Dogs may be at risk of lead poisoning after “very high” concentrations from shotgun pellets were found in raw pheasant pet food.
After testing out samples of raw pheasant dog food, researchers from the University of Cambridge discovered that the majority contained high levels of lead, which could put dogs’ health at risk if they eat it frequently.
The researchers looked at 90 samples of UK dog food products and found that more than three-quarters – 77% – had lead concentrations higher than the maximum residue level (MRL) permitted by law.
How was the study conducted?
The Cambridge scientists tested five pheasant-based dog food products. Three of these were raw meat, one was dried pheasant and partridge, and the other was processed tinned pheasant and goose.
A further three equivalent chicken-based products (raw, dried and processed) were also tested for the study.
Lead concentrations above the MRL were found in the dried pheasant-based product but at levels lower than that found in the raw meat.
Neither of the chicken or tinned pheasant-based products contained unacceptable levels of lead.
The three raw pheasant-based dog food products had lead concentrations which were approximately 245, 135 and 49 times higher than the MRL.
The study, published in the journal Ambio, found that the overall mean average in raw pheasant dog food was found to be 34 times higher than in pheasant sold for human consumption.
Professor Debbie Pain, of Cambridge University’s Zoology Department, said: “We were already aware that lead concentrations in pheasant meat sold for human consumption are often far higher than would be permitted in other meats like chicken, beef or pork.
“However, we were surprised to find that lead concentrations in raw pheasant dog food products were so much higher.”
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The dangers of lead poisoning
Lead poisoning can be very dangerous for both pets and humans, with its effects particularly focused on the nervous system – high levels can lead to convulsions, coma and even death.
Despite the dietary danger, lead shot can be used legally to kill game birds, like pheasants, in the UK.
Most pheasants are eaten by people but some are minced and used in pet food.
As the meat is minced for pet food, this then creates small particles in the meat, increasing the chances for it to be absorbed into the bloodstream.
Dogs eating food with such high concentrations of lead remain at risk of harm to their health, with puppies being particularly vulnerable – this is due to the developing nervous system.
Are raw meat diets becoming more popular?
Researchers found that raw meat diets for pets are becoming increasingly popular across the UK, which is home to an estimated 13 million dogs and 12 million cats.
After analysing online suppliers, the study found that raw pheasant pet food was sold by 34% of the 50 online raw pet food suppliers they checked – 71% of these said the meat may contain shot.
Professor Rhys Green, co-author of the study, said: “The fact that most samples from three randomly sampled raw pheasant pet food products had very high lead concentrations, and that our recent research on shot types used to kill pheasants found that 94% are shot with lead, suggests that this is a far broader issue than for just these three products.
“However, some producers may source pheasants that have not been shot with lead, and owners could ask about this when buying pet food.”
Symptoms of lead poisoning in dogs
It can be hard to spot, but here are a few common symptoms of lead toxicity that dog owners should look out for:
• Decreased appetite
• Abdominal pain
• Increased thirst
• Shortness of breath
• Muscle Tremors