Pentobarbital and Beef Tallow: Is Your Pet’s Food Safe?

If you are active on social media or spend a lot of time on the internet, you have probably heard some stories about pentobarbital being found in pet food. If you’re a loving pet parent, you are undoubtedly concerned about this possible danger to your pet. Sometimes it can be hard to separate fact from fiction when you read about things online. Here are some facts about pentobarbital poisoning, how concerned you should be, and what you can do to make sure your pet’s food is safe.

Over the past couple of years, there have been a few reports of beef tallow contaminated with pentobarbital being used in pet foods. This tranquilizer is generally used to euthanize animals that are fatally ill or injured. When ingested, the drug could cause nausea, dizziness, drowsiness, and in extreme cases, possibly even death in dogs and cats.

How does pentobarbital end up in pet food?

In every case of pentobarbital contamination of pet food, the drug has come from the ingredient beef tallow. Beef tallow is a cheap source of calories and nutrition that also tastes good to animals, so it is commonly added to pet food.

How common is pentobarbital contamination?

While pentobarbital poisoning is not necessarily common, there have been a few cases of contamination in pet foods ranging from inexpensive to pricey brands over the last two years.

  • In May 2018, Champion Petfoods USA Inc. was notified that they had accidentally been sent three shipments of beef tallow that contained pentobarbital. By the time the company was notified, a portion of the tallow had already been used in a small portion of their products. There was no recall issued in this case. Since this incident, Champion has ended its association with the company that supplied the contaminated tallow. They now require their new supplier to include test results for pentobarbital contamination with every shipment.


  • Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Company issued a voluntary recall of several of their canned pet food products back at the beginning of 2017. The source of the pentobarbital contamination in their products has never been determined.


  • Pentobarbital was also found in some varieties of Big Heart Brands canned pet food back in early 2018. Beef tallow was also the apparent source of contamination in this case. Big Heart Brands include Gravy Train, Kibbles ‘n’ Bits, Skippy, and Ol’ Roy brands of dog food, and several brands of cat food. A class action lawsuit was filed in this case. Big Heart Brands is now using a different supplier for their beef tallow.


How can you keep your pet safe?

Although this problem isn’t common, there is some cause for concern, especially since these foods were distributed nationwide before the contamination was discovered. Since beef tallow seems to be the source of the contamination, consider choosing a pet food that uses a different protein source, such as lamb, fish, turkey, or chicken. If the ingredient label lists beef tallow, look for a different brand.

The website DogFoodAdvisor lists all current pet food recalls to help you stay informed. You can even sign up to have recall alerts delivered right to your inbox. If you are still concerned about pet food contamination, talk to your vet to see if homemade pet food might be a good option for your pet.