Dog owner's warning after mass poisoning: Pet food 'Russian roulette'

Pet food standards must be urgently overhauled to protect animals from illness and death, according to industry insiders.

Dog owner Andrew Lawrence is backing calls from the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia to introduce mandatory standards on all meat sold for animal consumption.

Until regulations are introduced, pet owners are “playing Russian roulette” when they buy food for their animals, the Victorian man warns.

Two images showing Maggie the German Shepherd
Gippsland resident Andrew Lawrence says his dog Maggie (pictured) suffers ongoing health issues after eating contaminated meat. Source: Supplied

Mr Lawrence told Yahoo News his German shepherd Maggie almost died after eating contaminated horse meat which was allegedly sold as beef by a Gippsland knackery.

“Initially, she was just very quiet. She went off her food the first day. By the next day, she was vomiting up bile,” he said.

“She lost some use of her bladder, she couldn't hold on to any any urine. She was drinking excessively.

Maggie was one of an estimated 67 dogs who became ill from indospicine poisoning in July.

She received around the clock veterinary care for almost a week and was on medication for two months.

Months on, Mr Lawrence says his nine-year-old dog continues to suffer from health issues and he is part of a class action being considered against the knackery.

A woman with her back to camera looking at a tin of pet food in the supermarket.
There are growing calls to have mandatory pet food regulations in Australia. Source: Getty / File

He says the veterinary bills associated with the incident have been “incredibly costly” and there is an ongoing financial burden due to continued health concerns.

“I can only feed her human grade lean meat now, because she just can't really cope with anything very fatty because of the damage that's been done to her liver,” he said.

Despite the ordeal, Maggie was one of the lucky ones; over twenty dogs are believed to have died from the poisoning event.

Vegan cat food could be nutritionally deficient vet warns

There are currently no enforceable Australian national standards for meat sold for animal consumption, leaving the country lagging behind the United States, United Kingdom and New Zealand.

Calls for their adoption made by the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia (PFIAA) are supported by both the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) and the RSPCA.

AVA spokesperson Dr Diana Barker said a roll out of regulations would be a “common sense move” for the industry.

“I think it would give pet owners peace of mind that to know there are quality ingredients in the pet food that they're feeding to their pets,” the veterinarian said.

Dr Barker said some food options do not provide a complete diet, leaving pets vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies.

“It’s making sure that pet foods are actually complete, as they are often promoted as an entire diet,” she said.

“They can actually omit things that are required for pets to have a healthy life.

“So for instance, cats are obligate carnivores, they need to have meat, so a vegan diet for a cat may not have the required ingredients for them to be healthy.”

Pet food can be manufactured in people's home kitchens the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia warns. Source: Getty / File
Pet food can be manufactured in people's home kitchens the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia warns. Source: Getty / File

Warning pet food could be manufactured in a home kitchen

While members of the PFIAA adhere to a voluntary code, a review into mandatory industry-wide regulations announced the Federal Agriculture Minister in 2018 has been postponed.

PFIAA executive manager Carolyn Macgill said because there is no one with enforcement powers to ensure manufacturers are doing the right thing, many of the nation's 29 million pets are being put at risk.

She said consumers have “an expectation” of a pet food’s nutrition and quality, but that’s not always what’s being sold.

“(Pet food) can be imported or it can be manufactured here,” she told Yahoo News.

“It can be manufactured under any condition, even in somebody's kitchen, and not comply with the food safety requirements to ensure that that food remains safe for pets."

Ms Macgill said much of the risk associated with pet food contamination can be mitigated during the manufacturing stage and regulations could help improve compliance with safe processing practices.

She argues inconsistencies around labelling are another issue that must be addressed, particularly when it comes to accuracy and omissions.

“So having regulations would allow us to have one standard… that would be consistent,” she said.

“Consumers would know what they're buying, and have a clear understanding of what the ingredients were.”

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