Cat food poison crisis: Vets use dogs’ blood as demand for transfusions soars

Pet food recalled amid heartbreak for hundreds of cat owners

Andy Gregory
Saturday 07 August 2021 11:00 BST
Hundreds of cats are reported to have fallen ill with pancytopenia
Hundreds of cats are reported to have fallen ill with pancytopenia (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Vets have been forced to give transfusions of dogs’ blood to cats as a wave of rare and often fatal bone marrow disease sweeps the country in a feared poisoned food scandal.

More than 520 cats have been diagnosed with pancytopenia in recent months – with a fatality rate of 63.5 per cent, according to the Royal Veterinary College (RVC).

A trickle of cases in February soon saw as many as 100 cases being reported in a single week in June. However, the RVC fears the true number of cases will be far higher as many cats are not taken to a vet and only a small percentage of vets actively report cases to the organisation.

A possible but as yet unconfirmed link to a number of food products has been made – reportedly thanks in part to one pet owner who established a possible pattern behind the cases.

Vicky Winchester, a 37-year-old from Swansea, took to Facebook to find other cats afflicted by the illness after her kitten Delilah became ill in late May, creating a group called Pancytopenia in Cats Awareness UK.

Less than a week later, the group had amassed 6,000 members and now hosts more than 12,000 people.

In a series of polls, Ms Winchester soon discovered that many of the cats had eaten Applaws, Pets at Home’s AVA or Sainsbury’s hypoallergenic recipe brands of food, eventually finding a manufacturing code – GB218E5009 – linking all three products to the Fold Hill Foods production plant in Boston, Lincolnshire.

She reported her findings to the RVC, in an email seen by The Independent, and the following day, on 15 June, the products were recalled, pending an investigation by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

While a direct link has yet to be confirmed, the FSA issued a statement a month later saying it had identified mycotoxins – bacteria caused by certain types of mould – in a small number of samples of the recalled cat food it had tested.

“Mycotoxins are widely found in some types of feed and food and do not, in themselves, indicate they are the cause of feline pancytopenia,” the FSA said. “The business, FSA and other regulators continue to investigate including undertaking wider sampling and also broader screening for any possible toxins.”

Pancytopenia is a bone marrow condition that causes the number of white and red blood cells and platelets to decrease rapidly.

While not all cases are symptomatic, early signs of pancytopenia include lethargy and a lack of appetite, and can be followed by bleeding from the gums, nose, eyes, mouth and various body parts, fever or collapse.

Meanwhile, cat owners are reported to have been forced to make devastating choices over expensive care for their pets – as the typically low demand for blood transfusions has soared.

One couple in Leeds told the MailOnline that they had been forced to put down their cat after maxing out the £8,000 limit on their insurance with two unsuccessful blood transfusions, while another family in Didsbury said that, after receiving the last bag of blood at their vet surgery, the only available blood was in Portugal, at a sum of £10,000.

And the CEO of the Cat Welfare Group, Lorri Seymour, told the paper: “Vets have been forced to use dogs’ blood. It is perfectly healthy but only lasts for 24 hours while they find other donors.”

“If an animal needs a blood transfusion, they usually need more than one, so the idea of giving dog blood, is to buy you time to source suitable cat donor,” Ms Seymour told The Independent, adding that the risks are not completely understood.

Meanwhile, one cat owner, whose nine-year-old pet died on Tuesday following five days of illness, told The Guardian that he had heard nothing about the product recall until he tried to buy more food online and saw it was not in stock.

“My worry is that a lot of cat owners bulk-buy dry food and this is a massive recall, so there could be toxin in bags of dried food that will be opened and given to cats and more cats will die,” he said.

Vets who have seen cats with unexplained severe thrombocytopenia and/or neutropenia are being asked to complete an RVC survey.

A spokesperson for Fold Hill Foods said: “As stated by the FSA, there is no definitive evidence to confirm a link at this stage between the cat food products and feline pancytopenia.

“We continue to fully co-operate with both the FSA and the RVC as they continue to investigate all potential causes of the pancytopenia cases, feed and non-feed related.

“As cat owners ourselves, we fully understand how upsetting and stressful this situation is and the urgent need to establish why there has been an increase in cases of pancytopenia in the UK.”

You can find a full list of the recalled items here:

Applaws products

  • Applaws Cat Dry Chicken 400g, 2kg and 7.5kg
  • Applaws Cat Dry Senior Chicken 400g, 2kg and 7.5kg
  • Applaws Cat Dry Chicken & Salmon 400g, 2kg and 7.5kg
  • Applaws Kitten Dry Chicken 400g, 2kg and 7.5kg
  • Applaws Cat Dry Chicken & Lamb 400g, 2kg and 7.5kg
  • Applaws Cat Dry Chicken & Duck 400g, 2kg and 7.5kg
  • Applaws Cat Dry Ocean Fish 350g, 1.8kg and 6kg


  • Sainsbury’s Hypoallergenic Recipe complete dry cat food with salmon 1+years 800g
  • Sainsbury’s Hypoallergenic Recipe complete dry cat food with chicken 1+years 800g

Pets at Home

  • Ava Kitten Chicken 300g and 2kg
  • Ava Adult Chicken 300g, 2kg and 4kg
  • Ava Adult Fish 2kg
  • Ava Mature Chicken 7+ 2kg and 4kg
  • Ava Senior Chicken 12+ 2kg
  • Ava Sensitive Skin & Stomach 1.5kg
  • Ava Weight Management 1.5kg
  • Ava Hairball 1.5kg
  • Ava Oral Care 1.5kg
  • Ava British Shorthair 1.5kg
  • Ava Persian 1.5kg
  • Ava Maine Coon 1.5kg

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