Another day, another round of pet food lawsuits, recalls, misinformation, and drama. I suspect this is going to be a big one! On February 6th, 2024, Keto Natural Pet Foods filed a massive class action lawsuit against Hill’s Science Diet. Keto Natural Pet Foods vs. Hill’s Pet Nutrition is a hot topic, with a controversial argument.
They claim that Hill’s Science Diet and a handful of top veterinary specialists “participated in an egregious, wide-ranging, and damaging campaign of coordinated, for-profit, faux-scientific misinformation.”
Here is the list of Defendants listed in the lawsuit:
- Hill’s Science Diet
- Morris Animal Foundation – Mark Morris Institute
- Dr. Lisa M. Freeman – Board Certified Veterinary Nutritionist
- Dr. Darcy B. Adin – Board Certified Veterinary Cardiologist
- Dr. Joshua A. Stern – Board Certified Veterinary Cardiologist
- Dr. Ryan C. Fries – Board Certified Veterinary Cardiologist
- Dr. John E. Rush – Board Certified Veterinary Cardiologist
To put this in simple terms, Keto Naturals pet food is alleging that Hill’s Science Diet and the above list of highly-educated veterinary specialists fabricated the entire grain-free DCM heart disease debate to gain back lost market share from boutique and small food brands.
What is the “Grain-Free DCM Heart Disease Debate?
This issue in pet food revolves around concerns that certain grain-free diets may be linked to an increased incidence of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) in dogs. While some believe that grain-free and boutique diets can contribute to DCM, others argue that insufficient evidence exists to establish a direct causal relationship, prompting ongoing discussions and research in the pet food industry. You can learn more about this HERE.
I have so many thoughts. As always, our blog relies on published evidence, common sense, and cited research. We do not resort to fear-mongering or insincere sensationalism! This blog post is your one-stop place to learn more about this issue. Please like, share, and follow. Read on, friends.
Keto Naturals Ketona Pet Food
To better understand the source of this lawsuit, I did some digging into the company behind it.
Keto Naturals is a boutique pet food company in the truest sense of the word. According to Grips Intelligence, their yearly sales revenue is below $1 Million U.S.D.
Compare that to Hill’s Science Diet, whose 2023 revenue sits at $4 Billion U.S.D.
Keto Naturals markets their pet food as a low-carb Keto and “natural” diet option for pets.
The ketogenic diet trend in humans has led to the emergence of low-carb, high-protein, high-fat pet foods marketed as “keto” options for dogs and cats. (Learn more about diet trends, toxic diet culture, and white supremacy, here1)
However, while some pet owners are drawn to these products due to their alignment with human dietary fads, there is an ongoing debate among experts about the suitability and safety of ketogenic diets for animals. There is minimal research supporting the use of Ketogenic diets, while a considerable body of evidence suggests various potential problems associated with them.
Numerous specialists emphasize that Ketogenic diets may not be suitable for most humans either2, due to the connection with yo-yo dieting, disordered eating, and potential risks to internal heart, liver, and kidney health.
The Keto Naturals Brand & Founder
Here are some other things we know about Keto Naturals / Ketona Pet Food and its founder:
- Their food is co-packed by big factories that make many other brands for other companies.
- There is no qualified nutritionist on staff.
- It is unclear where the recipes are from, and if a qualified nutritionist consultant was used in their creation.
- Keto Naturals does not participate in or publish peer-reviewed research or feeding trials.
- They have a “science” page on their website pointing to a belief that carbs are fattening for humans and dogs. That is a theory that has remained unsubstantiated and is often refuted in published research.
- A lot of their marketing is centered around bashing competitors (Such as the Farmer’s Dog) and other food types (including raw and fresh), as well as AAFCO regulations and standard practices for food nutrient testing.
- Their website states that their foods have never been associated with a single case of nutritional DCM. However, their market share is abysmal. Some of the revenue comes from supplements they sell, not complete diets. The company has only been around since 2018, and very few dogs eat their food.
- Keto Naturals’ outspoken founder and CEO Daniel Schulof is a lawyer. He is not an animal scientist, biologist, qualified nutritionist, or veterinarian.
Despite having no formal education in animal nutrition, biology, or veterinary science, Daniel Schulof has positioned himself as an expert authority on this topic and even published a book that he says has been critically acclaimed.
He does have a $200 certificate in pet nutrition from a RACE-approved veterinary CE online course. He openly declares his readiness to challenge anyone with superior credentials, firmly believing that his knowledge exceeds theirs.
This information is easy to find via a quick Google search, where his LinkedIn profile is publicly visible.
He is boldly challenging a group of veterinary researchers and specialists who possess significantly more education and expertise than he does.
