Union, N.J. Pet owners were worried Saturday that the pet food in their cupboards could be deadly after millions of containers of dog and cat food sold at major retailers across North America were recalled.
Menu Foods, the Ontario-based company that produced the pet food, said Saturday it was recalling dog food sold under 48 brands and cat food sold under 40 brands including Iams, Nutro and Eukanuba. The food was distributed throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico by major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kroger and Safeway.
An unknown number of cats and dogs had suffered kidney failure and about 10 died after eating the affected pet food, the company said.
Meanwhile, two other companies - Nestle Purina PetCare Co. and Hill's Pet Nutrition Inc. - announced Saturday night that as a precaution they were voluntarily recalling some products made by Menu Foods.
Many stores that sold the affected brands frantically pulled packages off shelves.
At a Petsmart store in Union, Silviene Grzybowski became worried when the four types of Iams products she buys for her cat, Smokey, had vanished from shelves. The cat was very sick and had not been eating for days, she said.
"The vet told us to buy her her favorite food, but I'm going to call the vet right now," Grzybowski said, looking at an announcement Petsmart had taped to shelves announcing the recall.
Ron Finegold of Boynton Beach, Fla., said he noticed about a week or so ago that his family's 3-year-old cat - who was regularly fed a variety of Iams cat food - had stopped eating and did not appear well. He quickly took the animal to the veterinarian, who determined she was in renal failure.
He said he heard about the recall on the radio Friday night. He checked his trash, and found out he had given the cat some of the affected food.
"That's when I realized (the illness) had to be related," Finegold said. "She won't be eating that stuff anymore."
A complete list of the recalled products along with product codes, descriptions and production dates was available from the Menu Foods Web site, http://www.menufoods.com/recall. The company also designated two phone numbers that pet owners could call for information - (866) 463-6738 and (866) 895-2708 - but callers kept the lines busy for much of Saturday.
Investigation under way
Menu Foods' chief executive and president Paul Henderson told The Associated Press on Friday that the company was still trying to figure out what happened.
He said that the company had received an undisclosed number of owner complaints that dogs and cats were vomiting and suffering kidney failure after eating its products. He estimated that the recall would cost the company, which is mostly owned by the Menu Foods Income Fund, an estimated $26 million to $34 million.
Sarah Tuite, a company spokeswoman, has said the recalled products were made using wheat gluten purchased from a new supplier, which has since been dropped for another source. Wheat gluten is a source of protein.
Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman Julie Zawisza said it is still too early to determine what could have affected the food. Zawisza added that even if wheat gluten is the source "it doesn't necessarily mean the wheat gluten per se. It could be another substance associated with the wheat gluten."
Some made in Kansas
The recall covers the company's "cuts and gravy" style food, which consists of chunks of meat in gravy, sold in cans and small foil pouches from Dec. 3 to March 6.
The recall covers pet food made at company plants in Emporia, Kan., and Pennsauken, N.J., Henderson said.
In Omaha, Neb., Susan Balvanz said she sometimes feeds her five cats packets of sliced meat and gravy sold by Nutro Products, one of the brands affected.
"I've done so much research on pet food. It didn't surprise me but it scared me all the same," said Balvanz.
She said her 9-year-old cat, Boots, was especially fond of the food but seemed to have lost its appetite in the last few days.
At the Missouri Valley Veterinary Clinic in Bismarck, N.D., veterinarian Jacob Carlson has been referring worried pet owners to the Menu Foods web site.
"We've had a lot of calls," Carlson said, although none of his patients were sick.
The company said it makes pet food for 17 of the top 20 North American retailers. It is also a contract manufacturer for the top branded pet food companies, including Procter & Gamble Co.