ALBANY, N.Y. – Rat poison was found in pet food blamed for the deaths of at least 16 cats and dogs, but scientists said Friday they still don’t know how it got there and predicted more animal deaths would be linked to it.
After the announcement, the company that produced the food expanded its recall to include all 95 brands of the “cuts and gravy” style food, regardless of when they were produced. The company also said it would take responsibility for pet medical expenses incurred as a result of the food.
The substance in the food was identified as aminopterin, a cancer drug once used to induce abortions in the United States that is still used to kill rats in other countries, state Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker said.
The federal government prohibits using aminopterin for killing rodents in the U.S.
State officials would not speculate on how the poison got into the pet food but said no criminal investigations had been launched.
The pet deaths led to a recall of 60 million cans and pouches of dog and cat food produced by Menu Foods and sold throughout North America under 95 brand names. Some pets that ate the recalled brands suffered kidney failure, and the company has confirmed the deaths of 15 cats and one dog.
However, pet owners and veterinarians said the tally could be higher, and other deaths were reported anecdotally around the country. A Yorkshire terrier named Pebbles, whose picture became linked with the pet food scare, died Thursday of kidney failure, her owner said. The dog had eaten some of the food, and the owner, Jeff Kerner, said he was contacting an attorney because he wanted to prevent another pet tragedy.
“Before they put this stuff in the bags, there should be some kind of test,” said Kerner, of Sherman Oaks, Calif. “I can’t just let it go. Even if they just change the law.”
The company expanded the recall – which initially covered only cans and pouches of food packaged from Dec. 3 through March 6 – after the FDA alerted it that some products remained on store shelves.
There is no risk to pet owners from handling the food, officials said.
The Food and Drug Administration has said the investigation into the pet deaths was focused on wheat gluten in the food. The gluten itself would not cause kidney failure, but it could have been contaminated, the FDA said.
Paul Henderson, chief executive of Ontario, Canada-based Menu Foods, confirmed Friday that the wheat gluten was purchased from China.
Bob Rosenberg, senior vice president of government affairs for the National Pest Management Association, said it would be unusual for the wheat to be tainted.