Horse meat is at the centre of an investigation into a dog poisoning cluster in Victoria, authorities have revealed.
Since May, Agriculture Victoria has been made aware of 61 affected dogs, of which 21 have died, with the majority of cases found to be in Bairnsdale, Traralgon, Mornington Peninsula and Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.
A toxin found in native plants is believed to be contaminated with indospicine, and while many herbivorous animals can stomach large amounts of the toxin, dogs are known to be particularly susceptible to its effects.
While plants containing indospicine are not naturally found in Victoria, they are known to grow across parts of northern Australia.
Agriculture Victoria and the state’s meat regulator PrimeSafe have confirmed that a “consignment of horses” were transported from the Northern Territory to Victoria and were later slaughtered by a Gippsland knackery.
“Test results have confirmed pet meat processed at the Maffra & District Knackery… as the source of indospicine, which caused the recent cluster of liver disease and dog deaths in Victoria,” they said in a joint statement.
“Horse meat is emerging as the focus of the investigation into the indospicine toxin found in pet meat products.”
Knackery responds to government claims about horse link
Maffra Knackery wrote online that they are “devastated” by their products being linked to an “unprecedented spate” of dog illness and death across Victoria.
They said since the discovery, they are now only processing Victorian animals at their knackery and have changed their manufacturing processes.
They added they cannot comment on whether they agree with the government’s “ultimate conclusions” that the toxin was found in their meat and has affected dogs, and that their team will review the data.
“As dog lovers, as people, as parents, as grandparents we understand how much dogs mean to their human families,” the knackery’s joint owner Karen Backman wrote online.
“We are still totally shocked that toxins in animals we were told were originally bred for human consumption could harm dogs.
“This has never happened before as far as we are aware.”
More on animal welfare in Victoria
Dog owners urged to contact vet if symptoms emerge
Describing the deaths as a “rare event”, authorities are asking dog owners not to feed their animals fresh or frozen raw pet meat sourced from Maffra District Knackery between 31 May and 3 July.
They said all products are considered “at risk of indospicine contamination” because of the “blending of pet meats”, and this includes products described as beef and kangaroo pet food.
“Pet meat that is contaminated with indospicine may still remain in circulation, despite voluntary withdrawals by the pet meat processing facility and recalls by pet meat retailers,” the government said.
“Businesses and dog owners are encouraged to check the source of their pet meat.”
There are no indications that human health has been affected and anyone noticing loss of appetite, lethargy or jaundice in their pets is asked to contact their veterinarian.
Maffra Knackery has been contacted for comment.
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