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#IfOnlyIKnew: A Dog Treat Kills This Dog. It's Not Because He Ate It.

Author: Dr. Jason Nicholas

Published: July 17, 2014

Updated: May 28, 2024

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Cooper pet suffocation

Since launching our Pet Suffocation Awareness and Prevention campaign, we’ve heard from many people who’ve had their heart broken from the devastating loss of a pet due to suffocation. Much like Bonnie Harlan’s story, most of these cases yield little empathy or significant action on the part of the manufacturer who makes the product and packaging that these pets have tragically suffocated in.

Pet Suffocation: What corporate responsibility looks like

One story though has a very different, very encouraging, and very meaningful result in terms of corporate response. We’re sharing it here to demonstrate what true corporate responsibility looks like within the pet industry, we hope that this shining example will spread far and wide and will help to bring about the necessary changes from the folks at Frito-Lay (the company that Bonnie is petitioning to add a warning label to their packaging – see link below) and other snack food manufacturers.

Rhonda and Vince Herschell write (excerpt of email)…

"Cooper was our 7 year old yellow lab.  He was loving, goofy and would bow down in front of you for a butt scratch. As with most labs, he was on a strict low calorie diet.  'Pupcorn' treats were a great reward for Cooper.  He would prance up and down every time I passed the cookie jar, waiting for a treat.

SAD Day,  December 10th, 2013.

We came home around 10pm after being gone for four hours.  When we arrived Cooper was not at the door to greet us.  We searched the house and found him downstairs with his head stuck in the treat container and he was dead.  It took all of our might to get his head out of the container.  It was a moment in time that I will never forget.  To say our hearts shattered is an understatement.

After a few months of grieving our loss I sent a notice to Sunshine Mills and they have been great! You can only imagine my surprise when I got the email from Mr. Bostick [Sunshine Mills CEO] in mid February telling me that they were changing the packaging and sending me a photo of the new "Pupcorn" container.  I just fell apart and couldn't stop crying. Maybe in a way Cooper's death has spared other families from this tragic loss."

While we are saddened by their loss, we're very appreciative of Rhonda and Vince's advocacy in the face of that loss. We at Preventive Vet would also like to give credit where credit is due, and credit is definitely due to Mr. Bostick and Sunshine Mills on this front. Their response, their empathy, and their packaging change will help save lives — and avoid heartbreak.

New Story [March 14, 2017]: We received a related, tragic pet suffocation story about a dog that suffered as a result of the shape of a hard, plastic food container. Animal Crackers jar

Denise returned from the grocery store expecting her dog Jetta to greet her as she always did, but all was quiet. Denise called for Jetta and looked around when she spotted her beloved dog lying still near the fireplace. She called again, but Jetta did not get up. Denise moved closer to investigate and after a moment, she realized Jetta’s head was completely submerged inside a plastic container. She frantically struggled to pull the container off and administer CPR. "I started CPR screaming for help with the deepest grief I have ever felt," Denise shared with us.

When her son-in-law arrived, she enlisted his help, but unfortunately it was too late. “I have lost a very big part of myself when I lost her, for I loved her with all of my heart.”

Many of us would not think twice about a plastic bear container sitting on the counter (that in Denise's case, had been there for weeks with the lid on). She hopes that sharing her story will help prevent other pet owners from suffering a similar experience. Our hearts go out to her and her family.

Jetta the beautiful dog died from suffocationBeautiful Jetta

Do you have a pet suffocation story? Please tell us about it.
The more stories we collect, the more we can help others.

Please Share Your   Pet Suffocation  Experience


Tell Product Manufacturers They Can Make a Difference

Let’s all sign Bonnie's petition asking Frito-Lay to show the same corporate character. Rather than the callous disregard they demonstrated in their Time Machine commercial during the 2014 Super Bowl... where they blatantly show a dog eating out of a Doritos bag.


About the author

Profile picture for Dr. Jason Nicholas

Dr. Jason Nicholas

Dr. Nicholas graduated with honors from The Royal Veterinary College in London, England and completed his Internship at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. He currently lives in the Pacific Northwest.

Dr. Nicholas spent many years as an emergency and general practice veterinarian obsessed with keeping pets safe and healthy. He is the author of Preventive Vet’s 101 Essential Tips book series.