LONDON — The Royal Veterinary College (RCV) is investigating an uptick in cats experiencing symptoms of pancytopenia, a blood cell deficiency condition, which has since been linked to one hypoallergenic cat food producer in the United Kingdom.

Fold Hills Foods Ltd., the manufacturer of three brands implicated in the investigation, issued a recall on June 15 of 21 for certain brands of its hypoallergenic cat food products. The recall was issued through the Food Standards Agency, the United Kingdom’s food safety regulatory body.

According to Fold Hills Foods, the Food Standards Agency and the RVC, it is still unclear whether the increased rate of pancytopenia in cats is directly related to the hypoallergenic cat foods listed in the recall.

“We are alarmed and deeply saddened to learn of reports from the Food & Veterinary Authorities of some health issues in cats,” stated Ben Mankertz, general manager at Fold Hills Foods. “As cat owners ourselves, we fully understand how upsetting and stressful this situation is for families and although diet has not been confirmed as the cause, we would prefer to act now to ensure the absolute safety of cats. As one of the leading pet food manufacturers in the United Kingdom, ensuring your pet’s safety is our priority and therefore we have chosen to recall the ranges of cat food that we manufacture for the brands who have been identified. We feel this is the safest course of action until an exact cause of the issue has been found.”

As of June 21, the RVC was aware of 278 cats in the United Kingdom affected with pancytopenia, reporting a 70.2% mortality rate at that time. The institution reported “only a small percentage of the vets in the UK are actively reporting to the RVC at this time,” meaning the data is incomplete and may underestimate the number of cases and deaths.

“We can confirm that we are aware of a series of cases of fatal pancytopenia in cats in the UK,” stated a RVC spokesperson. “After noticing an increase in cats presenting with pancytopenia (a severe reduction in all major types of blood cells) in May, we have been gathering data from UK vets from these affected cats. Based on the evidence to date, the one aspect of these cases that formed a consistent pattern was the diet of the affected individuals.”

According to the RVC, approximately 80% of cases reported were linked to a dietary factor.

“While we have not definitively established diet as the cause of pancytopenia in these cats, we are continuing to liaise with the pet food industry and regulatory bodies to investigate the matter and identify the possible underlying causes of this extremely serious condition,” the RVC spokesperson said.

Pancytopenia causes fever, pale gums, bloody excrement and nose bleeding, according to the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association (PFMA).

“The health and well-being of pets is the top priority, and we fully support this recall,” said Michael Bellingham, chief executive at PFMA. “We understand the concern this will cause cat owners and we would like to reassure them that a thorough, top to bottom investigation is underway to determine the cause.”

Read more about recent pet food and treat recalls.