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Cats more susceptible to poison

Officials are not sure why, but the contaminated pet food, which has been recalled, has killed 15 cats, but only one dog.

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published April 1, 2007


WASHINGTON - A greater sensitivity of cats to a chemical found in plastics and pesticides could explain why they've died in larger numbers than have dogs after eating contaminated pet food, experts said Saturday.

The small number of confirmed reports of pet deaths bolstered by a far larger number of unconfirmed anecdotal reports suggests cats were more susceptible to poisoning by the chemical melamine that tainted the now recalled pet food, officials with the Food and Drug Administration and American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said Saturday.

"I am concerned we have a situation where we have a sensitive species and it is the cat," said Steven Hansen, a veterinary toxicologist and director of the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control center in Urbana, Ill.

Testing by the FDA and Cornell University has found melamine in samples of recalled pet food as well as in crystal form in the urine and kidney tissue of dead cats. They've also found the chemical, in apparently raw form in concentrations as high as 6.6 percent, in wheat gluten used as an ingredient of the recalled cat and dog foods, said Stephen Sundlof, the FDA's chief veterinarian.

Sundlof and others have not been able to explain why the chemical would have caused the kidney failure seen so far in the roughly 16 confirmed pet deaths, all but one in cats.

"It has a very low toxicity, at least in rodents. The problem is, we don't have information in cats, and that seems to be the most susceptible species," Sundlof said of melamine.

It is well-known that identical substances can have very different effects on cats and dogs. For example, the flea killer permethrin is okay to use on dogs but is lethal to cats, Hansen said. The same could be the case with melamine.

Earlier this month, Menu Foods became the first of three pet food manufacturers to recall its products. It did so after cats began to fall sick and die during routine company taste tests of its wet-style pet foods, sold under nearly 100 store- and major-label brands across North America.

The investigation has traced the melamine to wheat gluten that Menu Foods, Nestle Purina PetCare Co. and Hill's Pet Nutrition bought from an unnamed U.S. supplier. The latter two companies have recalled a limited number of products since Friday.

Fast Facts:

 

What is melamine?

Melamine is used to make plastic kitchenware, glues, countertops, fabrics, fertilizers and flame retardants. It is a contaminant and byproduct of several pesticides, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which considers it of low potential risk.

On the Web

For FDA recall news, visit www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/petfood.html