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PET FOOD RECALL: INFORMATION FOR PET OWNERS

PET OWNER
PET FOOD RECALL INFORMATION

Updated April 27, 2007


The Veterinary News Network functions to provide factual information to the more than 320 media veterinarians across the United States. By utilizing this network of veterinarians, local media has access to the most up-to-date and accurate information as explained by well-trained veterinary media professionals. We realize that during this time of confusion pet owners are likely seeking out whatever information that they can find in attempt to do what is best for their pet. It is in this light that we present the following update for pet owners. Our constant recommendation however is to call your local family veterinarian. They are the best suited to help guide you through this confusing period.

Timeline:

Friday, March 16th: Menu Foods announces recall of “cuts and gravy type” of diets due to reports of kidney failure and deaths in a small number of cats and one dog. More than 60 million cans representing more than 90 brands of food are affected by the recall. Premium diets like Iams and Hill’s as well as brands as diverse as Ol’ Roy and other mass market brands were all included. According to Menu Foods, affected products were manufactured between the dates of December 3rd, 2006 and March 6th, 2007. Initial reports pinpointed wheat gluten from a new supplier as the potential cause of the recall.

A complete list of the affected foods can be found at www.menufoods.com/recall. Also check www.fda.gov.

Friday, March 23rd: A New York state laboratory announces that the toxin, aminopterin, was found in the suspect wheat gluten. Aminopterin is illegal in the United States and is used as a rat poison in other parts of the world, particularly Asia. Aminopterin appears to cause crystal formation in the urine as well as kidney toxicity at toxic levels. It was unknown how the aminopterin got into the wheat supply.

Rumors continue to circulate concerning an expansion of the recall by Menu Foods. This extension did not occur, although Menu Foods did ask retailers to pull all “cuts and gravy” type of diets regardless of the lot number or production date in an effort to stop any sales of products inadvertently left on retailers’ shelves.

Friday, March 30th: FDA researchers announce that the chemical, melamine, has been found in the wheat gluten used in the affected foods. Melamine is a chemical used in the formation of plastic kitchenware and countertops. Elsewhere in the world, melamine is used as a fertilizer. Researchers at Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine validated the FDA findings by reporting that melamine was found in the urine of sick cats and the kidneys of a cat who is believed to have died due to the affected food.

Friday, March 30th: The FDA releases information that the affected wheat gluten may have been shipped to a manufacturer of dry pet food. No more information is released other than to report that FDA inspectors were in the process of inspecting the manufacturer in question.

Friday, March 30th, evening: Hill’s Pet Foods announces a voluntary recall of their Prescription Diet m/d for Cats. This is the only dry food recalled to date. More information on this particular and unique product can be found at www.hillspet.com. This is a very unique case and the only dry food we know of that contained wheat gluten. It has been completely recalled and is being re-formulated.

Saturday, March 31st: Purina voluntarily recalls cans of Alpo Prime Cuts after determining that the wheat gluten contaminated with melamine may have been used at one of their 17 production plants. Information about lot numbers and product affected can be found at www.purina.com

Saturday, March 31st: DelMonte Pet Products voluntarily recalls several lines of treats for dogs and cats after learning it too may have used the affected wheat gluten. Information on the recalled treats can be found at www.delmonte.com.

Monday, April 2nd: In an unrelated story, Eight in One, Inc voluntarily recalled its Dingo Chick’n Jerky Treats due to potential salmonella contamination.

Thursday, April 5th: Menu Foods expands recall back to include product manufactured after November 8th, 2006. This recall adds 20 varieties, but no knew brands to the recall list.

Friday, April 6th: DelMonte Foods modifies recalled diets by expanding number of code dates involved. No new brands or types of treats are included.

Tuesday, April 10th: Menu Foods increases number of recalled foods by 26.

Tuesday, April 17th: Nature’s Balance issues recall of dog and cat diets. Venison and Brown Rice dry dog food and Venison and Green Pea dry cat foods have been implicated with illnesses in several pets.

Tuesday, April 17th: Melamine contaminant also found in rice protein concentrate present in the Natural Balance dry dog and cat foods. Natural Balance expands recall to include all production dates of the Venison and Brown Rice dog food and Venison and Green Pea cat food.

Wednesday, April 18th: Menu Foods refines recall list to include Natural Life dog food and two more production dates of eight other diets.

Thursday, April 19th: Wilbur-Ellis, a distributor of pet food ingredients voluntarily recalls rice protein concentrate sold to 5 US pet food manufacturers.

Thursday, April 19th: Blue Buffalo Foods recalls one run of dry cat food. “Spa Select Kitten” dry food (“Best By Mar 07, 08B”) was recalled due to the presence of melamine in the rice protein concentrate used by the manufacturer. Blue Buffalo believes that most of the 5,000 bag run was caught prior to leaving the distributor.

