Putting a Price on Puppy Love

"These big companies, for them it's an economic thing," he said. "Why rush to tell the public? I suspect it comes down to the millions of dollars involved in a recall versus a relatively small number of pets."

Finegold says that as many as four weeks ago he went to three stores to buy the particular brand and flavor that his cat prefers, but each store was out of stock.

"I got to thinking later that the maker may have simply stopped shipping the affected products, but didn't say anything to the public about the stuff people had already bought," he said.

Menu Foods told the Food and Drug Administration that it had received the initial complaints of kidney failure and deaths among cats and dogs from pet owners on Feb. 20 and had started tests on Feb. 27.

The New York couple that sued S&M NuTec set up a Web site, www.burtscause.com, for pet owners to share information about products and the safe care of their animals. They hope it will become a clearinghouse for pet issues.

The costs of pet ownership are rising. In many areas, people spend $1,000 or more annually, even on healthy animals. According to Consumer Reports, the average dog cost owners $785 a year in 2005 and the average cat, $516. But that's just the start.

Medical care can cost many thousands more. Each year, about 400 pets receive pacemaker surgery costing about $3,000.

Renal failure, the chief symptom in the latest food poising case, can cost up to $10,000 in vet bills, plus $600 a year for drugs thereafter.

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