Researchers Seek Further Explanation:
Linda's son, Christian, resting with Basti
“I felt I had killed my cat; I mean who would expect buying the best possible food for her might kill her,” says Linda Frahm of Palatine, IL (a Chicago suburb).
Basti, who was found outdoors, ‘adopted’ the Frahm family three years ago. Basti adored Linda and husband Tim’s three children, demanding affection and gave twice as much back in return. Basti became ill shortly after eating the tainted pet food, and was quickly treated by the family veterinarian. Feeling their cat would be more comfortable at home, Linda administered fluids and followed her vet’s instructions. Linda’s 17-year old daughter slept on the floor with Basti, stroking her beloved pet all night.
The next day, Linda encouraged her two oldest (her daughter and 11-year old son) to attend an event at the local high school. When they returned Basti was dead. “It’s so hard to watch this happen to a family member who we loved with all our hearts,” says Frahm. “It was harder to tell my kids. Dying of old age or a natural illness is a part of life. This is not what happened to Basti.”
The family veterinarian confirmed that Basti ate food which had been recalled, and died of acute kidney disease, which is consistent to what’s happened to other pets who became sick as a result of the contaminated food.
The good news is that the majority pets have been luckier than Basti, and seem to be recovering, according to Dr. Richard Goldstein, an internal medicine specialists and assistant professor Small Animal Medicine at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, Ithaca, NY, Sadly, even when cats recover from kidney failure, often the healing isn’t 100 per cent. Sometimes affected cats may then suffer chronic problems on and off throughout their lifetimes. “It’s too early to say whether that will be the case with these cats, he says.
In fact, cats do seem to be more affected than dogs, and smaller dogs more so than larger dogs. Presumably, what’s made them sick is the contaminant found in the recalled foods (produced by Menu Foods manufacturing plants in New Jersey and Kansas), a rodenticide called aminopterin, Over 90 brands were included in the historic pet food recall, all moist foods. To date, there is no reason to believe dry pet foods or prescription diets are affected.
The New York State Food Laboratory in Albany identified the foreign substance as aminopterin on March 23. “The finding is real,” says Goldstein, who is working with the FDA at his lab, the New York State Animal Health Diagnostic Center at Cornell.
Goldstein adds, ““This is preliminary finding. We’re working to further validate this finding and also to seek any other possible contaminants. This may not be a done deal.”
Dr. Stephen Sundlof, director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the FDA also confirmed that the search continues for a complete explanation, that there may be more to the story than aminopterin.
Meanwhile, some consumers are seeking alternatives to traditional pet foods. “I understand this is a difficult and confusing time,” says Dr. Kathryn Michel, veterinary nutritionist and associate professor of nutrition at the University of the Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, Philadelphia. “Raw food may have harmful bacteria or protozoa and we have seen many problems as a result. Home cooking requires a lot of work and a lot of homework since nutritional needs are so different for our pets than it is for people. Just opening a can or salmon or tuna (meant for human consumption) and feeding that to cats, for example, can cause serious nutritional deficiencies.”
Officially fewer than 20 pets have died, according to the FDA, though Sundlof concedes the number may ultimately be many times that. Goldstein says websites exaggerating with solely speculative figures are only creating further problems, even unnecessary panic in some circles. “The reality is that is that we move further away from the original recall, at some point soon we will see no new cases illness.”
Frahm says, “I know many people are working hard to get to the bottom of this so this can never happen again. They need to – so we know Basti didn’t die in vain.”