WASHINGTON (AP) – As many as one in six animals died in tests of suspect dog and cat food by the manufacturer after complaints the products were poisoning pets around the country, the government said Monday.
A federal investigation is focusing on wheat gluten as the likely source of contamination that sparked a recall last Friday of 60 million cans and pouches of the suspect food, said Stephen F. Sundlof, the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) top veterinarian.
The ingredient, a protein source, is commonly used as filler.
Agency investigators are looking at other ingredients as well. The wet-style pet food was made by Menu Foods, an Ontario, Canada-based company. The FDA on Monday had investigators at Menu plants in Emporia, Kan., and Pennsauken, N.J.
Menu Foods told the FDA it received the first complaints of kidney failure and deaths among cats and dogs from pet owners on Feb. 20. It began new tests on Feb. 27.
During those tests, the company fed its product to 40 to 50 dogs and cats and seven animals – the mix of species was not immediately known – died, Sundlof said. The contamination appeared more deadly to cats than to dogs, he said.
The recall now covers dog food sold throughout North America under 51 brands and cat food sold under 40 brands, including Iams, Nutro and Eukanuba. The food was sold under both store and major brand labels at Wal-Mart, Kroger, Safeway and other large retailers.
The FDA has yet to tally how many reports it has received of cats and dogs suffering kidney failure or death. The company has reported just 10 deaths, of nine cats and a single dog.
''We are still trying to find out what the true picture is out there of animals. We're talking about 1 percent of the petfood (supply) and it's really just impossible to extrapolate at this point,'' Sundlof said.
Menu Foods spokeswoman Sarah Tuite told Associated Press Radio the company was ''still trying to figure out the cause.''
''We're testing and testing, but we can't identify the problem in the product,'' Tuite said.
Other companies – Nestle Purina PetCare Co., Procter & Gamble and Hill's Pet Nutrition Inc. – said that as a precaution they were voluntarily recalling some products made by Menu Foods.