Thursday, April 19th: Melamine found in corn gluten in South African dog food. Royal Canin Diets recalled all of its Vets Choice dog foods after the contaminant was found in corn gluten imported from China. Seventeen dogs in Johannesburg and Cape Town were affected with kidney problems.

Friday, April 20th: Royal Canin USA recalls all of its dry diets containing rice protein concentrate.

Monday, April 23rd: Cyanuric acid identified in urine as bio-marker for melamine. This acid is one of three products created by the animal after the breakdown of melamine. Its toxicity and effect is not yet known. It is also not known if the cyanuric acid was added as a separate contaminant.

Thursday, April 26th: Natural Balance Foods recalls 3 additional canned dog foods and 1 canned cat food. Per Natural Balance Foods website, the foods were being recalled because the rice protein concentrate was added by the manufacturer without the consent of the Natural Balance company.

Thursday, April 26th: Chenango Pet Foods recalls several brands of foods that received contaminated rice protein concentrate. These brands included Drs Foster and Smith Chicken and Brown Rice dry dog and cat foods as well as Lick Your Chops dry Lamb Meal, Rice and Egg Cat food.

Thursday, April 26th: American Nutrition issued a voluntary recall of many brands of pet food and treats. Brands affected included Blue Buffalo, Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover, Kirkland, Harmony Farms, Diamond, and several more Natural Balance diets.

 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS REGARDING THE PET FOOD RECALL



Q: Why is this pet food recall so large? It appears that every company has been affected in some way?

A: Menu Food produced a “cuts and gravy” type of pet food that was reasonably unique in its production. Due to this fact, Menu Foods was contracted by many pet food manufacturers to produce this type of diet due to their expertise. This does not mean that every pet food manufactured by Menu Foods was identical. Each manufacturer has their own recipes and specific ingredients and Menu Foods worked with the manufacturers to create individual brands.

Brands affected by the recall not made by Menu Foods did use a common plant protein source (wheat, rice or corn gluten) obtained from Chinese suppliers. That does seem to be a common thread.

Q: I have heard that Menu Foods knew about the tainted food as much as a month ahead of time. Why wasn’t a recall performed when they knew there was a problem?

A: The most consistent story to date is that Menu Foods was testing a new flavor of cat food for an undisclosed company when it discovered that 7 cats developed kidney failure and died. This event reportedly happened at the end of February. Due to the fact that the product in question was not released on the market, there was no indication for a broad recall. It was only after the affected food products with the contaminated wheat gluten hit the general population that the first reports of illnesses and deaths began to filter to the FDA. Fortunately, it appears that the recalls were done as quickly as they could have been.

Q: What are the symptoms associated with the food toxicity?

A: Pets who ate the affected food generally had episodes of vomiting within 1 to 12 hours of eating the food. Pets may appear weak and depressed and may also have blood in the urine. Affected animals who were seen by a veterinarian showed blood abnormalities that were consistent with kidney disease.

Q: What can be done for pets who have eaten the affected foods?

A: As of the writing of these FAQs, it is hoped that all of the affected foods have been removed from the marketplace. For those pets who were unlucky enough to have eaten the foods, veterinarians were treating them with standard kidney failure treatments. The good news is that many animals have responded to these treatments.

Q: So…is it the aminopterin or the melamine that caused the sickness?

A: The aminopterin (or rat poison) announced by the New York lab could not be verified by testing done at the FDA and Cornell and any information about the known toxicity of melamine is not readily available. Most now believe this identification of aminopterin was announced too early – without verification - and it is not the problem. Scientists are still unsure of why or even if the melamine is causing the problem. However, the melamine is useful as a marker for pets who have eaten the affected foods. According to scientists, the melamine is detected in the urine of these pets and does seem to be a consistent finding.

Q: Do you think melamine is the real culprit?

A: Most experts in internal medicine who study kidney disease, do not believe that melamine is truly the culprit. Little work is done in our small animals, particularly cats, on the toxicity of this substance. The good news is that all along we have been treating these dogs and cats appropriately, they are responding well, most pets that have eating recalled food are healthy and fine, and we are still looking hard.

Q: I am really concerned about feeding a dry food. Now you are telling me that dry foods have been affected by this poison.

A: Some dry foods are affected. It is very important for you to check the list of recalled brands that is updated daily by FDA. Visit www.fda.gov and click on Pet Food Recall.

Q: So, what can I feed my pet? I don’t think anything is safe…

A: If the diet you are currently feeding your pet is not on any recall list, then continue to feed that diet. MOST pet foods you can buy today are safe. The odds are with you that your pet will be just fine. If your pet’s regular diet has been recalled, contact your family veterinarian. He or she has THE best resources available to help you make an informed decision about a new food. Save some of the food for sampling later. Most of the high quality brands available today do not contain these gluten plant protein sources and are considered safe.

