National News

Rat Poison Found in Tainted Pet Food

Posted March 23, 2007
Updated March 24, 2007

— Rat poison was found in the pet food suspected of causing kidney failure that killed at least 16 cats and dogs, but scientists still don't know how it got there, state officials said Friday.

The toxin was identified as aminopterin, which is used to kill rats in some countries, state Agriculture Commissioner Patrick Hooker said. Aminopterin is not registered for killing rodents in the U.S., according to the Environmental Protection Agency, though it is used as a cancer drug.

State officials wouldn't speculate on how the toxin got into Menu Foods' now-recalled pet food but said no criminal investigations had been launched.

Scientists at the New York State Animal Health Diagnostic Center at Cornell and at the New York State Food Laboratory tested three cat food samples provided by Menu Foods and found Aminopterin in two of them. Hooker said they would test individual components of the pet food, as well. The early test results were released to give veterinarians a better idea of how to treat sick animals.

"Any amount of this product is too much in food," Hooker said.

Aminopterin, also used as a cancer drug, is highly toxic in high doses. It inhibits the growth of malignant cells and suppresses the immune system.

In dogs and cats, it can cause kidney failure, according to Donald Smith, dean of Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

Cases of kidney failure connected to the food have been reported in Wilson, Durham, Orange and Wake counties. A statewide survey has turned up 33 cases scattered across North Carolina.

Ryan Eiland and his wife lost one cocker spaniel earlier this week from liver and kidney failure that he blames on the tainted food, and another of their dogs is suffering similar symptoms. The Morrisville resident said he fed all the of his animals food that was on on the recall list that he bought from a local Petco store.

Eiland says they've already racked up hundreds of dollars in veterinary bills, and he said he's worried other animals might go untreated if their owners can't afford it.

"I think it's absolutely horrendous that this food has made it into the food chain and that it's gone undetected for this amount of time," he said. "For them to finally acknowledge the source of the problem, I think immediatly that these companies should be setting up vet care."

The Food and Drug Administration has said the investigation into the pet deaths was focusing on wheat gluten in the pet food. Wheat gluten itself would not cause kidney failure, but the common ingredient could have been contaminated, the FDA said.

Bob Rosenberg, senior vice president of government affairs for the National Pest Management Association, said he had never heard of the substance before Friday.

"It would make no sense to spray a crop itself with rodenticide," Rosenberg said, though he said grain shippers typically put bait stations around the perimeter of their storage facilities.

The pet deaths led to a recall of 60 million cans and pouches of pet food produced by Menu Foods and sold throughout North America under 95 brand names -- each brand name includes various products. There have been several reports of kidney failure in pets that ate the recalled brands, and the company has confirmed the deaths of 15 cats and one dog.

Menu Foods last week recalled "cuts and gravy" style dog and cat food. The recall sparked concern among pet owners across North America. It includes food sold under store brands carried by Wal-Mart, Kroger, Safeway and other large retailers, as well as private labels such as Iams, Nutro and Eukanuba.

"You might want to avoid these gravy, chunky-style types of pet food for your dog or cat. Dry food appears to be safe," said Dr. Richard Ford, a clinical sciences professor at North Carolina State University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

Some local pet owners said they are considering a switch organic pet food.

"I'd rather be safe than sorry and switch," Anne Campbell said.

There is no antedote for the type of rat poison discovered in the pet products, Ford said. The best veterinarians can do is stabilize a pet to minimize the damage to internal organs and make the animal as comfortable as possible.

A complete list of the recalled products along with product codes, descriptions and production dates was posted online by Menu Foods and is available at http://tinyurl.com/2pn6mm. The company also designated two phone numbers that pet owners could call for information: (866) 463-6738 and (866) 895-2708.

A spokesman for New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said he was not aware of any criminal investigation involving the tainted food. FBI spokesman Paul Holstein in Albany said Friday he was not aware of any FBI involvement in the case.

"I don't know where we'll go from here," he said.

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Associated Press writer Andrew Bridges in Washington contributed to this report.

