Danice Jacobson, seen here with her service dog, Riley, told CBS 13 her dog became deathly sick taking nutritional supplements that later turned out to likely be counterfeit pills with uncertain contents. Credit: CBS 13

PORTLAND, Maine — Nutramax, the maker of popular nutritional supplements for pets, says counterfeiters are selling fraudulent products online under the company’s name.

Nutramax Laboratories and Nutramax Laboratories Veterinary Sciences filed a lawsuit in federal court on July 20 seeking damages and injunctive relief. It names more than a dozen individuals and companies as defendants and calls the knock-off drugs a serious threat.

A spokesperson for Nutramax said the affected products are Cosequin, Dasuquin and Proviable DC, all of which were being sold by unauthorized third parties under names including Pegato Big Save and Pets Care Center on the retail website Amazon.

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Danice Jacobson of Portland said she bought the product and it made her service dog, Riley, deathly ill.

Jacobson suffers from severe rheumatoid arthritis and said the sheltie can open doors for her, plus retrieve the mail and anything that gets dropped on the floor.

“It allows me to live independently and not be at the mercy of others,” she said.

Except Riley hasn’t been himself lately.

“It’s frustrating and maddening to see him languish,” said Jacobson.

Jacobson said the supplement meant to help his digestion instead hurt him, with bloody diarrhea for days.

“Literally blood was just pouring out of him,” she said. “And you feel so helpless because you don’t know what’s happening.”

She said Riley had been taking Nutramax’s Proviable DC for months to help with his cancer treatments and hadn’t had any problems.

The newest box she’d ordered from Amazon came in mid-July. On July 27, a few days after she said Riley got sick, she got an email from Amazon telling her the supplement “from a third-party seller may not have been a genuine Nutramax product.”

“They told me the purchase price had been refunded,” said Jacobson. “We’ve learned that it may have inauthentic ingredients. (We were told to) just throw it away — ‘You don’t need to send it back.’”

A spokesperson for Nutramax said Amazon would not provide names of customers who bought the products, but agreed to send an alert letter and refunds.

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An Amazon spokesperson didn’t speak specifically about this case but wrote, “We remove suspected counterfeit items as we become aware of them, and we permanently remove bad actors from selling on Amazon.”

According to court documents, the products were being sold through the “Fulfillment by Amazon” program, meaning the images online displayed actual Nutramax products, while the ones delivered were “almost exact replicas.”

“The packaging just blows your mind,” said Jacobson. “It looks exactly the same.”

Inside the capsules is a different story, which Jacobson said she didn’t realize because Riley swallows them whole.

The lawsuit said the genuine Nutramax Proviable is a fine, white powder, while the fake ones are a brownish-orange.

Nutramax believes the copycat capsules contain a starchy filler, but say the full composition is unknown and may vary from one package to the next. A spokesperson said, “We are treating these counterfeit products as a threat to pets’ safety and well-being as they are not receiving what their veterinarian has recommended.”

“Someone, for a few bucks, probably did this to make some money. That’s just unfathomable to me,” Jacobson said.

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Jacobson said it’s hard to treat Riley when vets don’t know what he ingested, and the bills are mounting. Luckily Riley has support, and quite a following, on social media.

She said he is on the road to recovery, finally eating again weeks after taking the supplements.

The defendants listed in the court documents either couldn’t be reached, or didn’t respond to messages from CBS 13.

Nutramax said any customer who suspects they have a fake product should not use it and contact them right away.

To make sure consumers are getting authentic products, the company recommends getting it from a veterinarian or checking out a list of authorized retailers, which can be found on their website.

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