UPDATE: Canine hepatopathies in eastern Victoria

The Chief Veterinary Officer of Victoria issued the following Biosecurity Advisory on 21 July 2021

The PrimeSafe and Agriculture Victoria investigation into the cluster of dogs with liver disease in Gippsland has identified indospicine as the cause of liver failure in affected dogs.

Testing on blood and liver samples from three affected dogs, undertaken at the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (part of the University of Queensland), returned positive results on all samples.

At the time of publication of this alert the feed source containing the toxin has not been identified but vigorous investigations are continuing.

This is a positive step in the progress of the investigation into the illness affecting 49 dogs of which 15 have unfortunately died (see note below) and is helpful in providing answers to the affected dog owners and their attending veterinarians.

Indospicine is a toxin to which dogs are especially sensitive. It is found across Australia in native plants of the Indigofera species and has been shown to build up in some grazing animals when they continued to consume these plants. Indospicine toxicity has not previously been reported in Victoria but has been reported in northern Australia. More information: Indospicine toxicity in dogs (Agriculture Victoria Factsheet)

Investigations are now focusing on all foods consumed by affected dogs with meats, food components/additives, and treats remaining a primary focus.

The advice to dog owners from PrimeSafe and Agriculture Victoria remains that fresh or frozen raw pet meat sourced from Gippsland between 31 May and 3 July should not be fed to dogs. It is understood that various businesses and suppliers have implemented voluntary withdrawals of potentially affected products. As dog owners may still have potentially contaminated pet meat, those who are unsure about the origins of their pet meat should contact their pet food supplier.

There are no indications of any risk to human health nor of human food safety issues associated with these cases to date.

Veterinarians in Victoria are encouraged to report any cases where previously healthy dogs succumb to clinically severe hepatic disease over a short period of time and where no clear cause of the acute event is evident.

Contact Dr Dianne Phillips, Senior Veterinary Officer, Agriculture Victoria on 03 5152 0620 or 0427 344 065.

Affected dogs have been reported from around and within Bairnsdale, the LaTrobe Valley and in Melbourne’s south east. The dogs were young, previously healthy, and vaccinated. They showed clinical signs and biochemical changes consistent with severe hepatopathies.

Reporting adverse events related to any pet food:

Veterinarians suspecting an adverse event relating to any pet food could lodge a report on PetFAST on the AVA website.

PetFAST is a platform hosted by the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) and the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia (PFIAA) to investigate potential pet health problems relating to pet food and treats. Please note all veterinarians may make a submission regardless of their AVA membership status.

Reporting notifiable diseases:

A final reminder that veterinarians suspecting any notifiable diseases (whether relating to hepatopathies or not) must report these immediately. The easiest ways to do this are to contact your local Agriculture Victoria District Veterinary Officer directly, through the Customer Contact Centre on telephone 136 186, or by ringing the all-hours Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline on 1800 675 888 or by accessing the Notify Now smart phone app.

Note: The department is aware of several further anecdotal cases. Case numbers are subject to change as the investigation progresses and numbers are updated when the department is made aware of the case. Consequently, an increase in case numbers does not necessarily reflect recent onset of illness or when death may have occurred.