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Pet Food Recall - Food Causing Death

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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On March 30th, the FDA announced that melamine, a chemical used as a fertilizer and in the production of plastics, was found in tested samples of recalled pet food from Menu Foods. The substance was also identified in urine and tissue samples taken from sickened cats and from the kidney of one cat that had eaten the recalled food. According to the FDA, "Melamine is primarily used in Asia as a fertilizer but is not approved for that use in the United States. It is used in plastic kitchenware in this country." Based on recent reports, it is believed that melamine was contaminated in the wheat gluten, rice protein concentrate and corn gluten all originating from China and distributed to the U.S. and Canada.

Initially products were recalled due to the contaminated wheat gluten but subsequent recalls have were due to contamination in the rice protein concentrate and corn gluten contamination. The Food and Drug Administration announced (FDA) that the contaminated wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate imported from China was mislabeled and was really wheat flour contaminated with melamine and melamine-related products. Currently many believe that the contamination was deliberate. It is thought that the Chinese added the melamine to the wheat gluten to increase the "protein" concentration of the product making it to appear to have a higher protein concentration than it really had. Melamine is rich in nitrogen which can give the illusion of protein. Recently, tests conducted on contaminated pet food and the necropsies of affected animals have suggested that a combination of chemicals-each alone, seemingly nontoxic, however together form insoluable substances that results in crystals that physically damage the kidneys. Two other melamine-related substances - ammelide and ammelin may also play roles and are under investigation. It is now believed that cyanuric acid, as well as melamine, has been found in urine samples from animals that died."

It is not possible to test pets for melamine however there are some tests being done can identify the urine crystals. No one seems to know as to how much or if any other compounds were found. They also are not 100% certain if melamine is linked to the illness in deaths of the pets eating the recalled foods.

As you can tell, there are many unanswered questions. Reports are continuously being updated and there is still a lot that we don't know. The FDA's investigation remains active as they continue to investigate the problem and ensure that all contaminated product is removed from the market. According to the FDA, they are currently testing 100 % of wheat gluten, rice protein concentrate, corn gluten, corn meal, soy protein, and rice bran being imported from China for these contaminants.

The preliminary reports indicated that the affected foods caused over 16 deaths and may have caused illness in hundreds of others. Menu Food acknowledges receiving complaints of sick pets as early as February 20th. There have been no verified updated numbers but my guess is these numbers are high. Some reports have suggested as many as 3,600 deaths as of April 11th.

The food recall includes recalls from several companies with over 130 different brands and more than 5300 pet food products. The pet food recall affects both canned and dry formulas as well as treats.

They do know that the compound involved is causing kidney failure and it seems to affect cats worse than dogs. The most common signs of kidney failure are: vomiting, not eating, drinking more, urinating more and/or lethargy.

Pets affected with renal failure are treated with fluid therapy and supportive care.

If your pet is eating or was eating one of the recalled foods and is experiencing any symptoms, please call your veterinarian immediately. We recommend testing and treating all affected pets! If caught early, kidney failure can be treated successfully in some pets. For more information read about Kidney Failure in Dogs and Kidney Failure in Cats.

If you suspect your pet has been affected by the food – please read these steps to help your veterinarian with your pet's diagnosis: Go to Advice to Pet Food Owner After National Recall.

Here is also an update for veterinarians: Go to Pet Food Recall Updated Information for Veterinarians.

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