March 31, 2007 -- The pet food recall linked to the deaths of cats and dogs across the country is growing and now includes both wet and dry pet food.
This morning, the Food and Drug Administration announced that the Nestle Purina PetCare Company was voluntary recalling of all sizes and varieties of its Alpo Prime Cuts in Gravy wet dog foods produced at one of its 17 plants.
And after initially suspecting rat poison was the cause of the contamination, officials now believe the food was tainted by a chemical used in plastics and fertilizer. For the first time, the FDA has admitted to ABC News that there will be a lot more deaths than the current official count of 15 cats and dogs.
Government scientists found melamine, a compound used to make plastics for kitchen utensils, in the recalled food. Melamine's also used as a fertilizer in Asia, and was in wheat gluten imported from China and used in pet food.
But FDA officials caution that melamine might not be the culprit they're after.
"We are not fully yet certain that melamine is the causative agent of illness and death in pets," said Dr. Stephen Sundolf of the FDA Veterinary Center.
Another recall was issued this morning. Hills Pet Nutrition is voluntarily recalling some of its dry cat food that was made with the same tainted ingredient. Since March 17, more than 60 million cans and pouches of wet pet food have been recalled.
The affected Alpo products are labeled "Best Before Feb. 2009," and have four-digit code dates of 7037 through 7053, followed by the plant code 1159, according to a company statement.
A full list of the recalled products currently can be found at Purina's Web site.
There's no absolute number of how many dogs and cats have been affected, which is making some reevaluate how pet illnesses are reported.
"Pets are part of our family structure. I believe the answer is going to be a much broader look at the safety of pet foods and the way we report illness," said Dr. Don Smith, dean of Cornell University's veterinary school.
What Pet Owners Can Do
On "Good Morning America Weekend Edition," veterinarian Dr. Louise Murray, director of medicine for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, offered tips to pet owners concerned about the recall.
Murray said pet owners shouldn't panic because one brand of dry food has been added to the recall list.
"There are lots of kinds of dry dog food and some that don't even include wheat gluten," she said. "Unless the food has been specifically recalled there's no need to panic and if you have questions consult your vet."
Looking out for small changes in pet behavior can help save them if they have eaten contaminated food.
"Our main advice for pet owners is to be on the lookout for early warning signs like increased thirst, decrease in appetite," Murray said. "Don't wait till your pet is gravely ill."
Murray said that if pet owners suspect their pet is suffering from contaminated food, they should take their pet to a veterinarian immediately. She has successfully treated some of the animals that have been affected by the tainted pet food.
"The cases that we've seen have been responding to therapy," Murray said. "There is evidence they do respond to treatment."