Mycotoxin in pet food likely caused 2021 UK cat diseases

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Mycotoxin-contaminated cat food ingredients may have caused the 2021 wave of feline pancytopenia that killed more than 350 cats  in the United Kingdom. Medical researchers at the Royal Veterinary College analyzed 544 dietary histories of cats with severe pancytopenia. Five hundred of the cats had eaten one of the three brands involved in a June 2021 recall.

In the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, the researchers noted that they lacked certain testing data that could have provided a definitive link between cat food ingredients and the pancytopenia surge. Nevertheless, the scientists speculated that toxins in the cat foods caused many of the pancytopenia cases.

“However, similarities in clinical presentation and clinicopathological findings, in particular bone marrow examination findings compared to other species and reported studies in cats, as well as exclusion of other previously documented causes, make a causative link likely and veterinarians should consider dietary derived mycotoxin induced marrow toxicosis as a possible underlying cause in cats presenting with pancytopenia… 

“The diets associated with the pancytopenia outbreak in cats in the United Kingdom all contained potatoes flakes which, in this scenario, are thought to have been the likely source of mycotoxin.”

Recalled cat food samples held concentrations of toxic trichothecene T-2/HT-2 mycotoxins at levels higher than those recommended by the European Commission, while control samples contained none.

“The trichothecene mycotoxin diacetoxyscirpenol (DAS) was detectable in all recalled diet samples but not in any of control samples,” they wrote.

History of pancytopenia, mycotoxins and cat food in UK

In June 2021, Fold Hill Foods recalled dry, hypoallergenic cat food products it manufactures for several brands in the UK. The United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency advised cat owners not to feed their pets those recalled products because of correlation to a rare blood disease. Since April, the agency had received more than 130 reports of feline pancytopenia, a condition when the number of blood cells (red, white and platelets) rapidly decreases, causing serious illness. 

In August 2021, an investigation by the Food Standards Agency did not find a causal link between certain cat foods and more feline pancytopenia. However, the investigation did identify high levels of mycotoxins in the cat food.

“This includes specific compounds known as T2 and HT2…” agency officials wrote in a press release. “No causative link between pancytopenia and the recalled cat food products has been established.”

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