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More than 60 dogs struck down with incurable disease as owners speak out about the deadly epidemic

The number of dogs struck down by a debilitating and incurable illness has risen to more than 70 as a popular pet food continues to be investigated as a possible cause.

Manufacturer Mars Petcare Australia voluntarily recalled its Advance Dermocare dry dog range from 500 stores five weeks ago after a concerning and unexplained spike in megaesophagus cases. 

University of Melbourne says the number of megaesophagus cases has risen to 65, and the dogs ate Advance Dermocare in all of them, the ABC’s 7.30 reports. 

But Mars Petcare Australia said in a statement to Daily Mail Australia that it understands that the university is reporting 74 cases of the condition. 

The university says it will take months to determine whether there was a definitive link to the food.

Shirley Benn’s five-year-old maremma Chief had to be put down in February due to suspected megaesophagus. ‘He was my best friend,’ devastated owner Shirley Benn told Daily Mail Australia

Shirley Benn misses her best friend Chief. 'Not a day goes by when I don't cry about him,' she told Daily Mail Australia

Shirley Benn misses her best friend Chief. ‘Not a day goes by when I don’t cry about him,’ she told Daily Mail Australia

 It’s understood the number of megaesophagus deaths stands at eight.

A rare disease, megaesophagus slowly closes the throat, making eating and drinking – even breathing – increasingly difficult.

Symptoms include bad breath, coughing, extreme weight-loss and more breathing noises.  

In the New South Wales town of Port Stephens, Shirley Benn and her family made the heartbreaking decision to put down their beloved five-year-old maremma Chief in February due to megaesophagus.

Ms Benn was devastated to find out just weeks after Chief's death that it could have been caused by his dog food

Ms Benn was devastated to find out just weeks after Chief’s death that it could have been caused by his dog food

'To see him go from a 58 kilogram dog to under 50 kilograms and not be able to stand up was horrible. He couldn't even stomach ice cubes without throwing up.'

‘To see him go from a 58 kilogram dog to under 50 kilograms and not be able to stand up was horrible. He couldn’t even stomach ice cubes without throwing up.’

‘He was my best friend,’ she told Daily Mail Australia.

‘He’d just turned five. He was our baby, our protector and made us laugh. Most days when my husband was at work and the kids were at school, it was he and I.’

Chief was taken to the vet on February 1.

He was diagnosed with megaesophagus two weeks later and was euthanised the next day.

‘It was the most humane thing to do,’ Mrs Benn said.

‘To see him go from a 58 kilogram dog to under 50 kilograms and not be able to stand up was horrible. He couldn’t even stomach ice cubes without throwing up.’

Mrs Benn was devastated to find out just weeks after Chief’s death that it could have been caused by his dog food.

‘I burst into tears,’ she told Daily Mail Australia.

‘To think that the food I chose for him may have killed him is shattering. I’d like to see the company be more empathetic and for the pet food industry to be more regulated.’

Chief's owner Shirley Benn hopes the ongoing investigation and recent media exposure will force changes. 'If this happened to humans, there would be a nationwide uproar,' she told Daily Mail Australia.

Chief’s owner Shirley Benn hopes the ongoing investigation and recent media exposure will force changes. ‘If this happened to humans, there would be a nationwide uproar,’ she told Daily Mail Australia.

Ms Benn hopes the ongoing investigation and recent media exposure will force changes.

‘If this happened to humans, there would be a nationwide uproar,’ she told Daily Mail Australia.

Nine Victoria Police dogs were also struck down with the disease.

One police dog died while another was expected to be euthanised at the time of the product recall.

Since then, many owners have spoken out to say their dogs were diagnosed with the condition after being fed Advance Dermocare.

The Advance Dermocare (pictured) range in 3kg, 8kg and 15kg bags was voluntarily taken off shelves nationwide in March

The Advance Dermocare (pictured) range in 3kg, 8kg and 15kg bags was voluntarily taken off shelves nationwide in March

Nine-year-old labradoodle Stan lost almost five kilograms and relied on intravenous drips for fluids when he was diagnosed with megaesophagus in March. Sadly, the much loved pet has since succumbed to the disease

Nine-year-old labradoodle Stan lost almost five kilograms and relied on intravenous drips for fluids when he was diagnosed with megaesophagus in March. Sadly, the much loved pet has since succumbed to the disease

Titan also ate the popular dog food brand before he was struck down with the condition

Titan also ate the popular dog food brand before he was struck down with the condition

Nine members of the Victoria Police Dog Squad have been struck down by megaesophagus, which causes an enlarged oesophagus

Nine members of the Victoria Police Dog Squad have been struck down by megaesophagus, which causes an enlarged oesophagus

Nine-year-old labradoodle Stan lost almost five kilograms and relied on intravenous drips for fluids when he was diagnosed with megaesophagus in March.

Sadly, the much loved pet has since succumbed to the disease.

Meanwhile, the owners of another dog diagnosed had to build a chair so their beloved golden retriever Holly could sit upright while she eats because she can’t swallow properly, the ABC reports.

The Department of Correctional Services in South Australia has also euthanised one dog following a bout of pneumonia and another is sick with megaesophagus. 

As well as Advance, Mars Petcare makes popular pet foods including Chum, Pedigree, Schmackos and Whiskas.  

‘The health and wellbeing of Australian pets is our number one priority, and we want to assure pet owners and veterinarians that we have their best interests at heart,’ a Mars Petcare Australia spokeswoman told Daily Mail Australia.

‘We are deeply saddened that a cluster of Australian dogs that consumed Advance Dermocare dry dog food have been diagnosed with unexplained megaoesophagus.’

The sick dogs contracted the debilitating condition in December and are still battling the 'extremely rare illness' (Victoria Police dog pictured)

The sick dogs contracted the debilitating condition in December and are still battling the ‘extremely rare illness’ (Victoria Police dog pictured)

She said extensive tests on the product had not found a root cause.

‘In the meantime, and as pet owners ourselves, we feel for pet owners who have lost their dogs to megaoesophagus, or whose dogs have been diagnosed with the condition,’ the spokeswoman said.

‘Despite no root cause being identified, we have commenced the process of contacting pet owners to provide support, including offering to reimburse vet bills.

The voluntary recall on the dry food range remains in place.

Pet owners who have purchased Advance Dermocare dry dog food in 3kg, 8kg and 15kg bags should return the product to the store they purchased it from for a full refund. 

‘No other Advance products or varieties are affected by the recall,’ the spokeswoman said.

The Federal Government has no plans to get involved.

‘The cause of the dog deaths is still under investigation and Advance Dermocare has been voluntarily recalled from the shelves,’ Agriculture Minister David Littleproud told the ABC.

Victoria Police's Dog Squad has been struck down with megaesophagus, which causes the animals' throats to painfully close up

Victoria Police’s Dog Squad has been struck down with megaesophagus, which causes the animals’ throats to painfully close up



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