Cats are still dying in droves from a mysterious disease that investigators believe may be linked to widely sold brands of cat food, prompting concern that not enough is being done to warn owners against a nationwide recall.
Vets across the UK are known to have been inundated with cases of pancytopenia, a condition in which the number of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets decreases rapidly, causing serious illness.
The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) said this week it had known of at least 528 cases in cats over the past few months, of which 63.5% have proven fatal. She said the true number of deaths could be much higher, because many cases are not reported to vets, and only a small percentage of vets pass data to the RVC.
Certain batches of hypoallergenic cat foods from Sainsbury, Applaws and AVA (a home pet brand) were recalled by the manufacturer, Fold Hill Foods, in mid-June, prompting an investigation by RVC and the Food Standards Agency (FSA).
The RVC and FSA have yet to confirm the cause of the wave of deaths, more than six weeks after the alarm was initially raised. The length of the investigation is said to be causing frustration among cat food suppliers. The two organizations said they are looking into all possibilities, including those not related to food.
One cat owner, whose pet died Tuesday, warned that very few people were aware of the recall process and could inadvertently feed their cats products that could kill them.
Stephen Barrett, a commercial attorney from High Wycombe, said his nine-year-old cat, Freyja, died Tuesday after five days of illness.
Barrett said Freya only ate Applause and finished his last 7.5kg bag of dry chicken food shortly before the vomiting started.
He said he heard nothing of the product recall until he tried to buy more food online and saw that it wasn’t available, which prompted him to look into the reason.
He said: “My heart entered the earth.” “She was a member of our little family, and that’s how we dealt with her. I just wanted you to have the best food.”
He added that the cat was not allowed outside as it could have been exposed to other toxins.
When Barrett called his regular vet he was unable to get an appointment because the clinic was overwhelmed with similar cases.
“When the receptionist heard the name of the cat food, she just asked me for an emergency appointment with another vet. I took her yesterday and she was dead by the end of the day.
“My concern is that a lot of cat owners are buying dry food in bulk and that’s a big recall, so there may be toxins in the dried food bags that will be opened and given to the cats and more cats will die.”
Although RVC and FSA investigations continue, a statement on the RVC’s website indicated that the disease may be caused by mycotoxins, toxic compounds naturally produced by various fungi.
Mycotoxins can grow on crops before or after harvest and appear on food items including grains, nuts, spices, dried fruits, apple juice and coffee, often in warm, humid conditions.
All of the brands recalled are dry foods manufactured by Fold Hill Foods, part of the Lincolnshire-based JW Grant agricultural company.
A spokesperson for Fold Hill said: “As stated by the Financial Services Authority, there is no conclusive evidence to confirm an association at this point between cat food products and total cat neutropenia.
“We continue to fully cooperate with both the FSA and RVC as they continue to investigate all potential causes of pancytopenia, forage and non-nutrition.
“As cat owners, we fully understand how upsetting and stressful this situation is and the urgent need to establish the cause of the increase in cases of pancytopenia in the UK.”
Sainsbury said it was assisting an investigation involving two hypoallergenic cat foods and was offering full refunds, while Pets at Home said it had recalled AVA and Applaws products and was assisting investigators. Applause said she was “sad” at the suggestion that any food he sold could be linked to the cat’s death, adding that she was helping with the investigation.