Retailers and consumers are dealing with yet another recall of pet food, while confusion continues to grow over the precise source of contamination.
The popular dog food Alpo Prime Cuts in Gravy is being pulled from store shelves, and for the first time a dry pet food, Hills for cats, is being recalled.
The Food and Drug Administration reported Friday that melamine, a chemical used in plastics, was found by tests to have been the contaminant. Earlier, a New York State lab reported that it was rat poison.
All recalls have one thing in common -- wheat gluten purchased from suppliers in China. Wheat gluten is a source of protein.
On the New York City's East Side today, anxious pet owners continued to flood the waiting room of veterinarian Timnah Lee as well as her phone lines.
Lee said that pet owners are doing the right thing by seeking tests if they are concerned about their cats and dogs. But she added the rolling recalls have required her to play catch up.
"It's still very worrisome," she said. "It doesn't instill much faith in these food companies."
She, like the owners of her patients, is dealing with uncertainty.
"It's scary for veterinarians and also for clients themselves, with their pets," Lee said.
Nestle Purina PetCare said the Alpo recall was voluntary. Spokesman Keith Schopp said it was not the result of his company's testing, but a reaction to the FDA's announcement Friday that melamine had been found in wheat gluten from a Chinese supplier.
"Four hours later," said Schopp, "we had reason for concern with a limited amount of production."
That concern was that the same Chinese company involved in earlier recalls had supplied wheat gluten to Nestle Purina's plant in Crete, Neb. Nestle Purina said it was the only one of its 17 production facilities where the wheat gluten was used.
"We're confident that we've isolated this problem," said Schopp.
The company recalled 13.2-ounce and 22-ounce cans of Alpo Prime Cuts in Gravy as well as cans of several sizes in variety packs. All carry the plant code 1159 and the warning, "best before Feb. 2009."
Nestle said customers should immediately stop feeding their pets those products. The same would be true for the Hills cat food.
But all of this has left lingering questions for veterinarians like Lee.
"We want our food to be as good as possible, and most of the time it is," she said. "But something has gone wrong, and we don't know how it happened."
Even before these recalls began, pet owners in many parts of the country had abandoned packaged food for their cats and dogs and were cooking meals instead.
One such pet owner is Maria Sabatine of Sherman Oaks, Calif. She now routinely cooks things like chicken and vegetables for her Pomeranians, Peaches and Rosebud. Long before the recalls, Sabatine was concerned about additives to pet food and the process used in their manufacture.
In her pet meals, Sabatine says, "There are no antibiotics, no growth hormones and no steroids."
And it is now likely others will follow her lead or turn to high-priced organic pet food.