In a statement issued on 16 July 2021, Agriculture Victoria urged dog owners within the state to immediately seek veterinary treatment if their pup had become unwell after eating fresh or frozen raw meat.
The warning is in response to a spate of dogs presenting with severe liver disease.
So far, 45 cases from across the Bairnsdale, Frankston and Traralgon areas have been reported. 10 of the dogs have died as a result. A further seven “anecdotal” cases have also been flagged.
According to Agriculture Victoria, all the affected dogs were young, vaccinated and otherwise healthy.
Common link but no definitive cause identified
Investigations have so far been unable to determine the exact cause of the dogs’ illness.
“PrimeSafe recognises the distressing situation for the owners of dogs impacted by the liver disease cluster in Gippsland,” the meat regulator said in a separate statement issued on the same day.
“The investigation into the cause of the cluster is very complex. Testing continues at specialist laboratories across Australia, but a cause has not been identified.”
Infections, aflatoxins (caused by certain moulds and fungi), canine leptospirosis and ehrlichiosis have all been ruled out as the source of their illness.
However, one common factor discovered between the cases is that they have consumed fresh and/or frozen raw pet meat sourced from the Gippsland are. The products had been purchased between 31 May and 3 July 2021.
Other potential sources still under investigation are food types, additives, treats and other items the dogs had consumed, water sources, human and veterinary medicines, environmental contacts, and poisoning.
PrimeSafe said that as well as the mystery illness, it is continuing its ongoing investigations into compliance with the Meat Industry Act and the Australian Standard for the Hygienic Production of Pet Meat at licenced facilities.
Agriculture Victoria added that “there are no indications of any risk to human health or any human food safety issues to date”.
‘Over 30 cases with 5 deaths’
Bairnsdale’s Main Street Veterinary Clinic has been at the centre or the outbreak.
In a post on its Facebook page dated 3 July, it said “We have seen a cluster of illness in dogs over the last 10 days, all experiencing acute liver failure diagnosed on blood tests. All these dogs have required intensive hospitalisation and care and very sadly some passed away.”
A subsequent post on 10 July said the clinic has since seen “over 30 cases with 5 deaths.” A video posted to the social network showed one of its veterinarians resuscitating one of the affected dogs, who went into cardiac arrest shortly after arriving. That dog survived and after successful treatment, was discharged from the hospital.
“Other veterinary clinics in Gippsland have also been treating dogs which have all been fed raw beef from the same supplier – HOWEVER the causative link to the food has NOT been confirmed,” the clinic said.
“Post mortem results have diagnosed acute toxic hepatitis and specialists are working on identifying the toxin involved”.
It did not name the supplier concerned.
Signs to watch out for
Dog owners are being urged to err on the side of caution and pay close attention for symptoms their dog may have been affected.
“We advise on a precautionary basis that if your dog has consumed fresh or frozen raw pet meat and your dog is unwell, please contact your veterinarian immediately,” Victoria’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr Graeme Cooke, said.
“If you have questions about what you should feed your pet, talk to your vet about nutritional requirements.”
Main Street Veterinary Clinic added that “as a precaution, we still advise not to feed raw beef purchased from the start of June.”
Signs to look out for that your dog may be affected include a sudden loss of appetite, jaundice (yellowing of the gums and whites of the eyes) and lethargy, especially in dogs that were previously healthy. Other symptoms may include vomiting and excessive thirst.
Dr Cooke added that suspected cases presenting to veterinarians should be reported to Agriculture Victoria, noting that more information will help to find the exact cause.
“Agriculture Victoria is supporting veterinarians with advice for those who have been treating the dogs,” he said.
“Veterinarians should be particularly on the lookout if previously healthy dogs fall ill to clinically severe hepatic disease over a short period of time and without clear cause.”