Veterinarians call for evidence-based approach in wake of Beneful lawsuit

Veterinarians call for evidence-based approach in wake of Beneful lawsuit

Latest action has Purina playing defense and veterinarians asking consumers to back away from the Internet and consult a veterinarian.
Feb 27, 2015

Photo courtesy of Nestlé Purina PetCare CompanyThe usual hum of consumer-driven pet food chatter increased to a fever pitch this week as social media, blogs and the 24-hour news cycle chewed on the latest lawsuit against Nestlé Purina's Beneful dog food. Filed in the U.S. District Court of Northern California, the lawsuit—brought by pet owner Frank Lucido—claims that Beneful is to blame for the illness of two dogs and death of another. Lucido hopes others will join him in the class action suit.

Keith Schopp, Nestlé Purina PetCare's vice president of corporate public relations, released a statement stating there are no quality issues with Beneful. "We believe the lawsuit is baseless, and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves and our brand," Schopp says.

To date, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not identified a problem with Beneful dog food or issued a warning for the product as it has with jerky pet treats, which have been of high concern to consumers.

"There has been no substantiated evidence that Beneful has caused problems when fed to dogs. Poison control groups have not expressed concerns, nor has the FDA," says Stephen Ettinger, DVM, DACVIM, who serves as the Nestlé Purina Fellow in Veterinary Medicine.

"I understand that when an animal is sick, pet owners are upset and often look first to the pet’s food and environment as the cause," Ettinger says. "But when evaluated carefully, clinical signs more often are due to primary medical conditions."

The lawsuit states, "On information and belief, these illnesses and deaths were caused by substances in Beneful that are toxic to dogs." It points first to propylene glycol, an FDA-approved food and drug additive, which the suit calls "an automotive antifreeze component that is a known animal toxin." The lawsuit also mentions mycotoxins, a family of fungus that occurs in grains.

Jessica Vogelsang, DVM, the author behind the blog, has recently addressed the topic of misinformation in the world of pet nutrition. Vogelsang says accusations that propylene glycol is toxic seem like a legal team grasping for straws. "We have to make sure—before we pull out the pitchforks—if we're going after the wrong thing," she says.

Ettinger says he has read many of the comments in the news and online regarding Beneful. "None provides evidenced-based rationale for making claims about Beneful having a negative impact on the health of a pet," he says.

Vogelsang echoes the need for evidence-based science. "If there's anything going on with your pet, you need to talk to your veterinarian and report to the manufacturer," she says.

She adds that process is essential to data collection and what leads to science-based investigations if they are warranted.

"I firmly believe that any abnormality noted by a pet’s owner should be brought to the attention of their veterinarian," Ettinger says. "Concerns regarding a particular product should immediately be brought to the attention of the manufacturer so that information can be collected and product appropriately monitored. The veterinarian and the pet owner then can decide whether to contact the FDA," he says. The FDA's Safety Reporting Portal can be found at

"People need to take everything with a grain of salt," Vogelsang says. "This lawsuit by itself would not be reason enough for me [to discontinue use] if my pet were doing well. If there's proof—that's a different story."

Beneful has faced two previous class actions suits regarding Beneful in recent years. Both were dismissed in court.

Propylene Glycol

The ironic idiocy about accusing propylene glycol because it's in anti-freeze is the fact that pet advocates fought for years to get the highly-toxic ethylene glycol anti-freeze replaced with the non-toxic propylene glycol type. Now stupidity rules, as people with no understanding of science are gaining power all over the internet. Fireball Cinnamon Whisky was recently banned by a couple of European countries for containing "anti-freeze," i.e. propylene glycol by politicians with no knowledge of science.

Propylene glycol in Beneful

While there is an abundance of evidence that propylene glycol can be consumed by dogs with little adverse effects, there is also a body of evidence that when propylene glycol is consumed in the presence of endotoxins, there is an adverse effect that is disproportionate to either compound alone.Comprehensive Toxicology (Second Edition) Vol. 9 in the section on Endotoxin Induced Hepatotoxicity lists propylene glycol as a potential toxicant when absorbed from the intestinal tract in combination with endotoxins, having an adverse effect on the liver. Purina's Beneful contains byproducts of rendering that introduce endotoxins into their formulation, they also add propylene glycol which facilitates the movement of the endotoxins into the lymphatic system and then into the plasma.This combination has been shown to aggravate LPS (endotoxin) induced sepsis through production of TNF-a and IL-6.
All pet foods containing byproducts of rendering will test positive for endotoxins, with the potential for causing disease, but those having propylene glycol as a humectant can result in more serious outcomes.


Benefull doesn't cause allergies. Ingredients in a food can cause allergies.


In response to gilbertvet - I do not doubt that a dog in your care demonstrated improvement in allergic signs when switched from Beneful to another diet, but I could say that in response to just about every food out there. It says more about a dogs first exposure and tendency to develop food allergies than about Beneful. Let's not fan the fire.


I have seen two adverse effects from owner feeding Beneful. The most prominent one was food allergies. I encountered many dogs with food allergies that could be attributed to their diet of Beneful. Removal of Beneful from their diet caused a remission of the symptoms noted. The second was also associated with an allergic reaction to the food. Secondary vomiting was reported. Again, removal of the inciting diet caused the symptoms to cease. Many of my clients were feeding Beneful and their dogs were doing wonderfully. Just the occasional dog that had an allergic reaction to some product in the food. All symptoms ceased immediately on removal of Beneful from the diet. No long term or lingering symptoms were noted.