Horse Meat Contaminated with Indospicine

Horse Meat Contaminated with Indospicine

With the recent investigation of 68 dogs in Victoria being accidentally poisoned through eating horse meat contaminated with indospicine, the Helpline has had a lot of enquiries from the public about what this is and how they can keep their pets safe.

Indospicine is a natural toxin produced by Indigofera plants. There are over 60 species of native Indigofera found in animal grazing regions of Australia, however the most toxic seems to be Indigofera linnaei which is commonly found in northern regions SA, NSW, WA and most of QLD and the NT. These plants are readily eaten by livestock such as cattle, sheep, horses and camels. These animals do not develop extensive liver damage like dogs but they can be poisoned from other active compounds in the plants (e.g., neurological effects seen in Birdsville horse disease).

Livestock that have grazed on Indigofera plants accumulate the toxin indospicine in their tissues (including muscle). These animals may then be transported to knackeries that supply fresh meat for pet food. When dogs consume this meat containing indospicine it is thought to interfere with the body’s ability to incorporate the essential amino acid arginine into proteins needed in the liver. This leads to dysfunction of the liver and in severe cases liver failure causing death. The unique sensitivity of dogs to this toxin was first reported over 30 years ago.

Early signs of poisoning include vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite and lethargy. Advanced cases may have jaundice (yellowing of the skin, gums and whites of the eyes) and bruising/haemorrhage. It is imperative that veterinary treatment is sought as soon as you suspect your pet has ingested contaminated meat or if your pet seems unwell.

Unfortunately cooking or freezing the meat has no impact on the toxicity of indospicine. Therefore, if you feed your pet fresh or frozen pet meat make sure you know where the animal has come from and the species of animal. So far, reports of poisoning have come from the ingestion of horse and camel meat.
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This post has been gratefully sponsored by a grant from @AnimalWelfareVictoria