Is pet food killing our furry friends?

If you are one of the more than half of all Australians who own a cat or dog, then you’ll want to read this.

Key Points

  • Pets falling ill and dying from eating some pet foods. 

  • Government called on to regulate pet food industry. 

  • Foods that max your pet’s good health. 

Did you know we spend more than $2 billion every year on feeding our fluffier family fur buddies? 

Naturally, we want the best for them – food that is nutritious and keeps them glossy and healthy, and away from the vet. 

There’s no shortage of pet foods promising to do exactly that but some are arguably better than others.

Some pet foods can kill

Consumer advocates, CHOICE, recently reported that 23 dogs died in Victoria after unsafe pet food caused liver failure – and this kind of incident isn't new. 

There have been cases of cats falling ill due to contaminated kibble, dogs developing a chronic and debilitating health condition called megaesophagus when they ate food containing high levels of a mycotoxin called Fumonisin, and other cases where pet food made animals sick or even killed them. 

It’s led CHOICE to intensify a campaign to government: pet food needs better regulation. In New Zealand, pet food standards are enforced by the Ministry for Primary Industries. In Japan, that work is done by the Ministry of Agriculture. 

“We know that these systems work to keep pets safe and want the same protections for our own furry friends here in Australia,” CHOICE said in a recent newsletter.  

CHOICE has written an open letter, which individuals can support by signing their name, calling on Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud to act.  

The move to introduce a mandatory standard is supported by the RSPCA, Australian Veterinary Association and the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia (PFIAA).  

What to look for in pet food

CHOICE recommends looking for products that are advertised as 'complete and balanced'. This means the pet food has been formulated to contain all the nutrients required by a dog or cat, in the appropriate quantities and proportions to maintain good health. 

Wet food (canned food, pouches and rolls), dried food and packaged raw food are covered by the Australian Standard for the Manufacturing and Marketing of Pet Food (AS 5812:2017), which outlines requirements for production, food safety, nutrition and labelling. However, the standard is voluntary – so if foods are found not to comply with the standard, there's no authority to enforce compliance. 


Dry food is often a popular option for pet owners as it’s low mess and well-formulated. It’s also no less nutritious or less ‘fresh’ than wet foods. 

In the past, dry food was a key cause of urinary tract infections in cats, but manufacturers have since altered the pH level of their formulations. Cats fed on a well-formulated dry-food diet don't run a higher risk of urinary tract disease if they're drinking enough water. If your cat doesn't, it's a good idea to feed it a wet-food diet, which has a higher water content. 


Make sure you look for one marked as ‘complete and balanced’ and complies with the Australian Standard. 

Fresh pet meat

Fresh pet meat comes in the form of meat, 'steaks' and rolls. Although these sound like a wholesome alternative to the tinned and packaged stuff, they have some issues: 

  • Packaged fresh meat alone won't provide the nutrition cats and dogs need (in the wild, a 'fresh meat' diet includes bones, hide and organs). You'll need to feed them a 'complete and balanced' commercial food as well.

  • The sulphur dioxide and sodium and potassium sulphite preservatives in fresh pet meat can cause thiamine deficiency and can be fatal. 

Alternatively, feed your cats and dogs cheaper cuts of human-grade meats in conjunction with a 'complete and balanced' diet.  

Fighting off gum disease

Periodontal disease, the most common form of gum disease, destroys the gums and tissue that supports the teeth and has also been associated with liver, kidney and heart disease. Although a study published in the Journal of Nutrition claims daily brushing of your pet's teeth is the most effective prevention, an easier way is to supplement your pet's diet with a regular supply of bones.  

Giving your cat or small dog raw chicken wings and a bigger dog meaty bones several times a week will really benefit their dental hygiene. But never give pets cooked bones, as they can splinter and get stuck either in the mouth or in the digestive system.  

Source: CHOICE