'Absolutely Rotten': Cat Owners Claim Popular Pet Food Made Their Kittens Sick
Some Aussie cat owners have claimed a popular brand of pet food made their kittens sick -- as experts are waiting to see whether an inquiry into the industry will bring change.
Several cat owners have taken aim at popular brand Whiskas for their 'Kitten Pouches', claiming their pets were left with symptoms such as diarrhoea, vomiting, bloating, lethargy -- resulting in vet bills.
Queensland woman Krystal claimed she started feeding her 13-week-old kitten the product for about two days when she noticed symptoms, including diarrhoea.
"I kept an eye on it and did think it could be the food, but fed him again the next day," she told 10 daily.
"Every time I fed him, it happened not long after and the diarrhoea kept getting worse and worse. Every time he would go to the toilet it was a complete mess ... I was washing the house for days," she claimed.
The worried pet owner said she eventually took her kitten to the vet assuming 'he had worms'. However, Krystal claimed her vet suggested it was the food.
She said she has since switched to a different, more expensive brand and it was "well worth it" for her cat's health.
The Whiskas product is stocked at Coles and Woolworths supermarkets.
Another cat owner Ash, from the NSW Hunter region, also claimed their 20-week-old pet MrJingles got sick after eating Whiskas Kitten Pouches.
"[For] six weeks my poor kitten was having this rotten food, every poop was continuous farting followed by a puddle of horrid-smelling diarrhoea. He was lethargic and overall sick-looking," Ash claimed.
Ash told 10 daily the symptoms started for Mr Jingles after two days. But Ash persisted saying kittens can take time to get used to new food.
"[After] the second week, I questioned whether he had worms because there was no improvement. The third week I rang the vet and they said to do another worming [and asked whether] he has eaten a foreign object," Ash said.
After one more week and no change, Ash also changed to a different brand saying Mr Jingles is now "playing like a kitten should with no bloating or vomiting."
A glimpse at recent customer reviews for the Whiskas pouches shows the product gets an average of 1.4 stars. Some of the complaints date back two years.
"You'd think that kitten food made for kittens [sic] would actually be healthy and safe to consume for a kitten, especially for a brand as well known as Whiskas," another claimed customer wrote in November 2019.
"But this is the most horrible pet food experience I've ever had. My kitten was extremely uncomfortable and not acting like herself."
A spokesperson for Whiskas manufacturer, Mars Petcare, told 10 daily it is "distressing" to hear about kittens going through any sort of illness, but that it was important to remember that some have more sensitive stomachs than others.
"Some cats do have more sensitive stomachs than others and may experience a gastric upset with a sudden change in their diet," the spokesperson said.
"In such cases, we recommend that the food be gradually introduced over a number of days, preferably by mixing it in increasing amounts with a food that is already part of the pet's diet."
A spokesman for Woolworths said the supermarket is unaware of any complaints about the product. Coles did not respond to 10 daily's request for comment.
Mars Petcare added anyone with complaints should contact the company directly.
Who Makes Sure The Food We Feed Our Pets Is Safe?
Vets, industry experts and consumer advocates have been calling for stricter standards to regulate the safety and quality of pet food.
Currently, Australia's pet food industry is self-regulated with voluntary industry standards through the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia (PFIAA). There is no mandatory recall system nor a system for consumers to directly report concerns or complaints.
"There is no body currently that has the legal authority to ensure manufacturers are meeting minimum nutritional guidelines or safety or quality profiles," Sydney vet Dr Bronwyn Orr told 10 daily.
Who is making sure the pet food we feed our animals is safe? Right now that's the company. We have to trust companies are doing the right thing.
Orr said this is quite often the case. But a number of recent incidents have raised concerns about pet food safety.
In the last seven years, there have been at least three voluntary recalls of pet food products, according to consumer group CHOICE.
Last March, Advance Dermocare voluntarily recalled some of its dog food products after several dogs developed a life-threatening condition called megaoesophagus after being fed the food.
Earlier this year, another popular brand, Black Hawk, issued an immediate recall of five of its puppy and adult food dog products over mould fears.
Who Can Make Complaints?
Vets can use the online reporting system PetFAST to lodge complaints about products.
The system is a voluntary initiative that was set up by the Australian Veterinarian Association (AVA) and the pet food industry ten years ago.
"At the time, we realised there wasn't a system anywhere in Australia to identify or investigate potential adverse pet food events," AVA President Dr Julia Crawford told 10 daily.
"It is still completely voluntary."
Orr said leaving pet owners out of the equation is problematic.
"I would love for people to take their sick animals to the vet to get advice and treatment, but the reality is a large number of people don't do this and cases aren't reported," she said.
Last October, a Senate inquiry into the issue handed down a scathing review of the industry.
Among seven recommendations were compulsory rules for the standards and labelling of pet food and a consumer reporting system to make complaints.
Orr said a consumer reporting system would allow pet owners to be "part of the conversation" instead of congregating on un-moderated social media websites that lack credible information.
Kristina Vesk, President of the NSW Cat Protection Society, agreed consumers need to be included in "surveillance".
"There should be a facility to report this without the owner having to visit the vet," she told 10 daily.
"There's something like five million pet dogs and four million pet cats in Australia, so pet owners are really well-placed to be a part of the quality assurance of pet food."
An agriculture department spokesperson said the report on the recommendations following the Senate inquiry into pet food is expected to be finalised by mid 2020.
Orr said she is hopeful the report will deliver reform.
"This is not a new issue ... and unfortunately, we haven’t had much change," she said.
CHOICE's Dean Price told 10 daily the government has an opportunity to "champion laws that will protect our beloved pets".
“Australians don’t want to wait for another tragic pet food scandal in order for reform to happen," he said.