Cornell vets devise test to detect diamond poisoned dog food

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Cornell vets devise test to detect diamond poisoned dog food

Postby guest » Sun Jan 08, 2006 6:45 pm

Cornell vets devise aflatoxin test to detect poisoned dog food

Associated Press Writer

January 6, 2006, 4:24 PM EST

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Veterinarians at Cornell University said Friday they have adapted a human protein test to quickly and accurately detect the toxin that has been blamed for several dog deaths nationwide.

Dog food contaminated with aflatoxin resulted recently in the deaths of nearly two dozen dogs in 22 states and sickened 18 more, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

An FDA investigation found the pet food was made by the Missouri-based Diamond Pet Food Company at its Gaston, S.C., manufacturing plant.

In response, the company recalled 19 varieties of dog and cat food Dec. 21. The FDA said some of the recalled product also was exported to at least 29 countries, including the European Union.

Aflatoxin, a naturally occurring chemical that comes from a fungus sometimes found on corn and other crops, can cause severe liver damage. Aflatoxin poisoning can cause sluggishness, a lack of appetite and in severe cases severe vomiting, fever and jaundice.

To better screen affected dogs so they can be treated as soon as possible, vets at Cornell's Animal Health Diagnostic Center used a so-called Protein C Activity Assay, a human protein test modified at Cornell over the past two years for animal use, said Sharon Center, a professor of veterinary medicine. The blood test results are available within a day.

"With this test, we can mark dogs before they show serious symptoms or become really sick," said Center, who specializes in liver function and disease.

The test _ currently only available at Cornell _ measures the levels of protein C produced by the liver. A normal dog's liver will produce a 100 percent value of protein C, said Marjory Brooks, the Cornell vet who helped adapt the test. Dogs poisoned with aflatoxin have only 10 to 15 percent of normal amounts of protein C, Brooks said.

The test is one of several, however, that should be administered for detection of seriously ill dogs. Center also recommended testing for the liver enzyme ALT to detect damage to the liver, serum cholesterol and total bilirubin concentration and the activity of anticoagulant proteins.

Only about a third of dogs showing severe symptoms recover from treatment, which underscores the importance of early detection, Center said.

Seventeen poisoned dogs were brought to Cornell for treatment. Twelve of those dogs had to be euthanized when it became clear they could not survive. The other five are still being treated, as well as four others admitted Friday.

The diagnostic center is analyzing blood and liver samples from sick dogs around the country, testing suspected dog food, conducting necropsies and examining as many samples of liver tissue as possible from deceased dogs to confirm causes of death. The center is also tracking dogs that have died and following up on the health of dogs that have survived the food poisoning.

"Despite our understanding of this complex toxin, we have no direct antidote for poisoning," Center said.

It can take dogs several days to three weeks to exhibit serious signs of illness. Severely afflicted dogs produce a blood-tinged vomit and bloody or blackened stools.

Cornell vets remain concerned that some consumers and kennels are still unaware of the tainted pet food problem, and that more deaths will occur.

"We suspect that dogs have been dying since November, perhaps even October, but it took the perfect storm of circumstances to get the diagnosis," said Karyn Bischoff, the Cornell veterinary toxicologist who first identified that aflatoxin was the cause of the recent wave of deaths.

Based on discussions with other vets around the country, Bischoff and Center believe that more than 100 dogs have died as a result of eating contaminated food.

And those that survive face a strong likelihood of developing chronic liver disease or liver cancer, Center said.

"Even if dogs show no signs of illness, if they have eaten the affected food, they should have blood tests submitted to detect liver injury," she said.


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