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Getting Your Pets Through The Food Scare

Officials now say a rat poison contaminated the pet food that's blamed for killing at least 16 cats and dogs, and making thousands of others sick.

On The Early Show Monday, resident veterinarian Dr. Debbye Turner told which symptoms to look for that might point to illness related to the pet food scare, and what to do if you've given your pet potentially tainted food, even if it's not displaying symptoms. She also gave a quick course on giving your pet a basic exam, anytime.

How can you tell if your pet is suffering from kidney failure?

The signs of acute renal (kidney) failure are vague at best, but include loss of appetite, vomiting, lethargy, diarrhea, change in urination, and change in water consumption. If you see any one of these signs, contact your veterinarian right away.

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In many cases, kidney failure can be successfully treated if caught quickly. This is key! If you wait too late, the damage may be too extensive, and irreversible.

By the way, even if your pet hasn't eaten one of the recalled foods, if they display these signs, call you vet right away. These signs are indications of a variety of illnesses, not just kidney failure.

Why is it so important to get the pet to the veterinarian so quickly?

Kidney failure is a progressive disease. The longer you wait, the more damage is done to the kidneys. In some cases, the damage is permanent. If your veterinarian doesn't start the appropriate therapy in a timely manner, your pet's kidneys may reach a point of no return. If this happens, there is no cure. The kidney failure will be fatal.

If a pet owner has been feeding a pet a recalled food, what should he or she do?

First and foremost, discontinue feeding the food immediately. Discard any opened containers of the food in a way that your pet cannot get to it. We all know that animals are masters at getting into the garbage. Take any unopened containers back to the store from which it was purchased for a full refund.

Watch your pet very closely. If your pet gets sick, take it to the vet immediately. And report your pet's illness to the Food and Drug Administration. A list of Consumer Complaint Coordinators can be found on the FDA Web site.

What if your pet has eaten the food that is listed in the recall but has NOT experienced any of the symptoms?

If you know with certainty that your pet ate some of the food that is included on the recall, at the very least you should watch your pet very closely. If you see any of the signs mentioned above, take them to the vet immediately. Be particularly aware of your pet's energy level. If she is not playing as much, doesn't meet you at the door, sleeps longer than normal, doesn't come when you call, etc., these maybe signs that something is going wrong. If he is acting fine, he probably is.

Still, if I fed my pet one of these foods, I would have her checked out, just in case! It is easy enough for your vet to test your pet's blood and urine to determine whether the kidneys are functioning properly.

This recall has frightened a lot of people who don't trust any pet food. Should pet owners be cooking homemade meals for their pets?

First, the plants involved in this recall only made the "cuts and gravy"-style foods that are on the recall list. We have no reason to believe that dry food is involved. And feeding a homemade diet is noble, but a lot of hard work. Dogs' and cats' dietary needs are quite complex. And a pet owner would need to know those requirements, plus the right amount to feed. This takes a lot of time and leaves a lot of room for creating a dietary imbalance. I don't recommend taking this on, especially since dry food seems to be perfectly safe.

This is also a good time for a refresher on the general health of your pet. What are signs of not feeling well?

Of course, pets can't tell us when they aren't feeling well. So, it is important, as pet owners, to pay close attention to our pets' behavior. Know what is normal behavior for your pet, so when something changes, you will detect the change.

A list of signs that mean your pet is sick are: vomiting, diarrhea, change in energy level, change in drinking, change in urination, change in appetite, weight loss or gain, bad odors, runny eyes or nose, limping, hair loss.

If you see any of these, don't hesitate: Call your vet and discuss what you see. Remember, it is much easier — and less expensive — to treat a disease in its early stages than later on in the process.

How can you check your pet's health at home?

Check the eyes. Lift the ears. Feel the whole surface of the pet's body, taking note of any bumps, bruises, scratches.

For a list of the recalled brands, click here.

To report an illness you think might be related to the bad pet food, click here.

For more on the danger, click here.

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