Billed by S&M NuTec, as a way to "promote healthy teeth and gums," Greenies are an enormously popular dog treat sold by most pet supply stores. The plaintiffs have prepared the following statement:
"Our dog didn't choke to death on the product. He died from it not digesting and obstructing his intestines. We followed their instructions. Burt was always supervised and he always chewed his Greenies well. Yet he died a painful, horrible death. We believe that S&M NuTec chooses to blame the dogs or their owners instead of taking responsibility. Many owners have come forward and shared their similar experiences, leading us to believe that the company is very much aware of the problem."
Ms. Reiff and Mr. Eastwood allege the "benefits" of Greenies do not outweigh the risks associated with the product. The indigestibility of Greenies is a defect, and had the manufacturer adequately warned of its dangers, the couple would not have provided the treat to Burt, thereby avoiding the cause of his death.
Greenies: A safe or deadly treat?
December 19, 2005
It is the nation's top-selling dog treat, with $315 million in domestic retail sales last year.
It is so beloved by dogs that amused owners have a nickname for it - doggie crack.
And it is the reason, contend Michael Eastwood and Jennifer Reiff of Manhattan, that their miniature dachshund, Burt, is no longer alive.
On July 22, as she'd done regularly for the past year and a half, Reiff gave the 4-year-old rescue dog his Greenies treat. The next day, Burt was on an operating table, where vets removed three feet of necrotic intestine and what looked like a soft foamy green mass.
Two days later, Burt was dead.
The couple says S&M NuTec of North Kansas City, Mo., the manufacturer of Greenies, sent an e-mail expressing sadness for their loss, and offered to pay the almost $6,600 in medical bills as well as $2,000, the estimated purchase price for a mini-dachsie like Burt. In return, Eastwood and Reiff would have to sign a confidentiality agreement and agree not to pursue legal action.
"That incensed us even more," says Eastwood, who along with Reiff has filed a $5 million lawsuit, charging that Greenies are "unsafe, inadequately labeled" and ultimately caused Burt's death.
Invented by a couple plagued by their dog's chronic bad breath, toothbrush-shaped Greenies are marketed as "multifunctional dental treats" that, when used daily, reduce tartar by 62 percent and gingivitis by 33 percent. The company stresses that owners feed the correct size Greenies for their dog's weight and follow the feeding guidelines, which say the treats should not be fed to dogs who "gulp."
(For toy breeds, young puppies and the chew-averse, the company developed Greenies Lil' Bits. It also recently unveiled Feline Greenies for cats.)
Eastwood counters that Burt did not choke on his Greenie and was always supervised when consuming the treat. "The Greenie was a foreign object in his intestines."
S&M NuTec declined to comment on the litigation but disputes there is any problem with the treat's digestibility.
"The digestibility testing that we have with Greenies shows them to be more digestible than the average dry dog food when adequately chewed ... " reads the company's e-mailed statement. "If a dog swallows a large piece of Greenies, or a whole treat, the digestion process will be extended because of the decrease of treat surface area to digestive liquids and stomach action."
Veterinarian Brendan McKiernan of Wheat Ridge, Colo., a board-certified internist, disagrees. "They don't dissolve in the stomach," he says. "When we take them out, they're not digested. And they are causing both esophageal and intestinal problems in dogs to an extent that is concerning." Esophageal puncture is what killed our neighbors Pom. SHIRL
S&M NuTec says Greenies obstructions are "rare," with most caused by improperly following feeding instructions.
But McKiernan believes incidents are underreported. Earlier this year, at a meeting of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, a group of gastroenterologists discussed obstructions caused by "compressed vegetable chew treats" such as Greenies. By an informal show of hands, he says, "a significant number said, 'Hey, we have problems.'"
Concerned about such cases in his own practice, McKiernan set out to study reports of obstructions from 1999 to 2004 in the Veterinary Medical Database, which records cases from two dozen vet schools.
The results, outlined in a multi-authored article soon to be submitted to the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, found that, after bones and fish hooks, compressed vegetable chew treats were the third-most-common culprit in obstructions.
McKiernan notes that the cases mostly involved small dogs.
But big dogs have their issues with compressed vegetable chew treats, too. Elaine Gewirtz of Westlake Village, Calif., says she fed Greenies to her Dalmatians and "never had problems" - until Jimmy went to live with her daughter and started getting more than his usual ration.
