Dog owners question link between meds and deaths

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ATLANTA - Grieving animal lovers across the country are coming forward blaming a popular pet drug for killing their dogs. Channel 2 Action News has uncovered several cases in Metro Atlanta.

"It's like a piece of your heart is being torn out," said dog owner Beth Timms from Gainesville.

Her dog, Gizmo, died after taking Trifexis. The once-a-month pill made by Elanco is a combination pill for heartworm, parasites and flea prevention. Elanco is the animal health division of pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly.

Gizmo was a healthy 12-year-old mixed-breed. Shortly after taking Trifexis for the first time, she suffered lethargy, vertigo, seizures and a 106-degree temperature.

"We had to let her go. We had to have her put to sleep," Timms said. "I killed my dog."

Timms emailed consumer investigator Jim Strickland after finding a Facebook page titled "Trifexis Kills Dogs."

Owners from all over the country have posted on the page, blaming the drug for their dogs’ deaths.

The Facebook page led Strickland to a home in Sandy Springs, where a dog bowl still sits empty in the corner. The dog who once used it was a puppy named Bishop.

"He died. For no reason, no warning," said Bishop's owner Jenny Schmitt.

Bishop was a 16-week-old Vizsla, which is a Hungarian hunting dog. He was one of seven in a litter born in June from an American Kennel Club Grand Champion.

Three of Bishop's litter mates are thriving in Florida. A fourth is a healthy puppy living Buckhead. None of them has ever had Trifexis.

Bishop and the other two litter mates, named Tucker and Jade, each received their one and only dose of Trifexis in September. Bishop and Jade died within three weeks. Tucker died in six days. Veterinarians ruled they all died of heart inflammation.

"I think Eli Lillly and Elanco need to ask the broader question, 'Does this drug even need to be on the market?'" Schmitt said.

Elanco is headquartered outside of Indianapolis. Strickland went there to speak with one of Elanco's top veterinarians. Dr. Stephen Connell insisted Trfiexis is safe. He said he gives it to his own dogs.

Connell said Elanco has dispensed 50 million doses since Trifexis hit the market less than three years ago.

"We don't like the fact that it has killed any dogs. But with any pharmaceutical product, we understand that the very rare sensitivities, allergic events -- those types of things are going to happen," Connell said.

Elanco's spokesman later said Connell didn't mean to say the company doesn't like that Trifexis killed any dogs, but rather the company doesn't like hearing reports of any deaths.

Strickland got the numbers on reports about Trifexis made to the Food and Drug Administration. The latest figures are as of April 2013.

Pet owners have filed 2200 reports of the drug causing their dogs to vomit. There are 600 cases of lethargy, and 31 reports of dog deaths. That's about one per month since the drug hit the market.

The warning on the Trifexis box states mild side effects. Connell admitted to Strickland that the company has gotten reports of dogs suffering seizures, but Elanco has found no link to any dog deaths.

A University of Georgia Veterinary School pathology report on Bishop's death stated a bacterial infection likely caused the dog's heart failure. It ruled his symptoms were not typical of drug toxicity.


Read Jim Strickland's follow-up story to this investigation here


Trifexis contains two drugs, spinosad and milbemycin.

"The spinosad is from the United States. The milbemycin is sourced from China" said Connell.

He added their Chinese supplier has had multiple inspections and is a non-issue.

He also addressed the deaths of the puppies.

"It is our opinion that there are other factors involved in this case," Connel said.

Bishop's owner doesn't believe that.

"The three puppies that all died within the same week, all had Trifexis, all around the same time," Schmitt said. "It's a heck of a coincidence."