Pentobarbital FAQs


What is Pentobarbital?

Pentobarbital is a barbiturate, a tranquilizing drug sometimes used by veterinarians and animal shelters to euthanize animals by peacefully reducing anxiety, slowly stopping their breathing, and “putting them to sleep.” Pentobarbital was once used as a sleep aid for humans, but was discontinued because of the high risk of accidental overdose. Pentobarbital is also sometimes included in the deadly drug cocktail used for lethal injections of criminals.

How did it get in the pet food?

We don’t know for sure. One possible way is through the use of contaminated ingredients. Rendering plants take slaughterhouse animal tissues and converts them into stable, usable materials like purified fats such as lard or tallow. This rendered material is then sourced by some pet food manufacturers and sold to consumers as wet and dry pet foods. It is possible that animals exposed to pentobarbital were included in the rendering process.

In what pet foods was Pentobarbital found?

In the past year, pentobarbital has been found in two brands. Most recently, pentobarbital has been found in several Gravy Train products. Pentobarbital was also found in Evanger’s pet food in 2017, and the FDA found pentobarbital in a number of anonymous pet foods in a report released in 2002. The Evanger’s case was linked to the death and illness of at least six pets before it was recalled from the marketplace.

Is this illegal?

In addition to being potentially unethical and objectively gross, it is illegal. During the Evanger’s pet food recall, the FDA stated…

“The detection of pentobarbital in pet food renders the product adulterated in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Therefore, it is not acceptable to use animals euthanized with a chemical substance in pet or animal foods. It is the responsibility of the animal protein ingredient suppliers to implement practices at their facilities to ensure that euthanized animals are either not accepted at the facility, or to determine how they died and ensure euthanized animals are segregated from animal protein going for animal food use. Further, it is the responsibility of the pet food manufacturer to ensure that the food they produce is safe for consumption and properly labeled. One way that a manufacturer can do this is by taking steps to verify the identity and safety of the ingredients they receive from their suppliers.”

The lack of testing suggests that the pet food industry may not have learned from the Evanger’s recall. These most recent cases further support the Clean Label Project’s 2017 Pet Food Study findings which revealed extensive contamination (metals, pesticides, etc.) in many of America’s best-selling pet foods.

Aren’t pet food products regulated by the FDA?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is charged with overseeing the safety of pet food. That said, there are no testing requirements currently in place for pet food products with respect to pentobarbital or similar drugs. There is also no regulation or legal definitions of most, if not all, of the assertions made on pet food packaging, such as “human-grade” or “all natural.”

What products were tested?

You can see a link to all the products that were tested here on the Clean Label Project website.

Why haven’t more products been tested for Pentobarbital?

Ideally, the onus of testing for euthanasia drugs shouldn’t fall on independent testing laboratories, little non-profits, or television stations. Brands and retailers are ultimately responsible for the food they produce and sell to consumers. Brands should be held accountable for the ingredients they source and the substances that end up in the products they sell to consumers. Consumers should demand change with their pocketbooks. If you are worried about the potential risks to the health of your pets, only buy pet foods from trusted brands that test.

How do I know if my pet food has pentobarbital in it?

You can find a link to the pet food brands and products that were tested and which ones came back clean and which ones came back positive by visiting our website here. Clean Label Project has a pentobarbital-free testing and certification program and is constantly working with concerned brands to test their products and communicate their ingredient quality commitment to consumers.

What can I do if my pet ate food that has not been tested?

Call the brand and demand to know if they have had their products tested for pentobarbital. If they haven’t, you cannot be sure that they do not contain the drug. Demand that they have their products tested and certified. The health and safety of your pets just isn’t worth the risk.

What should I do if I have been feeding my pet Gravy Train or Evangers?

First, speak with your veterinarian about your concerns. Second, make your voice heard. Call the company! Clean Label Project couldn’t find a phone number to Gravy Train, but we did find a phone number to their parent company Big Heart Pet Brands: 415-247-3000. If you want to call Big Heart Pet Brands parent company, Smuckers, you can reach them here: 888-550-9555.  The number for Evangers is (847) 537-0102.

You can also return your products to the retail store where it was purchased and demand that the retailer do better to ensure that the products carried on their store shelves are safe.

What is Gravy Train doing about the situation?

On February 23rd, Gravy Train voluntarily withdrew numerous skus of Gravy Train, Kibbles & Bits, Ol' Roy, and Skippy products from the marketplace. You can see more details about the actions taken by this manufacturer here.

Sign up for our newsletter and keep coming back for more testing results on pet food and other consumer product categories.