The FDA has found a substance called melamine in samples of pet food and in the wheat gluten used as an ingredient in the pet food. Wheat gluten is used for binding and serves as a protein source in some pet foods. The U.S. is the world’s biggest consumer of wheat gluten due to its widespread use as a meat alternative in pet food and in many baked goods. Additionally, Cornell University scientists have found melamine in the urine and kidneys of deceased cats that were part of a taste testing study conducted for Menu Foods.
Melamine is primarily used to produce melamine resin, which when combined with formaldehyde produces a very durable thermosetting plastic. This plastic is often used in kitchen utensils or plates. In animal studies, ingestion of large amounts of melamine in monomer form may lead to kidney stones, cancer or reproductive damage.
At this time, it is not known how the melamine came into contact with the affected wheat gluten – however, there are suspicions that it may have been intentionally added to increase the recorded protein content; and CNN reports that a manager at the Chinese company involved has been detained. The FDA says that pet owners should not feed pet food that is listed on their Recall List (see below) and instead return it to the store where you bought it and ask for a refund. If you have already fed your pet food that is on the list, it is expected that if your pet is going to become ill that it will do so within a few days of consumption. Any sudden on-set of symptoms including loss of appetite, lethargy or vomiting may indicate that your pet has eaten contaminated food and you should arrange a vet examination immediately.
Meanwhile, the same contaminated wheat gluten that was distributed to pet food manufacturers was also supplied to pig and chicken food manufacturers, and has also been used in the feeding of fish farms. It is unknown just how much of the toxin has entered the human food chain, but there are currently no reported illnesses in humans as a result of melamine.
To date, the FDA has received over 10,000 complaints of animals that have become ill or died due to the pet food recall, and cats seem to be more widely affected than dogs. Confirmation that these may be related to the pet food recall requires veterinary reports and other evidence, and in many instances there is insufficient information available to draw a conclusion. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recommends that if you suspect that your pet has been affected by a recalled food you should retain food samples for analysis, make a note of the product details (and keep the packaging), and document when and how much food was eaten.