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Cat death rise: ‘It feels like we’ve lost a family member’

image sourceSteven Barrett

Steven Barrett’s pet cat Freyja seemed healthy just over a week ago, but after going downhill rapidly, she died on Tuesday.

Steven fears that her death is linked to dry cat food he had been feeding her without knowing it had been recalled.

Recently there has been a big UK spike in a rare disease called feline pancytopenia.

Investigations into a possible to link to pet food manufactured by Fold Hill Foods continue.

Freyja, who was nine years old, had been fed from a 7.5kg bag of Applaws Chicken dry cat food that Steven had ordered from Amazon, but she had been poorly for six days.

He was unaware that the food had been recalled as a precaution in June until he tried to order another bag, found it was unavailable, and started searching on the internet.

As soon as Steven found out about the recall and the possible link to pancytopenia, he took Freyja to the vets.

However, she went rapidly downhill. She received palliative care, but the vet was unable to do anything more for her.

She died from organ failure caused by suspected pancytopenia.

“It feels like we’ve lost a family member,” he says.

“I’m grieving,” he adds. “I’ve been in floods [of tears]”.

image sourceSteven Barrett

Pancytopenia is a bone marrow disease which causes the number of blood cells to rapidly fall and is often fatal.

There has been a big spike in pancytopenia in cats which started to pick up pace in the spring, according to figures from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC).

So far this year there have been 528 known cases, with 335 of those cats dying so far.

However, the RVC says that these figures don’t give the full picture.

Only a small percentage of UK vets are reporting to the RVC, and cats ill with pancytopenia may not be taken to the vet, the college said.

Typically the college sees one case per year.

Steven, who is a barrister, has a young daughter, and Freyja had been with them every day through the coronavirus lockdowns.

“It’s a total nightmare,” he adds. “I wasn’t expecting her to die.”

The speed of Freyja’s deterioration caught Steven by surprise, and he said the disease was “virulent and incredibly quick.”

Freyja, a Ragdoll cat, was always kept indoors.

He said his grief is not being helped by the possibility that there could be a link to pet food, and that other family cats may yet suffer from the disease.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA), which is investigating the spike in the disease alongside the Royal Veterinary College, said in July that toxins produced by fungi had been found in a small number of pet food samples, but that does not indicate that they are the cause of feline pancytopenia.

Fold Hill Foods, which manufactures pet food for other firms, recalled several brands of dry cat food in June, the Food Standards Agency announced.

These include various types of Applaws, which is sold by Amazon and various small pet shops; Ava, which is sold by Pets at Home, and two types of Sainsbury’s own brand food.

Separately, Wilko decided to pull a number of its products as a precautionary measure, although these were not part of the Food Standards Agency (FSA) recall.

Fold Hill Foods said in June that “there is currently no established link between these deaths and food we produce and vet teams are working hard to establish the source”.

“We recognise and appreciate the distress this is causing to many people and are working with the FSA, Pet Food Manufacturers Association and veterinary authorities to assist them in identifying the source of the feline pancytopenia cases,” the company said.

The RVC is analysing cat blood samples sent by vets, and samples of food have been tested in independent labs.

The investigations are ongoing, an RVC spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

It is possible to sign up to receive FSA food and allergy alerts by text message or email to get notices about recalls.

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