Aaron O'Toole with his parent's dog Stan, 9 who has megaesophagus. Picture: Matt Loxton/AAP
Aaron O'Toole with his parent's dog Stan, 9 who has megaesophagus. Picture: Matt Loxton/AAP

‘Extremely strong’ death link to dog food

Vets have linked a once popular dog food brand Advance Dermocare to a spate of nationwide dog deaths.

But the cause of the deaths remains unknown, with no toxins or adverse ingredients detected during testing.

However high concentrations of analytes were found in the food, and will be subject to further testing.

The findings, released yesterday, come nine months after the Herald Sun uncovered links between the food and the deaths of at least 19 dogs, including Victoria Police squad dogs.

Dozens more were struck down with the debilitating disease, megaesophagus, during the 2017/18 outbreak.

U-Vet Hospital director associate professor Caroline Mansfield said tests show for dogs with megaoesophagus the odds of them having being fed Advance Dermocare in the six months prior to diagnosis was 437 times greater compared with controls.

"This is an extremely strong association, there is about a one in a million probability that this occurred by chance, supporting the hypothesis that Advance Dermocare was associated with this outbreak of idiopathic megaoesophagus in dogs," Ms Mansfield said.

The findings also showed a subsequent decrease in the number of megaoesophagus cases after dogs stopped eating the food.

Megaesophagus causes the oesophagus to enlarge, limiting the movement of food and liquid to the stomach.

After links between the disease and food were uncovered, the product was voluntarily recalled from more than 500 stores nationwide and a federal parliamentary inquiry was called.

The senate committee handed down its final report in October.

It recommended the industry be regulated with mandatory standards and a new complaint system established to dob in dodgy products.

Ms Mansfield said further studies will look at whether analytes were to blame for the deaths, or if the food contained unknown or undetectable toxins.

"We suggest that the primary cause of this outbreak of megaesophagus is likely to be multifactorial," Ms Mansfield said.

"As not all dogs fed this diet were affected, there may be some individual factors such as breed, predisposition to food intolerance or household factors contributing."

A Mars Petcare Australia spokesperson said it will continue to investigate the root cause of the food illness.

The company will convene a round table of global experts to probe the matter, and report the findings next year.