Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to blame tainted wheat gluten for recent cat and dog illnesses and deaths, a mounting number of complaints about sick and dying animals who ate only dry food that did not contain wheat gluten strongly suggests another source of contamination. Evidence from reputable laboratories indicates that an excessive amount of vitamin D in pet food may be to blame. Vitamin D overdoses produce symptoms similar to those seen in animals who recently have become sick or died after consuming only dry foods.

This morning, PETA Vice President Bruce Friedrich made an urgent appeal to Stephen Sundlof, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, asking the agency to refocus its investigation beyond wheat gluten -- which is used almost exclusively in wet foods -- and consider other possible contaminants. In his letter, Friedrich points out the following:

-- Last year, a manufacturing error in the production of Royal Canin pet food resulted in excessive amounts of vitamin D-3 in the food, causing hypercalcemia, an abnormally high level of calcium in the blood that caused animals' kidneys to malfunction.

-- Research in endocrinology at Cleveland Clinic has confirmed that high levels of vitamin D-3 in animals' blood causes kidney malfunction.

-- Symptoms associated with excessive vitamin D-3 intake appear identical to the symptoms that are being reported in dogs and cats now, leading PETA to believe that vitamin D-3 may be implicated in the current spate of pet food contamination.

On Monday, PETA called on FDA Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach to resign over the agency's mishandling of the pet food crisis.

"The FDA is feeding the public a line, and the American people's faith in the government is dying along with dogs and cats," says Friedrich. "The agency's failure to pinpoint the cause of death for animals who have eaten only dry food is cause for the commissioner to resign or be fired."

Friedrich's letter to Dr. Stephen Sundlof is available upon request. For more information, please visit PETA.

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