Q: I am really not sure if my pet ate any of the affected foods…what should I do? He seems to be acting fine.

A: If you are not sure, contact your family veterinarian. He or she can perform a simple blood test on your pet to determine whether or not kidney failure is apparent. And, even if your pet does show signs of kidney failure, it may not be due to poisoned food. Kidney disease is one of the most common illnesses in our pets, especially cats. Luckily, your veterinarian is very well equipped and knowledgeable about the best methods to help treat your pet.

Q: What about homemade diets? That would be a lot safer, right?

A: Feeding a homemade diet to your pet can be a great bonding experience, but many of these diets are not complete and balanced and may end up causing problems that you were trying to avoid. Nutrient deficiencies are extremely common among home-cooked meals. You should discuss the potential benefits and drawbacks with your veterinarian before making this decision. If you do want to cook for your pets, then visit www.balanceit.com and www.petdiets.com for formulas that have been approved by veterinary nutritionists. This should not be done for more than 2 months.

Q: I want to get reimbursed for the expenses of my veterinary visit and my time spent trying to help my pet. Who do I call?

A: Menu foods has stated that they will reimburse for medical expenses if it is shown that their food was involved with the pet’s sickness. In order to clarify the situation, the FDA has announced that a pet must have eaten a suspect food within 7 days of presenting ill to a licensed veterinarian. Only after the veterinarian has made the diagnosis of acute renal failure will the FDA consider the pet to be affected by the diet. Concerned pet owners should report their complaints about the food to the FDA website at www.fda.gov.

Q: Is the FDA really doing anything? I mean, why isn’t this resolved yet?

A: This question has multiple answers. First, the FDA has scientists and researchers working around the clock to try and determine why this crisis has happened. The pet food manufacturers and veterinary leadership are also bringing needed resources to this situation. Despite all of the concerns and recalls, even the FDA director has been quoted as saying that “pet foods are generally safe”.

Next, despite all of these concerned individuals working towards an answer, we may not have any results quickly. Veterinary scientists are still puzzled as to why grapes and raisins caused kidney failure in several dogs a few years ago. Some people may remember how human food scientists were surprised by the E.coli contamination of spinach and how the bacteria were found inside the leaves of the plant. Again, even if an answer is not forthcoming quickly, the good news is that your veterinarian and his or her staff are well prepared to handle your pet’s illnesses, whatever the cause.

Q: I am still concerned. Some of the sites on the Internet are saying that thousands or maybe tens of thousands of pets are going to die.

A: Your veterinarian and veterinary staff share your concerns about your pet’s safety. Although they are many sites that are reporting numerous illnesses and deaths, most of these reports have not been verified by veterinary professionals. Keep in mind that kidney failure in pets has many possible explanations and this food recall is just one small possibility. To date, the only verified deaths from the tainted foods have been the originally reported 15 cats and 1 dog.

It is very tempting to allow our emotions free rein when we see pets potentially suffering, but we should always keep in mind that anyone can post almost anything on the Internet without providing any sort of verification or proof. Ask your veterinary team about websites that will provide you with accurate information. Your veterinarian understands your very special needs and your special bond with your pet. He or she will be happy to help you find the information you need.

Q: What about the number of cases? 16 seems to get reported now for several weeks. That seems to be low and some websites are reporting hundreds of thousands.

A: The FDA is the place to report a pet food recall related illness for pet owners and for veterinarians. There is a huge difference between a suspected case and a confirmed case. Cases have to be confirmed with laboratory testing not only to be counted but also for any legal action.

We cannot speak to numbers reported on websites… as there are no reporting standards and therefore all those numbers would be pure speculation. The blog-o-sphere is interesting, but not necessarily accurate. In informal surveys of veterinary practices, we are not seeing massive numbers of deaths or illness. Reports of illnesses have dropped off significantly since owners were informed of the recall. Owners have taken our advice, stopped feeding the recalled foods, and consulted with their veterinarian. Very few pets have become seriously ill and most have responded to conventional treatment for renal failure.

Q: We’ve seen some outrageous things on the Internet. Yet other sites seem to have good information. How do pet owners know whom to trust?

A: Every veterinarian should have a list of trusted web sites. It is true that in a world of instant communications and bloggers who can write anything – true or false – and it appears legitimate; one has to be very careful. On a blog, you have no idea who is writing, what their background is, or their hidden agenda. They may be interesting entertainment, but they are NOT a source of reliable information. Perhaps the old fashioned way is best - call your family veterinarian who is keeping up with this issue. They would be a good source of trustworthy sites and good solid professional advice.

Q: What do you recommend for pet owners to do?

