January 2021

Pet Food Recalled for Potentially Fatal Levels of Aflatoxin

By Dr. Scott Fritz

On December 30, 2020 the FDA alerted pet owners and veterinary professionals about certain Sportmix™ dry pet food products manufactured by Midwestern Pet Foods, Inc. that may contain harmful to fatal concentrations of aflatoxin. The FDA is aware of at least 28 deaths and eight illnesses in dogs that consumed the recalled product. These deaths appear to have started as early as October. A complete list of recalled pet foods are available here.

Aflatoxins are a group of mycotoxins produced by the fungus Aspergillus and are potent hepatotoxins. Aspergillus grows on damaged plant tissue such as drought-stressed corn or grains that have been mechanically damaged by insects or weather. Aflatoxins are most commonly found in grains with high energy content like corn, peanuts, rice, wheat etc. and can be included in pet foods.

Low concentrations of aflatoxins are hazardous to humans and animals alike. The FDA established action levels for aflatoxin in pet foods at 20 ppb, many of the recalled products have contained >500 ppb aflatoxin.

Clinical signs associated with aflatoxin consumption include: lethargy, anorexia, diarrhea, and vomiting which later progress to jaundice, orange urine, and eventually, death. Animals can take several days to weeks to show clinical signs so any animal that consumed the recalled products should be examined by a veterinarian.

Recommended screening tests include ALT, total bilirubin, and potentially coagulation proteins. Dogs with abnormal liver function tests can be prescribed liver protectants. Cats that consume pet food products that contain aflatoxin may also be at risk and should be examined.

Currently, there are no post-mortem analyses specific for aflatoxin. The recommended course of diagnosis includes histopathology of liver and kidney and mycotoxin analysis of the suspect feed. The toxicology laboratory at KSVDL offers mycotoxin analysis of pet foods. Aflatoxin analysis (TOX – 1025, select Aflatoxin) of pet food is $25 and approximately ½ pound of the suspect pet food is needed. Samples should be submitted in a sealed bag or container. Fixed tissue should also be submitted for histopathology. Submission forms are available on our website.

Veterinarians and owners are encouraged to file a complaint on the VetLIRN website. This will allow the FDA to compile data. VetLIRN can decide to assist in the diagnosis of Aflatoxicosis and aid in paying for diagnostic fees on a case by case basis.

Please contact KSVDL Client Care at 785-532-5650 with any submission questions or concerns.

Scott Fritz, DVM is a toxicology resident in KSVDL.

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