Tainted food kills 16 dogs

Pretoria – At least 16 dogs have died after eating contaminated dry dog food.

Two died at the academic hospital of the veterinary science faculty at the University of Pretoria at Onderstepoort on Sunday night.

Their symptoms were similar to those of the 12 dogs who died due to aflatoxicosis.

A vet from the academic hospital, who didn't want to be named, said although they were still waiting on the post-mortems and test results, they had a strong suspicion that the last two dogs also died due to aflatoxicosis.

Landie Maritz from a smallholding near Olympus, east of Pretoria, said her two boerbulls died respectively on Thursday and at the weekend.

They had always eaten Hi-Pro, but the last bag smelt off and they didn't really want to eat it.

"We thought the dogs were just being picky and bought them other food, but they didn't want to eat that either."

The damage had presumably been done already and the animals died shortly afterwards. They were considering suing Hi-Pro, said Maritz.

"The dogs were our children and our security on the smallholding."

Reporters found telephone numbers on the internet for Hi-Pro and Buddies, one of the other alleged contaminated foods, but no one answered when they were called. A number for the third dog food, Legend, could not be found.

Barry Hundley, executive director of the Pet Food Institute of South Africa, said the first 12 deaths occurred last week.

Most occurred in northern Pretoria but vets confirmed that there could be cases in other parts of Pretoria and Johannesburg.

It has come to light that a micotoxin, which is caused by a fungus, has been found in these foods.

The fungus usually contaminates vegetable matter, mainly due to poor harvesting techniques or bad storage practices. This leads to aflatoxicosis.

Samples of the suspect foods have already been sent for tests and "extremely high" concentrations of aflatoxicosis have been detected.

The academic hospital confirmed that there could be many more deaths as some owners took their animals to private vets.

"Many people in our area are from a lower income group and therefore buy cheaper dog food. Animals usually don't enjoy eating the contaminated food but if they are hungry and it is all they are getting, they will eat it," explained the vet.

The effect on the animal and its chance of survival depended on how long and how much of the food it had been eating.

"Most of the dogs that came to us died very quickly, usually overnight."

The symptoms included signs of jaundice, like for instance yellowing gums, nausea, bloody stools and listlessness.

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