The spike of cases began in May, with the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) this week saying it was aware of at least 528 cases in cats over the past few months, with more than half of these proving fatal.
A spate of cat deaths has vets grappling with a mystery illness thought to be linked to widely-sold pet food.
The significant number of deaths are understood to be linked to cases of pancytopenia, a rare bone marrow condition where the number of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets blood cells rapidly decrease, causing serious illness.
The spike of cases began in May, with the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) this week saying it was aware of at least 528 cases in cats over the past few months.
Of these, 63.5% had proved fatal.
A statement issued by the college acknowledged only a small percent of UK vets were actively reporting cases to the RVC, meaning the reported data likely only represents a percentage of the cases and fatalities.
Cats affected by the illness may exhibit symptoms such as fatigue, a lack of appetite, and bleeding from the mouth, nose or bowel. Excessive blood loss in more severe cases can lead to collapse.
Vets across the UK have been gathering data from affected cats in an attempt to establish a cause, but have not yet been able to find a definitive link to the diet of the affected cats.
This link has not been conclusively established but certain pet foods have been recalled as a precautionary measure.
Three ranges of cat food were recalled by their manufacturer, Fold Hill Foods, in mid-June; the Sainsbury’s Hypoallergenic Recipe range, the Pets at Home’s AVA range and Applaws Cat Dry products. The recalls prompted an investigation by the Food Standards Authority (FSA) and the RVC.
The recalls were due to the presence of mycotoxins identified in samples of food – naturally occurring toxins produced by various fungi. They can grow on crops and appear on foodstuffs, often under warm, humid conditions.
The toxins do not indicate they are the cause of feline pancytopenia.
A statement from the FSA said food sampling was ongoing. Both the FSA and the RVC were looking into all possibilities, including those not associated with food.
One cat owner, whose pet died on Tuesday, told the Guardian of his concern that too few people were aware of the recall and could be feeding their cat products that could kill them.
Steven Barrett, a commercial barrister from High Wycombe, said his nine-year-old cat, Freyja, a ragdoll, died on Tuesday after suffering from the illness for five days.
Barrett had heard nothing of the product recall until he attempted to buy more food for Freyja online and saw it wasn’t available, prompting him to investigate why.
Freyja had only ever eaten Applaws, he said. She had finished the last of a 7.5kg bag of its dry chicken food shortly before she started vomiting.
Barrett said his heart went “through the floor” upon coming across news of the recall.
“She was a member of our little family, which is how we treated her. I just wanted her to have the best food,” he said.
A spokesperson for Fold Hill, the food manufacturer behind the recalls, 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 cooperate 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.”
A spokesperson from Sainsbury’s said the supermarket chain was supporting an investigation into a possible safety issue affecting cats, which was believed to be linked to some food products.
The products in question included by Sainsbury’s Hypoallergenic recipe complete dry cat food with chicken 1+ Years 800g and with salmon 1+ Years 800g.
“We are not willing to take any risks where the safety of our products is concerned and so we are voluntarily recalling these products and asking customers not to use them and to return the packs to their nearest Sainsbury’s store for a full refund,” the spokesperson said.