By Sandra Eckstein
The recent nationwide recall of moist pet foods didn't concern many dog and cat owners, who feed their animals only dry kibble. But now some of them may have reason to worry.
Hill's Pet Nutrition voluntarily recalled its Prescription Diet m/d Feline dry food Friday because some of the food contains wheat gluten from the same supplier that sold tainted stock to Menu Foods.
Hill's said tests of its gluten showed small amounts of melamine, the substance now believed to have caused widespread sickness and the deaths of numerous animals.
Until Friday, the Food and Drug Administration said no dry foods were involved in the recall. The new alert has frightened some pet owners.
"What are my animals going to eat?" asked Eden Cherry, who has six dogs and three cats. "I wasn't concerned about the recall because I don't feed canned food, but now I'm scared. I guess I'll just go to an organic diet or something like that until they get all this sorted out."
During a Friday news conference, Stephen Sundlof, director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the FDA, said the agency was inspecting a factory that made dry dog food that had received a shipment of tainted wheat gluten from China.
Sundlof said officials believe melamine, a chemical used in making plastics in the U.S. and as a fertilizer in other countries, is the substance causing the pet illnesses -- not rat poison, as previously reported.
Sundlof said more than 8,800 people have reported that their pets died or were sickened, although his office will need to sift through the reports to establish which were actually caused by the recalled foods.
Menu Foods Chief Executive Paul Henderson said Friday that his company will reimburse owners for medical costs if they can prove tainted food caused their pet's illness.
Several veterinarians said in light of the new information about dry food, they may change their advice.
"So you don't feel like you're playing Russian roulette with your pet, until they figure all this out, I think it would be safer to feed a diet without wheat," said Dr. Will Draper of the Village Veterinary Centers in suburban Atlanta.