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132 Comments

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  • SingleLensReflex.SLR Mar 25, 4:27 p.m.

    yes, but now the latest news reports including FDA spokespersons seem to back off that saying they thought maybe it was in the gluten from China but now they are back to "still investigating".It seems to be coming out of menu foods/canada because the recalls affect 2 different plants that did the actually canning. They say it doesn't make sense that it was added at menu foods so.. that means it came to mf in an additive of some sort from some where else. It was not some poison put ON the wheat. So it was a substance added somewhere along the way.

  • paddie Mar 25, 9:46 a.m.

    Has anyone else besides me read, in other columns, that the poison was in wheat gluten imported from China. In the initial reports, Menu Foods said they had recently changed suppliers of their wheat gluten......

  • SingleLensReflex.SLR Mar 24, 11:06 p.m.

    people whose comments are primarily negative and critical are scared and lonely people who spend a lot of time playing computer games and projecting their self-loathing onto others. life is good, its a gift.

  • ghimmy47 Mar 24, 8:18 p.m.

    WRAL ... ever consider some sort of age-verification service to at least be sure kids only comment on youth related stories?

  • SingleLensReflex.SLR Mar 24, 8:16 p.m.

    melhale, i'm so sorry for your loss. my cat maggie died march 1 of kidney failure too. we can't blame ourselves, we didn't know. By the way i just saw on the nytimes website that the FDA is investigating and actually they sent the sample to a special federal emergency testing lab in Albany and THEY found the aminopterin, so iwas wrong it was not Cornell Vet school. Also, Dr. Sundlof of the FDA says they still don't know if the aminopterin came in via the Chinese gluten, but he doesn't have any reason to believe it is in any human food supply, and they have notified the CDC. I just feel better having the info that the fda is investigating aggressively and taking this seriously. (sorry, y'all for the multiple long emails)

  • melhale2002 Mar 24, 7:29 p.m.

    Susie, my 3 yr. old dog, was a very healthy dog who was extremely hyper all the time. During a minor ice storm Susie was just as hyper as ever running around, playing with the kids, knocking down their 2 inch snowmen. The first of February we noticed that Susie was dropping weight and just laying around acting tired. We couldn't get her to eat much. We thought she was on the uphill when we got her to eat a little home cooked food. That quickly ended as well. We took Susie to the vet. At first they couldn't find anything wrong with her. We were relieved when they said the next step was to check her teeth hoping it was a tooth problem. Then the next day, we got a call from the vet saying that Susie was experiencing kidney failure. They guessed it was cancer, but had no test for it. She was suffering and there was no treatment. They recommended putting her to sleep which we did on Valentine's Day. I believe Susie suffered from the food poison I have been seeing in the news.

  • SingleLensReflex.SLR Mar 24, 7:05 p.m.

    dr.ford at ncsu college of vet medicine says "dry foods appear to be safe"..huh ?? for crying out loud, we know what the poison is now, why doesn't ncsu vet school do some testing and tell us if the dry foods are safe? they could test a dry counterpoint to one of the deathly cans, like Hills Science brand dry...or work together with a reporter and test a dry cat food that was packaged in the place the wet cans came from. Cornell vet school is where our information about what the poison is originally came from (not menu foods or the fda which is interesting ) so ncsu, give us some real information !!

  • SingleLensReflex.SLR Mar 24, 6:57 p.m.

    lol... then there are questions we still have:
    1) is there treatment for animals who have ingested this poison? all we hear is "get your pet to the vet" but is there treatment??
    2) is anyone getting death data from local vets?
    3) what else does menu foods produce using wheat gluten?
    4)how did they know it came from the wheat gluten before they knew what was causing the deaths?
    5) what is the name of the company (supposedly in china) that exported the poison and who else did they sell to?
    6) what involvement does the nsa have in investigating this? just curious.

  • twright530 Mar 24, 6:11 p.m.

    Being thar the Repubs eat their pets and the Dems marry theirs the pioson was meant for the Repubs.

  • Brain-Dead Religious Freak Mar 24, 3:09 p.m.

    Oh, the poor innocent animals that were killed after eating food that was laced with poison that should rightfully have been used to kill EVIL rodents from HELL, as is God's will! I will pray for the poor pets that died. They are in a better place now, frolicing in the fields of the LORD GOD THE ALMIGHTY. God bless you all!

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