Pet Owners Report 241 Deaths from Food: Vet

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He adds that he normally recommends dry food for pets because of dental health benefits -- the crunching and chewing strengthen and cleans pets' teeth.

Becker said that the advertising of certain brands of pet food also create a difficult choice for owners who want to give their pets the best but do not have all the information at hand to make an educated choice.

"With food being so critically important, and with so many tantalizing ads, it is impossible for a pet owner to be able to make an intelligent choice," he said.

But could the nature of the wet foods be what is sickening these pets so profoundly? Thompson said no.

"For now, however, canned food is not something that will generally make pets sick," he said.

As a case in point, Thompson said that there have been instances in the past where dry food has made pets sick. In late 2005, the presence of a toxin in dry food distributed by the Diamond Pet Food Co. occurred due to a mold that contaminated the production process.

And Becker said such a toxin or contaminant is a likely culprit in this round of recalls as well.

"I think it's going to end up being some kind of toxin, but that is purely speculative," Becker said. "I think we'll find something in the next couple of days. I think we'll find something very quickly."

Picking Safe Food for Your Pet

Becker said that despite the recall, most of the foods on the shelf, regardless of price, are typically safe for pets' consumption.

"With the sheer number of pets being fed commercial pet food, this is a very small problem so far," he said.

He adds that the most important step that an owner can take to ensure that his or her pet is receiving the proper food is to consult the opinion of a veterinarian, because different pets have different nutritional needs.

And as for the situation at hand, Becker said the fact that the voluntary recall was issued by the company so quickly likely saved the lives of many pets whose owners regularly bought the recalled brands.

Plus, there are steps that owners can take at home to ensure that their pets remain as healthy as possible, even if they have eaten the food.

"This is not just about taking the product off the shelves at stores," Becker said. "It's about taking them out of the cupboard at home."

Pet owners can find a complete list of the recalled products along with product codes, descriptions and production dates was available from the Menu Foods Web site, http://www.menufoods.com/recall.

If owners believe that their pet has been eating the food, Becker said that they should bring their pets into the vet's office immediately.

Cats, Becker said, can lose 80 percent of kidney function before showing evidence of a problem. But once the animal reaches this tipping point, the problem becomes apparent. By this time, treatment may come too late.

"If their pet ate this food, or if the owner even thinks it did, we can give that cat or dog massive amounts of fluids to flush this out," he said.

Thompson adds that if a pet shows any alarming symptoms, such as vomiting and loss of appetite, owners should consult their vets for appropriate blood work.

But the warnings came too late for Betsy Murner of Pennsylvania, whose dog died after eating the suspect food.

"He's not there anymore, wagging his tail greeting you," Murner said. "It's just not the same."

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