Holly (l) and Thomas (r) both have to sit in their highchairs to eat. (Supplied: Elisia Nichol)
The number of dogs struck down by a debilitating and potentially fatal condition believed to be linked to a popular Australian dog food has jumped from 74 to more than 100, 7.30 has discovered as part of its ongoing investigation into the pet food industry.
Advance Dermocare dry dog food was pulled from the shelves in late March after a spike in megaesophagus cases.
Melbourne University believes there is a link between the condition and the food, but is yet to scientifically prove it.
It has now revised up the number of cases it is investigating.
‘We’re juggling three upright feeds a day’
Elisia Nichol’s dog Holly was fed Advance Dermocare and has megaesophagus.
“I’m devastated to hear that over 100 dogs and their owners have been given the diagnosis of megaesophagus,” she told 7.30.
“I’m so saddened to know that so many others are also living with this life-changing diagnosis and heartbroken for those who have lost their pets.”
Megaesophagus causes a dog’s oesophagus to lose its elasticity, making it difficult to swallow.
Ms Nichol said Holly would have to be fed upright for the rest of her life in a specially made chair to stop regurgitation of food, water and saliva.
“We are now juggling three upright feeds per day which take about two hours per day while trying to raise our 10-month-old son, work and maintain a quality of life for all,” she said.
‘Would this be acceptable if it was a baby food company?’
Advance Dermocare is made by the multi-billion dollar global company Mars Petcare.
It says while a definitive cause has not been found, it has offered compensation as a “gesture of goodwill”.
But the substance of the offer and conditions attached have angered Rachel Dola and Jodi Burnett, both of whom are affected owners.
They’ve also set up a Facebook group to support others.
“So far, the best Mars can do is offer to consider people’s claims for reimbursement of veterinary costs,” Ms Burnett told 7.30.
“Not because they are admitting liability, but ‘as a gesture of goodwill’, as they claim to know how stressful it can be to have a sick pet.
“They have also offered to replace people’s deceased dogs. This situation is not good enough.
“If this was a baby food company, and people’s babies were sick and dying, would it be acceptable for the manufacturer to offer to pay medical costs at the company’s discretion, and then suggest that people have another child to replace the one they just buried? Of course not.”
Mars Petcare has been contacted for comment.
Pet food an ‘unregulated industry that needs to change’
Rachel Dola’s dog Zara had to be euthanased after getting megaesophagus (Supplied: Rachel Dola)
The megaesophagus controversy has sparked calls for a shake-up of Australia’s self-regulated pet food industry.
Mars Petcare was first alerted to a potential problem with Advance Dermocare in December after nine Victoria Police dogs that ate the food contracted megaesophagus.
One was euthanased.
The product was pulled from shelves three months later.
“Mars had the opportunity to recall this product much earlier than they did, and so possibly reduce the number of affected pets,” Ms Burnett said.
Ms Dola said there were no laws governing pet food manufacturing in Australia, or recalls, and that needed to change.
“Where is the legislation that pet food companies, who boast their clinically tested recipes, have to follow?” she asked.
“Australia has fallen way behind the rest of the world.
“There is no protection for any pet owner in Australia purchasing from an unregulated industry, and it needs to change.”
A Change.org petition calling for Australia’s pet food industry to be regulated has so far received more than 41,000 signatures.