The 5-year-old Dal had three bouts of unexplained vomiting. As Gerwirtz walked him outside the vet's office that last time, "he vomited, and there was all this green stuff.
"I really think it's hit or miss," Gerwirtz says, noting that voracious chewers like Jimmy may be prone to problems. Still, she no longer gives her dogs Greenies.
It's a decision that Eastwood wishes he had been given the opportunity to make.
"We always felt if this product had fair warning and fair labeling," he concludes, "we would never have put our dog in harm's way."
WRITE TO Denise Flaim, c/o Newsday, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747-4250, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
. For previous columns, www.newsday.com/animalhouse
Copyright 2005 Newsday Inc.
FDA bones up on Greenies
BY DENISE FLAIM
Newsday, L. I. NY
January 7, 2006
Up until recently, Jean Marcellino of Huntington kept an odd souvenir on her dining-room breakfront -- an uneven green ball of compressed wheat gluten better known as a Greenie, the most popular dog treat in the country.
In March, on a visit to a friend's house, Marcellino gave half of a Greenie to her miniature poodle Nicha. Though the 3-year-old pooch is usually a careful eater, "I remember the Greenie being gone a little faster than normal."
That night, Marcellino noticed Nicha drinking large amounts of water. By the next morning, the 6-pound dog was vomiting and had diarrhea.
Marcellino's vet soon recovered the source of the problem -- and her new piece of decor -- on his operating table: The Greenie fragment was lodged in Nicha's duodenum, a part of the small intestine.
"They advertise it as 100 percent edible, but this was a lump that didn't break down," said Marcellino, who had $2,400 in vet bills, about half of which was paid by her pet-insurance policy.
Michael Eastwood and Jennifer Reiff of Manhattan say Nicha's experience isn't isolated. In July, their miniature dachshund Burt died after eating a Greenie; on Nov. 30, the couple filed suit against S&M NuTec of North Kansas City, Mo., which manufactures the popular treats. Eastwood says several dog owners have contacted them via their Web site, http://www.burtscause/
.com, to report similar experiences with obstructions, at least one of which was fatal.
S&M NuTec contends that Greenies are safe when fed properly: On its Web site and product packaging, the company says owners should feed the correct size treats for their dog, and not give them to "gulpers" who will not chew them adequately.
"Sales right now are in the millions per week, and it's a rare occurrence that people call us to say they have that type of problem," said S&M NuTec consumer-care manager Janet Buckman.
Since Greenies were introduced in 1998, 600 million of the chlorophyll-colored treats have been sold worldwide.
The Food and Drug Administration is now investigating reports about the dog treat and asks consumers to report adverse events at www.fda.gov/ cvm or www.fda.gov/opacom/ backgrounders/complain.html.
"We try to tell people that Greenies are not for all dogs," Bradley Quest, the company's staff veterinarian, said. "If a dog gulps anything, it can have digestive issues."
Veterinarian Dominic Marino of Long Island Veterinary Specialists in Plainview says his hospital recovers six to eight Greenies a year. "Anything that makes it to the stomach needs to be converted to oatmeal form, and if it doesn't, you're at risk," said Marino, who has extracted everything from corn cobs ("They show up every Fourth of July") to an 8-inch steak knife (another barbecue casualty).
S&M NuTec also sells Feline Greenies, which Quest said is not compressed like its canine counterpart. Several veterinarians board-certified in cat care contacted for this story said they had not heard of any adverse reports about the cat treats.
Greenies are marketed as a way to improve a dog's oral health -- a claim that's "not just hype," said Dan Carmichael, a board-certified veterinary dentist at the Center for Specialized Veterinary Care in Westbury. "Greenies have been shown to reduce the accumulation of the plaque and tartar that cause periodontal disease, which is the most common disease in dogs."
Carmichael notes that daily brushing is the best way to maintain a dog's dental hygiene. But not everyone is that diligent, and although scenarios such as Marcellino's are serious, "it's my perception, at least, that that risk is small."
Marcellino contends that however slim the odds, they are cold comfort to those who have gone through the anguish of having a beloved animal's life in danger.
"I was really traumatized by the whole thing," she said, adding that her parents persuaded her to toss out the surgically extracted Greenie a couple of months ago. "I used to look at it every day and say to my puppy, 'I'm so sorry.'"
Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.