I’m going to say something controversial about Keto Natural Pet Foods vs. Hill’s, but hear me out.
This news has spread rapidly across social media, leading to increased interest in Keto Naturals and higher engagement with their content.
By submitting a controversial and potentially frivolous lawsuit, costing around $400 U.S.D., the brand has garnered significant attention in the pet community. Holistic veterinarians and “consumer advocates” are buzzing, selectively promoting information that supports the arguments presented in the lawsuit.
Keto Naturals History & the DCM Debate
Daniel Schulof (founder of Keto Naturals) is no stranger to engaging in this controversy. He practically invented it.
In the lawsuit document, he references an article that was published in the JAMVA on December 1st, 2018.4 This article was, at the time of his dispute with it in 2019, the most widely read article on the JAVMA website.
He wanted that article removed, so he created a website called “Veterinary Integrity” and collected the signatures of veterinarians, scientists, human medical providers, representatives of grain-free pet food companies, and individual pet owners. His petition demanded the removal of the above editorial commentary piece from the JAMVA. (Read his demand letter HERE). 5
Despite the submission of the petition to JAVMA, the article was not retracted.
Certainly, the signatures he amassed predominantly reflected the views of a minority subset consisting of “holistic” veterinarians, pet food companies, and individuals inclined towards extreme “wellness” ideologies that often overlook scientific evidence. These signatures did not align with the sentiments of the majority of veterinarians and pet owners.
Keto Natural Pet Foods vs. Hill’s Lawsuit & Arguments
Determining whether Keto Naturals has a case against Hill’s Science Diet would depend on various factors, including the evidence presented, legal arguments, and the interpretation of relevant laws and regulations.
Author’s Note: Hello Danes does not necessarily agree with the following statements and arguments made in the Keto Naturals vs. Hill’s Science Diet lawsuit filing. This is being provided for informational purposes only:
In the text of the lawsuit (which can be found here)6, the company implies and believes that:
- Hill’s Science Diet collaborated with several veterinary specialists to falsely claim that all “non-traditional” dog foods raise the risk of canine DCM.
- They deceitfully encouraged the FDA to investigate DCM cases by cherry-picking data.
- Studies have not proven definitive causation.
- They popularized the term “BEG” diets (Boutique, Exotic, Grain-Free) to implicate competitors and used blogs, websites, and social media to shape the narrative.
- This led to significant losses for “BEG” pet food companies like Keto Naturals, which alleges its reputation was unfairly damaged.
- Veterinarians who spread information about grain-free diets received it from Hill’s Science Diet and the Veterinary Defendants, raising concerns about funding and influence.
- The Veterinary Defendants also have a conflict of interest due to their involvement in research funded by Hill’s Science Diet.
In this specific case, it seems like a class action is being pursued. This means that other small pet food companies could potentially join the case and seek compensation from any eventual judgment or settlement (if there is one, and that is a big if).
As a journalist, I typically strive to remain impartial while supporting my argument with published research and science.
It’s worth pointing out that the founder of Keto Naturals seems quite upset by what he feels is a loss of consumer trust in his brand (and thus, revenue), and he wants somewhere to place the blame.
Conveniently, his argument also happens to stand on a very controversial platform.
Grain-Free Diets and DCM Heart Disease in Dogs
In 2014, Veterinary Cardiologists initiated communication with the FDA regarding an alarming trend they had been noticing of atypical heart disease. This led the FDA to begin collecting data from Veterinary Specialists (some of whom are defendants in this lawsuit).
An announcement from the FDA in 20187 (four years later) aimed to gather more information from affected pet owners, sparking a prolonged debate that continues into 2024. Coincidentally, Keto Naturals Pet Food was started in 2018. The discussion had already been happening, and they were late to the party.
Despite the implication made in the lawsuit that “no research has proven a link between grain-free foods and heart disease in dogs”, there is a lot more to that story.
A study published in December 20229 showed that dogs fed non-traditional diets showed lower cardiac function and higher ventricular volume than dogs fed diets without potatoes or pulses. This study, like others, underscores the necessity for ongoing research and exploration into the matter.10
Veterinarians nationwide consistently observe a rise in atypical heart disease cases among patients fed non-traditional, BEG, or grain-free diets. Many instances reportedly show improvement or reversal with diet change.
While it’s very possible that most dogs can eat BEG-style diets their whole lives without issue, some cannot. It may take years to sort out why.
The Keto Natural Pet Foods Inc. lawsuit against Hill’s Science Diet is adding fuel to the flames. To deny the hundreds of pet parents, whose pets were diagnosed with nutritional DCM and were harmed by boutique pet foods, is disingenuous.
