Following an alert by a University of Missouri veterinary toxicology expert working in cooperation with the Missouri Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, Midwestern Pet Foods Inc. voluntarily recalled some of their Sportmix brand of pet food Dec. 30, 2020. It expanded the recall Jan. 11.
The FDA launched a formal investigation to identify all Sportmix pet food products containing potentially fatal levels of aflatoxin, a fungal toxin that can be poisonous if consumed by animals or humans. The FDA is now aware of more than 70 pet deaths and 80 illnesses, located in multiple states, that ate the contaminated product.
Among those states are Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas and Washington, according to the FDA. The investigation involves both dog and cat food.
MU’s Tim Evans, an associate professor in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine and head of the toxicology section in MU’s Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, alerted the Missouri Department of Agriculture and Steve Strubberg, Missouri’s state veterinarian, after a sample of pet food submitted to the diagnostic lab by one of his former students, David Sikes, was found to contain high, potentially fatal levels of aflatoxin that exceeded FDA regulations.
The FDA’s deputy director for the Division of Compliance at the Center for Veterinary Medicine, Amber McCoig, is another former student of Evans, and she has been actively involved in the investigation since its very beginning.
“Although this pet food recall is still unfolding, we are sharing the facts we have so far because the levels of aflatoxin found in the recalled pet food are potentially fatal,” McCoig said. “We are working quickly on this developing situation and will continue to update the public as new information becomes available.”
Evans provides an overview of what happened and advice for what pet owners should look out for and what to do if they suspect their pet may have eaten contaminated pet food:
How did the Sportmix pet food become contaminated?
While the FDA is still investigating, we know that aflatoxin can be produced by mold in grains, especially drought-stressed corn, and high levels of the toxin can be extremely poisonous to pets. Corn is a major ingredient in some of Midwestern Pet Food’s Sportsmix products.
How did you first find out the pet food was potentially contaminated?
When I heard from a former student practicing in the southern part of Missouri about some dogs showing clinical signs resembling aflatoxicosis, I asked him to send a deceased dog for a postmortem examination and a sample of the dog’s food to be tested for aflatoxins at MU’s Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory. One of the VMDL’s pathologists, Gayle Johnson, found changes consistent with aflatoxicosis on the postmortem examination.
In addition, the VMDL toxicology section found high concentrations of aflatoxin that exceeded state and federal action levels for aflatoxins in pet foods. I immediately notified the Missouri Department of Agriculture’s Feed and Seed Control Program, as well as Missouri’s state veterinarian, and they began their investigation. Once the VMDL’s results were confirmed by another laboratory and the pet food brand was identified, the FDA was formally notified and Midwestern Pet Foods voluntarily recalled products suspected of being contaminated.
Since that time, the FDA, MDA and regulatory agencies in other states have continued their investigations. On Jan. 11, 2021, Midwestern Pet Foods expanded their recall to include additional products containing corn, which were manufactured at their Oklahoma plant.
What are the symptoms in pets to look out for?
The clinical signs to look for in your pet include lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea and potentially yellow mucous membranes in the pet’s mouth.
What should I do if I have been feeding my pets Sportmix pet food and they start to experience the symptoms mentioned above? Is there a treatment for animals?
The first steps are to identify whether you have been feeding or had previously fed any of the recalled products, immediately stop feeding those products to your pets, and call your veterinarian right away to have your exposed pets examined and have appropriate blood tests performed.
Blood tests can indicate whether pets are exhibiting clinical signs consistent with exposure to aflatoxins. Be sure to have specific information on hand about the pet food product, such as the product’s name, expiration date and barcode. Veterinarians should ask if multiple pets in a household have been eating the same food and if similar symptoms are present in multiple pets.
Aflatoxins primarily affect the liver, so prompt removal of pets from the source of the aflatoxins, as well as early diagnosis and treatment, are critical for the survival of exposed pets. There are a number of treatment options that veterinarians have at their disposal to help treat aflatoxicosis in pets.
However, the potential for aflatoxin exposure is often not identified until an animal’s liver is severely damaged. For this reason, it is extremely important that all potentially contaminated products be identified and recalled as soon as possible, and possibly-exposed animals be examined and treated by their veterinarians.
Which products have been recalled?
An up-to-date list of the recalled pet food products can be found here. As new information becomes available, the product list may continue to expand. Sportmix pet food products are commonly sold in both big-box retailers and online distributors.
Can pet owners report suspected contaminated pet food to the FDA?
Yes, click here to find information on the FDA’s website to report a pet food complaint. Have as much information as possible when submitting your complaint, including the name of the product, type of container, expiration date and net weight.
The University of Missouri contributed this article.