At least 130 pet deaths potentially linked to Midwestern Pet Foods — here are the symptoms to watch for

The Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning letter to Midwestern Pet Foods after inspections of its manufacturing facilities revealed violations that may be linked to the deaths of more than 130 pets, and the illness of at least 220 others.

The company has issued several nationwide recalls over the past year after aflatoxin and Salmonella were discovered in different samples of its pet food.

“The FDA is dedicated to taking all steps possible to help pet owners have confidence that the food they buy for their animal companions is safe and wholesome,” Steven M. Solomon, director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, said in a statement.

“We are issuing this corporate-wide warning letter because inspections of Midwestern Pet Foods, Inc.’s manufacturing plants revealed evidence of violations, which were shared across multiple plants and were associated with the illness or death of hundreds of pets who had eaten the company’s dry dog food,” he continued.

The company did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

The initial inspection of Midwestern’s Oklahoma plant was triggered by reports of illness or death in dogs that had eaten the Midwestern’s Sportmix brand dry dog food, the FDA said.

The FDA found aflatoxin levels as high as 558 parts per billion in the samples it collected; anything above 20 ppb is dangerous, the administration said. Aflatoxins are toxins caused by the mold Aspergillus flavus, which can grow on corn and other grains used as ingredients in pet food. At high levels, it can cause illness and death.

Midwestern voluntarily recalled these products in December, and expanded that recall in January to all pet food containing corn.  

Symptoms of aflatoxin poisoning in pets can include sluggishness, loss of appetite, vomiting, jaundice, unexplained bruising or bleeding, and diarrhea, the FDA said. If you suspect your pet has aflatoxin poisoning, immediately contact your vet and stop feeding them the suspected food.

Midwestern also issued a recall in March for products produced at its Illinois facility after samples tested positive for Salmonella. That recall included dog and cat food sold under CanineX, Earthborn Holistic, Venture, Unrefined, Sportmix Wholesomes, Pro Pac, Pro Pac Ultimates, Sportstrail, Sportmix and Meridian. 

Symptoms of a Salmonella infection in dogs and cats include lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea (which may be bloody), fever and loss of appetite. Even healthy pets can be carriers for Salmonella and infect other animals or humans. 

Pet owners are also at risk from the contaminated food, especially if they did not wash their hands thoroughly after handling it. Salmonella infections in humans can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping and fever. Rarely, Salmonella can result in more serious ailments, including arterial infections, endocarditis, arthritis, muscle pain, eye irritation and urinary tract symptoms.

Other recent pet food recalls include Sunshine Mills recalling pet food for potentially elevated aflatoxin levels and for potential Salmonella contamination.

The FDA said that as of Aug. 9, it was aware of more than 130 pet deaths and more than 220 pet illnesses linked to eating the Midwestern pet food. It said that count was an approximation, and the total number of pets affected could be higher. 

Midwestern has 15 working days to deliver a written response to the FDA stating the specific steps the company will take to address the violations. Failure to promptly address the violations, the FDA said, could result in legal action, including product seizure and injunction.