Dog health at risk from shotgun pellets in raw pheasant pet food

Researchers have studied samples of raw pheasant dog food and have claimed that “the majority” contained “high levels of lead”.


In a new study by researchers at the University of Cambridge, experts have said that dogs’ health could be put at risk by consuming raw pheasant dog food as “the majority” of tested samples contained “high levels of lead”.

The scientists say that raw pheasant pet food could be a health risk if “consumed frequently” by dogs as lead is a toxic metal that negatively affects the body systems of people and animals. In particular, nervous systems can be affected by the consumption of lead.

While the researchers argue that elevated levels of dietary lead are potentially damaging to animal health, lead shots can be legally used for hunting terrestrial gamebirds such as pheasants in the UK.

With pheasants being used in certain pet foods, University of Cambridge researchers analyzed 90 samples taken from three raw pheasant dog food products bought in the UK.

“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 such as chicken, beef or pork,” said lead author Professor Debbie Pain of Cambridge’s Zoology Department.

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“However, we were surprised to find that the lead concentrations in raw pheasant dog food products were so much higher”

Study findings revealed that 77 percent of samples had lead concentrations exceeding the maximum residue level (MRL) permitted in animal feed according to law.

Overall, the mean lead concentrations of the three tested products were approximately 245, 135 and 49 times higher than the MRL.

What’s more, the mean lead concentration in the raw pheasant dog food analyzed was 34 times higher than that recently reported in pheasant meat sold for people to eat which the Cambridge researchers consider to be too high.

Providing analysis, the study team noted that this could be because pheasant meat is “normally minced when used for dog food while whole birds or pheasant breasts are generally sold for human consumption”. In turn, fishing could fragment lead shots, thus increasing the number of small lead particles in the meat and the potential for leads to be absorbed into the bloodstream.

With this in mind, researchers confirmed that dogs eating food with such high concentrations of lead (particularly if they are fed on it frequently or as their main diet) are at risk of harm to their health.

In particular, puppies were found to be particularly vulnerable. This is because young animals tend to absorb more of the lead they swallow than full-grown animals and the developing nervous system is particularly affected by lead, according to the researchers.

To carry out their study, the research team tested five pheasant-based dog food products, of which three were raw meat products, one was a dried pheasant and partridge product, and one was a processed tinned pheasant and goose-based product. Three equivalent chicken-based pet food products (raw meat, dried and processed) were also tested.

In addition to the raw pheasant dog food, levels of lead above the MRL were identified in some samples of the dried pheasant-based product, although the team found that the mean concentration was far lower than in the raw products.

None of the samples from the chicken-based products or the tinned pheasant and goose-based products contained acceptable levels of lead.

What’s more, study findings highlighted that raw dog food including pheasant meat is widely available in the UK. In fact, raw pheasant pet food was sold by 34 percent of the 50 online raw pet food suppliers they checked, with 71 percent of the product labels stating that the meat may contain shot.

“The fact that most samples from three randomly sampled raw pheasant pet food products have very high lead concentrations, and that our recent research on shot types used to kill pheasants found that 94 percent are shot with lead, suggests that this is a much broader issue than for just these three products,” said co-author Professor Rhys Green.

There is currently a research program investigating shot types in pheasants sold for human consumption that is part of a body of research assessing the effectiveness of a voluntary ban in the UK on lead shotgun ammunition to shoot wild quarry. This study is being phased in over a five-year period from February 2020.

While scientists at the University of Cambridge have consistently found compliance with the voluntary ban to be low, the total ban in Denmark has been shown to be “very effective”.

A ban on the sale and use of lead gunshot, along with restrictions on lead bullets, is currently being considered under the UK REACH Chemicals Regulation.

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