ABC Reports

The manufacturer of a high-end pet food, under investigation in connectionwith more than 70 dogs falling sick, says it will reimburse owners’ vet billsand pay the cost of a new dog to replace those euthanased.

While the connection is being investigated, an exact cause of the illness isyet to be determined.

Advance Dermocare dry dog food was voluntarily recalled after a number of dogswhich had eaten the food contracted megaesophagus.

The rare condition causes the oesophagus to become enlarged and lose theability to move food down to the stomach.

If dogs survive, they must be fed upright so the food does not get stuck intheir oesophagus.

“With documentation, we will reimburse any ongoing vet bills for the treatmentof megaesophagus in dogs which consumed Advance Dermocare produced from July2017,” the company posted on its Facebook page.

Melbourne University vet Dr Caroline Mansfield said it was investigating theoutbreak and knew of 74 cases of megaesophagus where the dogs ate AdvanceDermocare.

“We do believe that there is an association between the food and megaesophagusbut we do have to go through several steps to prove it convincingly,” shesaid.

Dermocare is a variety of Advance dog food, made by Mars Petcare — part of themulti-billion-dollar global Mars food and confectionery business.

The company said the known megaesophagus cases suggest diet may be asignificant risk factor in the development of the condition, but its tests hadnot identified a root cause.

“Despite no root cause being identified, we have commenced the process ofcontacting pet owners to provide support, including offering to reimburse vetbills,” Mars Petcare said.

Police alerted Mars Petcare to sick dogs

Melbourne University became involved after Victoria Police asked for help.

Nine of its dogs contracted megaesophagus and were being fed AdvanceDermocare. One was euthanased.

“They were regurgitating and they had also had some episodes of pneumonia,” DrMansfield said.

Victoria Police alerted Mars Petcare that its dogs were ill in December.

Mars Petcare said it ran hundreds of tests on Advance Dermocare and itsBathurst factory from January, including for heavy metals, pesticides andpotential neurotoxins — known to trigger megaesophagus. It said it found nocausal link.

The turning point came last month, when Melbourne University asked vets acrossthe country to come forward with cases, and they did.

Advance Dermocare was voluntarily recalled soon after.

Australia’s pet food industry self-regulated

Dr Mansfield said it would likely take months for the university to determinewhether there is a definitive link between the food and the condition.

“Most of the testing has never been done in dog food before, so we actuallyhave to validate the tests in that particular food,” Dr Mansfield said.

She said a different dog food and a spike in megaesophagus cases wasinvestigated in Latvia a few years ago, but in that instance, a causal linkwas never found.

Australia’s pet food industry is self-regulated, which meant Mars Petcare wasnot required to inform vets or any government authorities when it firstlearned of a potential issue in December.

Dr Mansfield has joined affected dog owners in calling for a shakeup of thepet food industry.

“If something like this can happen with such a particular product, I thinkit’s really important that we try to identify what that causative link is sothat we can prevent potentially other conditions occurring with other diets orother food,” she said.

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