Purina has been forced to rebut what it described as “online rumors” that have caused a frenzy on TikTok in recent weeks alleging that its Pro Plan food had sickened dozens of pets, mostly dogs.
Days after the company issued a statement in which it said “these false statements may be creating unnecessary stress for pet parents,” a Purina spokeswoman said on Thursday that there was “absolutely no data showing us that there is a pattern of problems” with any Purina product.
“During the past few days, we have seen an increase in consumers who are scared and reaching out to ask if we have a product recall or issue after seeing this rumor,” the spokeswoman, Lorie Westhoff, said in an email. “In response, we are informing them that these rumors are not true and that our food is safe to feed.”
Purina, which is based in St. Louis and is a subsidiary of Nestlé, was responding to unsubstantiated accounts that were shared in TikTok videos that accumulated thousands of views, and in a public Facebook group with 62,000 members called Saving Pets One Pet @ A Time. Dogs were having seizures, vomiting and suffering from diarrhea, according to these accounts, and some were dying, after eating Purina Pro Plan food.
Worried pet owners encouraged a Purina boycott. By last week, the Facebook group had received nearly 197 anecdotal reports that animals — 151 dogs and 46 cats — had fallen ill, and that 51 of them had died.
Purina said there was no evidence to support those reports.
“We know this is a rumor because we have absolutely no data showing us that there is a pattern of problems with any specific product,” Ms. Westhoff said. “As a company that feeds more than 100 million cats and dogs each year, we don’t take risks with pet health ever.”
In its statement last week, Purina said the sources of some of the posts were “well-intentioned pet parents who are genuinely concerned and trying to be helpful,” while others “may be trying to create chaos and distrust of certain brands as an opportunity to sell their own products.”
In 2022, consumers spent more than $136.8 billion on pets in the United States, where more than 65 million households have dogs and about 46.5 million households have cats, according to a Forbes Advisor survey published last week.
The numbers suggest the potential influence that online communities can have on the pet food industry.
Rachel Fusaro, who has 275,000 followers on TikTok, cited reports in recent videos that have racked up millions of views in recent weeks saying that hundreds of dogs that had fallen ill after eating Purina. Ms. Fusaro, whose website says that she has a bachelor’s degree in nutrition science, referred to some of the descriptions on Saving Pets One Pet @ A Time.
“I am not confirming whether there is or isn’t anything wrong with Purina,” she said in one video on TikTok. But she added that she “personally would stop” using Purina products despite the lack of an official recall. Ms. Fusaro could not be immediately reached for comment on Thursday.
In reply to emailed questions on Thursday, Purina said Ms. Fusaro had not offered any evidence of a connection between any illnesses and a Purina product.
Ms. Westhoff, the Purina spokesman, said the company was “considering other avenues to address this directly with those who started the rumor.”
“They have acknowledged in multiple ways that they have no evidence that there is an issue with Purina products but continue to purposefully spread this misinformation,” she said.
The Food and Drug Administration does not have a recent listing for a recall affecting Purina products. Purina’s last voluntary recall was in March 2023, after a “food supplier error” resulted in potentially elevated levels of vitamin D in Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets EL Elemental prescription dry dog food.
Ms. Westhoff said there was “no correlation” between the latest rumors “and the food we voluntarily recalled last year.”
In that case, she said, investigators following up on a pair of consumer complaints found that the cause was “an error that took place at a third-party blender.”
“We promptly made the decision to voluntarily recall the product and notified the F.D.A.,” she said.”
The F.D.A. said in a statement on Thursday that it could not comment on the recent reports about pet illnesses that had been circulating online but that, “generally speaking,” it evaluates them to determine if action is needed. It encouraged pet owners and veterinarians to report illness or other adverse events associated with pet food directly to the agency.