It's been a week of dire warnings and reports of mounting pet deaths following the Menu Foods recall of 95 brands of dog and cat food. Pet owners, desperate for information and comfort, are finding each other through online communities.
"I took my beautiful cat to the vet on 2/1 because of weight loss, failure to eat and lethargy," reads one comment on PetConnection.com. "She went on the special kidney diet the next day. She continued to lose weight, wouldn't eat and could barely move. She was so ill that it broke my heart. She was put to sleep on 2/24."
Pet Connection, a pet information clearinghouse that hosts a popular blog, has been tracking the pet food recall from the start.
Dr. Marty Becker, a veterinarian, "Good Morning America" contributor and Pet Connection producer, said his Web site was offering people a forum to talk, "and the chorus was so loud."
"Can you imagine looking in the mirror and saying 'I poisoned someone I love'?" Becker said. "You saw people looking for both the science and the soul. People wanted to talk about the guilt they feel and needed a place to put it out there."
Within days of the announcement, Pet Connection had a feature up that gave owners a place to report an animal's death if they thought it related to the recall. The site has logged reports of more than 1,300 deaths.
The Food and Drug Administration is also collecting information, though Baker said it was difficult to get through.
"For those critical days there was no way to report anything or be heard," he said.
Students also responded to the recall news by creating support groups on the popular social networking Web site, Facebook.
"My dog was just diagnosed with kidney failure this evening," wrote one student. "However we think we caught it early and are hoping for the best. We feed her Alpo with beef and gravy and all signs are pointing to the food as the culprit."
Becker said the recall isn't just hard on pet owners, but veterinarians as well. Vets had trouble tracking the affected animals' health problems at first because they all thought they were dealing with an isolated case.
After the recall, many veterinarians connected through another online community, VIN.com, a network for veterinary professionals. By chatting on this Web site, vets were able to discuss the incidents of acute renal failure, the condition caused by the tainted food, and advise each other on possible courses of action.
Becker said the Web sites are good for sharing stories and following the news, but ultimately pet owners need to "ask their vet for advice."
For the latest list of recalled pet foods visit: http://www.menufoods.com/recall/. For online communities with ongoing discussion about the recall visit: http://www.petconnection.com or http://www.dogster.com.