Urgent warning over pet food after 17 dogs die

Dog owners have been asked to check the origin of their pet food after a disease outbreak in Victoria.

Renewed warnings about the “liver damage cluster” have been issued by Agriculture Victoria over the weekend after pets became sick with suspected indospicine, which is caused by a toxin found in native plants.

While herbivorous animals are often able to stomach large quantities of plants from the indigofera family which contain the poison, dogs are known to be particularly susceptible to it.

Left - a dog looking at meat. Right - a supermarket isle.
A number of pet food selections have been recalled as a precaution. Source: Getty / Supplied - File

Fifty-four dogs have been affected in areas across Victoria including Bairnsdale, Traralgon, Mornington Peninsula and Melbourne's eastern suburbs.

Seventeen have died and the agriculture department is understood to be aware of a number of additional anecdotal cases of illness.

They said all affected dogs were found to be "young, healthy and vaccinated".

Knackery is one line of inquiry, authorities confirm

Pet food is understood to just be one line of inquiry, but a voluntary recall of dog food products has occurred, with fresh and frozen meat sourced from a Gippsland knackery is under investigation.

The knackery told Yahoo News Australia they are working with authorities, but refused to issue further comment and directed Yahoo News Australia to their Facebook page.

"Our hearts go out to all people and pets that have suffered or are still suffering as a result of the illness no matter how it was caused. We know people and animals are hurting – we are passionate dog and horse lovers ourselves – we understand people's genuine pain, hurt and anger," their statement reads.

Knackery says they do not butcher brumbies

This is the first time indospicine toxicity is believed to have been found in the state, according to Agriculture Victoria.

They said grazing animals including cattle, camels and horses have been known to carry the toxin, particularly in northern Australia, and as of Saturday testing was ongoing.

The source of the species of animal believed to contain the toxin is yet to be determined, but the knackery, which has processed horses, is adamant they do not butcher "wild horses or brumbies".

They would not comment further about which animals they do process.

Questions raised about kangaroo meat

As news of the outbreak spread, advice issued to vets on July 21 singled out kangaroo meat as a concern.

“On a precautionary basis, we are advising that dog owners should not feed fresh or frozen knackery meat, especially kangaroo meat sourced from the Gippsland area between 31st May and 3rd July,” the Agriculture Victoria statement issued to vets reads.

The department's corresponding consumer advice statement, which was updated on Saturday, contains an identical sentence, but omits the word kangaroos.

"On a precautionary basis, we are advising that dog owners should not feed fresh or frozen knackery meat sourced from the Gippsland area between 31 May and 3 July," the updated statement reads.

It is unclear whether kangaroo meat is of concern to Agriculture Victoria. Source: Getty
It is unclear whether kangaroo meat is of concern to Agriculture Victoria. Source: Getty

Kangaroo 'harvesting' remains controversial in Victoria, and some animal welfare advocates, including Animal Justice Party MP Mark Pearson have questioned why the government's advice no longer contains advice about kangaroos.

Yahoo News Australia understands a number of samples of raw meat intended only for pets are being analysed at laboratories around the country, and this may include prescribed animals (horses are an example), fallen stock and sealed dressed game (kangaroos are an example).

Is the liver disease cluster affecting humans?

While kangaroos are slaughtered in Victoria for human consumption, Agriculture Victoria said in a statement the current threat is believed to be confined to dogs.

"Pets suffering from liver disease associated with indospicine toxicity do not pose a risk to people," they said in a statement.

"There are no indications of any risk to human health nor of human food safety issues associated with these cases to date."

What are the signs a dog could be affected by indospicine?

Agriculture Victoria warns that anyone who suspects their dog is affected should contact a vet, and that symptoms include:

  • Loss of appetite

  • Lethargy

  • Jaundice

  • Abdominal discomfort

  • Vomiting

  • Elevated liver enzymes on a blood test

“If you have concerns, please consult your pet food provider to understand where your fresh meat comes from and when it was sourced,” the department has advised.

Suspected cases can be reported too to Agriculture Victoria on 136186.

What are the recalled products:

A number of dog foods have been recalled as a precaution and they include food the following products issued between 31 May and 03 July:

• Maffra District Knackery Mince

• Maffra District Knackery Kennel

• Maffra District Knackery Horse

• Backman’s Greyhound Supplies Mince

• Backman’s Greyhound Supplies Kennel

• Backman’s Greyhound Supplies Horse

Refunds or exchanges are available to anyone who returns their product.

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