Pet Owners Alert Tainted Pet Food Still on Store Shelves
April 12, 2007
By Wally Kennedy
The Joplin Globe (Joplin, Mo.)
CARTHAGE, Mo. Nancy Lewis knew something was terribly wrong with her registered Yorkshire terriers, Pax and Sammy.
When asked whether her pets were poisoned by contaminated pet food, she said: “Oh, my God. I am going to try not to cry, but this has been one God-awful ordeal. I have no children. They are my babies, and I thought we were going to lose them.”
Photo: Regan Birkner, DVM, examines a cat named Rosella at Main Street Pet Care in Joplin, Mo., Wednesday, April 11, 2007. [Note: Rosella had no illness related to the tainted pet foods}. (David Stonner / The Joplin Globe)
Lewis said her dogs are like most terriers active, personable and loving.
“But they were just laying around,” she said. “There was no energy. When we go anywhere in a car, they want to go with us. They would not get out of the chair to go to the door to go anywhere. They would not eat anything.
“Their little eyes were no longer bright. They were dull. They acted like they were at death’s door.”
Lewis took her dogs to Michelle Cahill, a veterinarian with Central Pet Care Clinic in Carthage, who diagnosed that they had been poisoned and that they were suffering from kidney failure. This was in January, before Lewis and other pet owners knew that a massive recall of contaminated pet food was imminent.
“She kept them for four or five days, and then let them come home,” Lewis said. “And then on a Sunday morning, I get a call from Dr. Cahill. She asked if I had seen the paper yet. She told me the pet-food recall could explain what had happened to my Yorkies.”
Lewis checked her pet food and found that her dogs were getting foods that were being recalled.
Her dogs are doing better now. But she remains upset about what happened to them. “Why in the world was someone not checking this stuff?” she said. “Why isn’t this being regulated? Someone needs to be held accountable.”
With tears welling in her eyes, she said: “People say, ‘It’s just a dog.’ Well, they just don’t understand. These boys have been so good to me. I don’t know what I would do without them.”
Area veterinarians in recent weeks have had their share of telephone inquiries from pet owners concerned about contaminated pet foods that have been recalled, but only a few have actually seen cats and dogs with acute symptoms of renal failure that can be linked to the food.
A survey of veterinarians in the Joplin market shows that local cases might total half a dozen or so, but there is a possibility that other cases will emerge.
“This is certainly something that could be showing up later,” said Jack Bozarth, a veterinarian with Banfield, The Pet Hospital, in Joplin. “Pet owners need to be watchful in the future, and especially those with cats since it appears that cats are more susceptible to it than dogs.”
A simple blood and urine test can determine whether a pet has been affected. The problem can be treated if it is caught early.
Banfield, one of the nation’s largest veterinary hospital chains, reported this week that it recorded a 30 percent increase in kidney failure among cats during the three months that pet foods tainted by an industrial chemical were sold. The report was based on analysis of records from early December through early March from more than 615 veterinary clinics housed in PetSmart stores across the country.
The analysis suggested that out of every 10,000 cats and dogs seen in Banfield clinics, three developed kidney failure during the time the pet food contaminated with melamine a chemical used to make plastic kitchenware, countertops, fertilizers and flame retardants was on the market. Banfield treats an estimated 6 percent of the nation’s cats and dogs.
Officials with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have said the Banfield database probably would provide a representative picture of the damage done by the tainted food.
Veterinary Information Network, an online home for about 16,000 of the nation’s estimated 35,000 veterinarians, reported this week that its members have concluded that hundreds of pets, possibly thousands, have died nationwide because of the tainted food.
Banfield and VIN said they believe the largest wave of acute deaths has passed, thanks in large measure to the rapid recall of the pet food. At least six pet-food companies have recalled products made with imported Chinese wheat gluten that contains melamine. The recall involved about 1 percent of the overall U.S. pet-food supply.
Bozarth, at Benfield in Joplin, said he has seen one cat that might have kidney disease related to one of the recalled foods.
“It had abnormal lab values,” he said. “After it was rehydrated, there was no evidence of kidney damage. We think it was a mild case.”
The cat’s symptoms included gastrointestinal problems, general malaise, lethargy and loss of appetite. In some cases, diarrhea and vomiting have been reported.
“The types of pet food being recalled continues to expand,” Bozarth said. “We are telling people to check pet-food labels and avoid anything with wheat gluten in it. You know, we might not ever find out for sure what is going on with this.”
Ben Leavens, a veterinarian with Main Street Pet Care in Joplin, said: “We have had one case that I know of, and it involved a cat. It was depressed and had quit eating.”
Leavens said it is quite possible that “there are a lot of cats and a fair number of dogs out there with kidney damage not severe enough to be clinical. But their kidneys could get worse in the next year, and that would be too late to prove anything. I imagine there are a bunch with lower-level damage.”
Leavens said the cat was treated aggressively with intravenous fluids to flush the kidneys.
“That cat has returned to almost normal,” he said. “There is hope. It is not hopeless.”
Cahill, the Carthage veterinarian, said her clinic has seen two dogs and possibly a third for kidney problems that can be linked to the contaminated food.
Steve Walstad, a veterinarian with the Animal Clinic of Joplin, said the recall had local pet owners worried about their pets.
“There was a lot of concern about getting that food off the shelves,” he said. “People were coming in here with lists of foods to share with other people. They were concerned and really extending help to other pet owners who might be affected.”
WHAT TO DO?
“There is a simple urine test available for that now,” said Steve Walstad, a veterinarian with the Animal Clinic of Joplin. “We send it off to a laboratory, and the turnaround takes only a few days. So, if they are concerned about their pets in the future, this test will be available to them.”