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Pet food recall affects many in Tri-State area

November 30, 1999|By PEPPER BALLARD

Tri-State area veterinary hospitals, pet food stores, animal shelters and pet owners have been busy keeping tabs on developments in a recall of pet food suspected of causing kidney failure that killed at least 16 dogs and cats across the United States.

The Associated Press reported Friday that rat poison turned up in tests of the pet food that is suspected of causing kidney failure in the dogs and cats.

Longmeadow Animal Hospital has two cases "we suspect may be related, but at this point, we really don't know how to prove it," practice director Kirsten Wallinger said.

Park Circle Animal Hospital was to examine a cat Friday that had eaten two foods listed on the recall list and was showing symptoms, veterinary technician Heather Frey said.

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Dr. Amy Sultenfuss, associate veterinarian at the Animal Health Clinic of Funkstown, said, "We are getting a lot of complaints, a lot of concerns and there are some showing signs," but she said doctors have not determined any link in the sick pets to the recalled food.

While veterinarians are staying busy keeping up with pet owner concerns, PetSmart has been busy restocking its shelves and helping customers understand their options.

"As soon as the recall was issued, we pulled everything off our shelves," said Mary O'Toole, store manager of PetSmart at The Centre at Hagerstown.

She said the store also has been busy taking pet food returns. Sales associates now carry lists of comparable food they use to suggest food alternatives to pet owners who had to stop buying certain products, O'Toole said.

Sixty million cans and pouches of pet food produced by Menu Foods and sold throughout North America under 95 brand names were recalled as a result of some pet deaths, The Associated Press reported.

O'Toole said the store has information posted on its Web site about the recall and has lists available at PetSmart stores of the recalled items.

The store even installed a red flag system so that a recalled item could not be sold that might have been missed when clerks cleared the shelves, she said.

"The most important thing is if your pet is showing signs of illness, get them to a vet right away," O'Toole said.

Dr. Jack Runk, associate veterinarian at Franklin Veterinary Associates in Greencastle, Pa., said he has seen a lot of pets exhibiting symptoms similar to those associated with the recalled foods, but no confirmed links.

Vomiting, lack of appetite, lethargy, increased water intake or increased urination are symptoms indicative of "metabolic or organ dysfunction," he said.

Runk said the symptoms also are similar to those associated with antifreeze poisoning.

"What we're dealing with is kidney failure. Antifreeze does the exact same thing," Runk said. "We see older animals that get kidney failure and we don't know why. Diabetes will cause the exact same symptoms."

Runk said the office has seen a couple of pets that have shown "vague signs" that have prompted standard blood work.

Frey, the veterinary technician at Park Circle Animal Hospital, said the hospital has not seen any pets "that we can pinpoint" that their illnesses are associated with the recalled food.

Wallinger said Longmeadow encourages pet owners to bring their pets in for an exam if they are showing symptoms.

"It's just scary because all of your clients are all worked up," she said. "We have clients showing up with bags of food because they don't have computers" to cross-check them.

Area animal shelters have checked their donated food stock for recalled items and disposed of any potential dangers, officials with the groups said Friday.

Paul Miller, executive director of the Humane Society of Washington County, said that the shelter doesn't serve a lot of canned food to the approximately 120 animals it houses.

"We're fortunate that we get an assortment of food donated ... We had to throw away some food. Some shelters, all they buy are the foods that are being recalled."

Joanne Griswold, a kennel assistant at the Berkeley County (W.Va.) Humane Society, Candy Clopper, executive director of the Antietam Humane Society in Waynesboro, Pa., and Jennifer Vanderau, director of communications for the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter in Chambersburg, Pa., all said they rely on donated food, too.

Each shelter checked its shelves and some had to get rid of some food, but all reported no animal was showing signs of the illness.

"We get a lot of donations from Wal-Mart and Ol' Roy," Griswold said. "We printed up the brands and disposed of the ones on the list."

Some pet owners interviewed Friday outside of PetSmart in Hagerstown were taking even more precautions.

"We got rid of all of our canned cat food," said Michael Stipanovic, 49, of Bedford, Pa.

His partner, Huston Godwin, 34, said their dog, Gracie, ate food from their cats' plate and got sick, but was fine now.

"Maybe she had the flu," he said.

Becky Winnette, 44, said she takes care of 10 dogs and seven cats on her 11-acre farm in Hedgesville, W.Va.

She said she threw out dry food of the same brands listed on the recall list because she didn't want to take any chances.

"They scared the living tar out of us," she said.

She even threw out canned dog food that was not listed on the recall list.

Herb Smith, 37, of Hagerstown, said his two cats, ages 13 and 9, have gone without their Iams food even though the food did not match up with the recall codes.

"I threw it out just in case," he said.

Even though Janet Carranza, 39, of Waynesboro, Pa., buys Blue dog food for her 7-year-old dog Dusty, she made a trip to the pet store Friday just to make sure the food still was stocked on the shelves.

Blue products have not been recalled, according to the company Web site at www.bluebuff.com.

"I'm concerned about other pet owners," she said.

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