Moreover, nutrition science is a highly complex and expanding area of research. It’s concerning that the owner of a small company, who is a lawyer and not a veterinary scientist, feels confident in arguing so egregiously against something about which he has limited knowledge and personal experience.
Given his background as a lawyer, one would anticipate his understanding of the peer-review process in research and science. However, it is troubling that he dismisses any critical studies and discussion on this topic, attributing it all to perceived financial influence and conflict of interest.
Does Keto Naturals Have a Case Against Hill’s Nutrition?
I’m not a legal professional, so I can’t provide a definitive answer. However, I’m open to sharing my thoughts and speculations on the matter.
Frivolous lawsuits are often considered baseless, lacking in legal reasoning or evidence to support the claims made. They may be filed for reasons such as harassment, intimidation, or to exploit the legal system for personal gain (see above, this is exceptionally good marketing for Keto Naturals brand).
Frivolous lawsuits can waste time and resources for both parties involved and can clog up the court system.
I observe a fledgling brand (Keto Naturals/Ketona) investing its limited time and resources into challenging top veterinary specialists and a large company (Hill’s Pet Nutrition) that is backed by extensive volumes of peer-reviewed scientific research.
At its core, that is frivolous.
The suggestion that multiple veterinary researchers have colluded with a single company to deliberately undermine small brands like Keto Naturals (whose revenue, even when combined with several other smaller brands, poses no threat to Hill’s bottom line) is far-fetched.
To prevail in this case, they’ll need to provide substantial evidence that these events occurred and were intentional. Many statements in the legal filing appear akin to a toddler’s tantrum, which may not be taken seriously by a judge.
Keto Natural Pet Food attributes its stagnant growth to the DCM “scheme” allegedly orchestrated by Hill’s Pet Nutrition and its purported co-conspirators, overlooking the simple fact that there may just not be much interest in Keto Dog Food among consumers.
The popularity of the human Keto diet trend is waning as people become more aware of the health risks associated with extreme and restrictive diets. It’s logical to assume that a boutique pet food company attempting to capitalize on this trend would face challenges, regardless of external factors.
With many things in the world of pet food, there are two sides.
On one side, there’s the often anti-science “holistic” faction, advocating for what they view as a more “natural” approach. Unfortunately, many adherents to this philosophy regularly undermine the credibility of experts and engage in the propagation of conspiracy theories. This side stands firmly with Keto Naturals, as for years they have shared the same unsubstantiated arguments that he does.
On the other side, there’s the pro-veterinary research faction, committed to uncovering the truth through scientific methods, diligent peer-reviewed research, and evidence-based practices.
It will be interesting to see how this shakes out, but for now, I’m choosing to continue standing with science.
Disclaimer: The information provided regarding the KetoNatural Pet Foods Inc. vs. Hill’s Pet Nutrition Inc. lawsuit is for informational purposes only. We are not legal professionals, and any information presented is a journalistic interpretation and should not be construed as legal advice. Additionally, our site is not affiliated with, or funded by the FDA, Hill’s Science Diet, or Veterinary Researchers.
- Diet culture is rooted in racism, white supremacy, and colonialism, Marisa Crane
- Ketogenic diet: What are the risks? U.C. Davis. Natalie Helms ↩︎
- Cridge H, Lim SY, Algül H, Steiner JM. New insights into the etiology, risk factors, and pathogenesis of pancreatitis in dogs: Potential impacts on clinical practice. J Vet Intern Med. 2022 May;36(3):847-864. doi: 10.1111/jvim.16437. Epub 2022 May 12. PMID: 35546513; PMCID: PMC9151489. ↩︎
- Freeman, L. M., Stern, J. A., Fries, R., Adin, D. B., & Rush, J. E. (2018). Diet-associated dilated cardiomyopathy in dogs: what do we know?. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 253(11), 1390-1394. Retrieved Feb 13, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.2460/javma.253.11.1390 ↩︎
- Daniel Schulof Demand Letter to the AVMA, January 26th, 2019 ↩︎
- Keto Naturals Inc. vs. Hill’s Science Diet Inc. Class Action Lawsuit Document ↩︎
- FDA Investigating Potential Connection Between Diet and Cases of Canine Heart Disease ↩︎
- Questions & Answers: FDA’s Work on Potential Causes of Non-Hereditary DCM in Dogs ↩︎
- Owens EJ, LeBlanc NL, Freeman LM, Scollan KF. Comparison of echocardiographic measurements and cardiac biomarkers in healthy dogs eating nontraditional or traditional diets. J Vet Intern Med. 2023; 37(1): 37-46. doi:10.1111/jvim.16606 ↩︎
- All Trades DVM DCM Timeline ↩︎