The contaminated food killing our pets

Reporter: Helen Wellings

A Today Tonight investigation has revealed some pet food could be harming – and in some cases even killing – our animals.

Dr Richard Malik, from Sydney University's Post Graduate Foundation in Veterinary Science, warned that something must be done to stop animals dying from the contaminated pet food.

Veterinarian Dr. Rita Singh said the problem stemmed from the use of preservatives in pet food.

Adam Shelly's eight-year-old golden retriever, Annie, became seriously ill and very close to being put down.
"When I tell people exactly what happened they're just in disbelief about how that could happen," Adam said.

"It went from vomiting to rapid weight loss and the muscles in her back legs deteriorated to almost being non-existent, sShe lost the ability to walk, she was literally on death's door."

A raft of blood tests, a spinal tap and MRI scans sent the vet's bill soaring to $12,000, before they realised the cause.
It was, without doubt, her diet.

Adam thought he had been doing the right thing - giving Annie fresh lean meat, kangaroo and beef mince, from his local pet shop everyday. But Dr Singh who treated Annie, found the meat was loaded with dangerous preservatives - namely sulphur dioxide.
"We were able to prove in Annie absolutely, without a doubt, that her disease was caused by thiamine deficiency due to the food that she was being fed which had the sulphur dioxide in it," Dr Singh said.

Sulphur Dioxide is added to fresh pet meats and fish to preserve it, mask the smell and prevent discolouration.
It is not allowed in meat meant for human consumption.

But for pets, it can be a deadly diet, because it destroys vitamins essential to survival.

"If treatment is not instituted right away the dog or cat could be dead in four days," Dr Singh said.
"Sulphur dioxide destroys vitamin B very rapidly - the brain requires vitamin B for energy production so without it the brain gets damaged."

Animals affected by sulphur dioxide appear to be disorientated, their heads tilt to one side and they walk weakly around in circles.
The effects are more noticeable in cats, but hard to diagnose in dogs and many vets do not treat the problem.
"I think the disease is much more widespread than we realise," Dr Singh said.

"They are wobbly on their legs they might have a head tilt and then it progresses to being paralysed, they can't get up and they start to seizure, so they have fits as well and when that's happening you've got a very short period of time until they're going to be dead."

"It's not the tinned food or dried food, it's the packaged food in fridges in supermarkets often called pet meat or mince."

Dr Malik said the meat was fresh, but full of sulphur dioxide.

He said he was staggered no-one was doing anything to stop it.
"It's allowed in only a certain types of human food that make up only a small fraction of the diet," Dr Malik said.

"The danger from a veterinary perspective is when it's the whole diet of an animal, when the entire diet is deficient in thiamine because the SO2 has destroyed all of it that's when it becomes life threatening."

Dr Malik's investigation revealed that:

* Just 400mg of sulphur dioxide per kilogram of meat destroys over half the thiamine in the food.

* 1000mg destroys virtually all thiamine.

Tests on 13 supermarket varieties from six different brands, containing beef, lamb, pilchards, or minced kangaroo showed around half have a high content of sulphur dioxide, some so high that all the vitamin B in the meat would be destroyed.

"It's been established beyond doubt," Dr Malik said.

"The abnormalities in animals that die of thiamine deficiency are very characteristic, so when a post mortem is done it can be ascertained that this is the cause."

Labels on food for humans must state if they have sulphur dioxide, and it is usually in code as 220, 221 up to 228.

But the problem for pets is that labels on fresh packaged pet food do not have to declare preservatives, although some of them do, so usually you have no idea whether the product contains sulphur dioxide – and, if so, how much.

The experts said that:

* Fresh meat for human consumption from supermarkets and butchers was guaranteed to be safe,

* Pet owners should avoid feeding their animal any of the pet meats or minces that were labeled as fresh in supermarkets or pet food stores,

* When feeding a pet fresh meat, buy the kind that is fit for human consumption, because that does not have the sulphur dioxide preservatives in it,

* Buy fresh meat for humans from the butchers shops or supermarkets.

* Do not forget to feed pets raw meaty bones. The type of raw meaty bones you can buy for pets from the butchers have a whole lot of health benefits that make them an ideal source of food.