an updated count on the number of dogs that had become ill or died after eating the recalled food.

Since the first dog food recall was announced in early November, many other brands produced by the same contract manufacturer have also been recalled, the FDA said in December. The agency at the time said it was working with that unidentified manufacturer on providing a comprehensive list of affected brands.

"FDA is not able to disclose the name of the contract manufacturer because it is protected confidential commercial information," the agency spokesperson said. "A firm may choose to voluntarily reveal their contract manufacturer, but FDA is not at liberty to do it for them."

Some samples of the recalled dog food were found to contains as much as 70 times the intended amount of vitamin D, a level potentially toxic to dogs and in severe cases could lead to kidney failure and even death, according to the FDA.

In its Nov. 9 recall of bags of Chicken & Potato dry dog food sold by retailers in eight states, Natural Life Pet Products said it became aware of the problem after three pet owners complained of vitamin D toxicity after consuming the product. An investigation revealed a formulation error led to the elevated vitamin D in the product.