Rare blood disease in cats in the UK leads to recall of some dry cat food products
A surge in the number of cases of a rare blood disease in cats in the UK has led to the recall of a small number of dry cat foods that were manufactured in a factory on the east coast of England. Products recalled were primarily the Sainsburys brand and the AVA brand (sold in the Pets At Home chain of pet shops), neither of which are on sale here.
Certain specific dry foods from the Applaws brand were also included, and some cat owners may have been using these, which is why it’s important to be aware of this issue in this country. It’s important to remember that this is a specific product and batch issue: the Applaws wet food is not affected, nor are most of the dry Applaws products (see this link to find out precisely which products are included).
It’s important to note that none of the recalled batch have been on sale on the Petfix Shop website.
What is pancytopaenia?
The blood disease, known as pancytopaenia, happens when the bone marrow stops producing normal blood cells and platelets. The condition is seen sometimes with cats that have some types of cancer and infections, but it can also happen when toxins suppress bone marrow activity. The Royal Veterinary College in London noticed a surge in cats with this condition being referred to them: they normally see around one case per year, but in recent times, there were over 130 cases, between cats they were treating themselves, and cats being treated by private vets in the UK.
The RVC asked vets who had seen such cases to complete a survey that enquired about a wide range of lifestyle factors of the affected cats, looking for common denominators that might explain why so many cats were suddenly developing this problem. The information gathered included details of diet for around 80% of the cases, and this is how the specific foods, manufactured in just one plant, were identified to be recalled.
A spokesperson said: “Given this apparent association with diet, we welcome the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) product recall notice. While we have not definitively established diet as the cause of pancytopenia in these cats, we are continuing to liaise with the pet food industry and regulatory bodies to investigate the matter and identify the possible underlying causes of this extremely serious condition.”
The RVC team has also shared the signs of illness noted by owners of affected animals. Most cats show some non-specific signs for around two days before being seen by a vet.
Common signs include lethargy and loss of appetite, although in some cases there were signs of spontaneous bleeding or bruising.
If a cat does develop pancytopaenia, treatment is primarily supportive care. Blood transfusions may be given to provide blood cells until the bone marrow starts to produce its own cells again. Antibiotics may be given, because the depleted immune system of affected cats is unable to deal with normal bacterial infections. A toxic basis for these cases is suspected but not yet confirmed, so there is no specific antidote. Unfortunately, many cases have fatal outcomes: this is a very serious disease.
There are two messages for cat owners:
1. If you are feeding the specific products on the list, then immediately change to an alternative dry food, and contact the product manufacturers to discuss the recalled product. You’ll find their details here.
2. If you have been feeding one of the recalled products, and your pet does fall ill at all, please contact your vet for help as soon as possible.
If any vets encounter cases of cats with pancytopaenia, they are asked to complete a survey at the RVC website to share case details to contribute to the full forensic investigation of this unfortunate issue.