A: First, if a pet has eaten the recalled food, even if they appear healthy, plan for a general check up with the family veterinarian and have general blood work and a urinalysis done. Besides screening for any kidney disease, we will also be able to make sure there are no other subtle diseases going on such as anemia and diabetes. Major national veterinary diagnostic labs are seeing thousands of blood samples and most are completely normal. Also good news is… most all of the affected pets are responding well to treatment.

Key points to keep in mind:

1. A very small percentage of pet foods are involved and the vast majority of pets continue to thrive on commercial pet foods. I strongly believe you can have confidence in the high quality brands of commercial pet food – most don’t use wheat, rice or corn gluten.
2. If you suspect your pet has eaten any of the recalled products, you should have the pet examined by a veterinarian immediately.
3. The sooner a veterinarian can examine your pet, make a diagnosis and start treatment, the better chance that pet will have of surviving. Our experience so far is very positive on this point.
4. Have on hand the contact number for your local 24 hour emergency animal hospital.
5. We do not know the number of pets affected and frankly would not speculate on that, but many laboratory facilities are working round the clock to determine the cause and to ensure that it won’t happen again.
6. The FDA continues to look for any offending substance. We do not yet have a definitive answer, but we hope that it will be found and we will have the answers.
7. Pet owners should feel safe feeding dry pet foods and canned foods that are not on the recall list. Check the list, read your pet food labels. Please follow the advice of your family veterinarian.
8. There is a great deal of mis-information on the internet and blogs. Trust your family veterinarian who is up to date and your source for medical advice.
9. Blogs might be entertaining, but should come with a warning – nothing you see here has been checked for accuracy! Blogs are typically steeped in emotion and many people use them to simply “vent”. Trust the professional advice of your veterinarian.
10. Although it is hard and expensive to make a home cooked diet for your pets, if you want to do this visit approved sites where formulas have been done and approved by veterinary nutritionists. Most experts say this should not be fed for more than 2 months.

Q: More and more foods are being affected, even after the wheat gluten has been identified. Is any pet food safe anymore?

A: A few more diets have been added to the recall list and we know that the rice protein concentrate (also called rice gluten) has the same contamination. But, it is important to realize that we are still dealing with a very small percentage of the overall pet food availability. Advances continue to be made on a daily basis in determining how the melamine contaminated the ingredients and how we can prevent it from happening again. The lesson in all this is to read the label on any pet food you buy and check the list of contaminated brands. Most are off store shelves, although in rare instances they have not been pulled. Your veterinarian would be a good advisor for you on this.

This story will have international trade issues and perhaps even human health implications. For now and for our pets your best bet is to read the labels and do not feed any food on the recall list. www.fda.gov

Q: This whole issue has me very confused. Isn’t this the time to make home cooked diets for my pets – or perhaps buy organic or natural?

A: It is completely understandable that pet owners feel uncomfortable with commercial diets at this time. However, feeding home made diets long term can have adverse effects if proper attention is not given to balancing key nutrients. Additionally it is difficult if not impossible to make a proper diet, it is very time consuming and will cost much more!

If you want to try this in the short term (no more than two months) then your family veterinarian can provide you with appropriate resources for creating a healthy, diet to use for a few weeks. You may also visit www.balanceit.com or www.petdiets.com and get some recipes to try.

As for “organic” or “natural” products, they are just as likely to have contamination issues as they are also a manufactured product and use ingredients like wheat, rice and corn. Additionally, even some brands that tout their “natural formulas” have been affected by this recall. The answer does not lie in this marketing ploy.

Q: Other than chocolate, are there special foods to avoid?

A: As most people are aware, dark, or baking chocolate can be toxic to our pets. Other less commonly known foods include raisins, grapes, and anything with onion powder added. Your pet might have stomach upset or even a painful condition known as pancreatitis after ingesting certain gravies, fats, or even the skin from chicken. So be careful if you are tempted to feed human food scraps to your pets.

Q: Where can I find out more information?

A: As always, check with the staff at your veterinary hospital and right here at www.MyVNN.com. Additionally, the AVMA (www.avma.org) has information about feeding home cooked meals to your pet. This press release can be found at http://www.avma.org/press/releases/070404_homemade_diets.asp. For a list of recalled foods and for news on this long un-folding story check www.fda.gov.

 

Editor's Comment:
This contamination issue will not be easily resolved. It is being taken very seriously at the FDA. Because the source of the problem lies in over seas suppliers we may never know all the answers. However, the pet food industry will be forever changed. Much more scrutiny and care will be given to supply chains, testing and quality control – even in an industry that for the most part has done an amazing job at all this for decades.

Be vigilant now and watch the news. We predict pet foods will improve even further and the companies that make them will work hard to re-gain your trust and re-build their image.

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VNN is a national network of veterinarians and selected affiliate reporters who use VNN produced resources to broadcast local news stories about current issues and advances in animal medicine. The network provides a highly professional source of newsworthy television, radio and print stories for use by its reporters. For more information, go to MyVNN.com.

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