Need to know
- Lynne Moorman says her pedigree cats fell ill after eating Royal Canin kibble, but the pet food company says it's not aware of any issues with the product
- Moorman documented a thorough investigation that appears to link the kibble with her cats' illnesses, but no samples were available for testing
- Will long-awaited government recommendations on pet food standards make a difference?
Lynne Moorman describes her seven cats as "much loved and spoilt family members that have lived with us since they were 12 weeks old", and you can hear the love in her voice.
You can also hear the pain when Moorman talks about all seven of them falling ill in September 2020. (Moorman has taken her cats, six Somalis and one part pedigree, to national cat shows around Australia, where they've won awards.)
New version of Royal Canin kibble
According to Moorman, the culprit was a new version of Royal Canin's Light Weight Care kibble, which was added to her cats' diets in August 2020. She had been feeding her cats the old version of the kibble since 2016.
The new kibble had gone from a pyramid to a donut shape, but Moorman is convinced that a change of ingredients is to blame for what began in September 2020 as diarrhoea, vomiting, weight loss, bloody stools and loss of appetite and ended up as a diagnosis of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or lymphoma for five of her cats and ongoing sickness in the other two. (The two diseases present with similar symptoms.)
It was horrendous. These are our family members, and it breaks my heart to see what they've had to go throughCat owner Lynne Moorman
Royal Canin told Moorman there had been no change in ingredients and that the product shouldn't cause digestive issues.
Around the time Moorman bought the newly shaped kibble in August, Royal Canin announced that some of its products would be made in a new South Korean facility rather than in France – a move that Moorman thinks has something to do with the change in the product and her cats' resulting sickness.
"It's unheard of to have all seven get sick all at the same time," Moorman told CHOICE. "It was horrendous. These are our family members, and it breaks my heart to see what they've had to go through."
With so many visits and procedures in recent months, Moorman's vet bills have passed the $10,000 mark.
Cat owner Lynne Moorman with Tarek at the Sydney Royal show in 2019.
Royal Canin: Our kibble is not to blame
Through several communications between Moorman and Dr Ben Porter, the scientific advisory veterinarian for the company, Royal Canin said it couldn't establish a link between its product and the IBD cases.
The company says there was no change in ingredients and that the product in question was manufactured in France. The change in shape happened in "late 2020", Royal Canin told Moorman, and was not related to the new South Korean manufacturing location.
But Moorman drew the company's attention to a video on Royal Canin's Facebook page from July 2020 featuring the new donut-shaped kibble.
Because Moorman didn't make the connection between the kibble and her cats' illnesses until September, and she was feeding seven cats, she no longer had the packaging for the kibble she bought in August.
The lack of packaging meant Royal Canin couldn't check the specific batch number of the product Moorman is convinced was the culprit.
There is no question in my mind whatsoever. I am absolutely 100% convinced that Royal Canin has caused the issuesCat owner Lynne Moorman
In March 2021, Porter told Moorman "we have exhausted all support we can provide you in relation to this complaint". Inflammatory bowel disease is "multifactorial", the company said, and could not be definitively linked to its cat food.
Royal Canin didn't specifically rule out its kibble as a possible cause, but said "we are not aware of identified health and safety risks to pets".
No change of ingredients, says Royal Canin
"Prior to the food change in August 2020 all my cats were fine," Moorman says, adding "there is no question in my mind whatsoever. I am absolutely 100% convinced that Royal Canin has caused the issues. There's nothing else there."
Royal Canin says there was no change of ingredients when the Light Weight Care kibble changed from pyramid to donut shape.
In February 2021, Porter emailed Moorman, saying, "I can confirm that our Light Weight Care diets manufactured in South Korea only became available for purchase in Western Australia from November 2020, which unfortunately does not match the timeline of your cats' illness in their veterinary records."
With seven sick cats, Lynne Moorman's vet bills topped the $10,000 mark, and she had to administer a range of medicines.
Signs of improvement
Moorman's cats had started showing signs of improvement when we interviewed her in mid-May.
"Having taken them off Royal Canin, their coats have come back, their tails have come back," Moorman says. "They've got more energy and they're putting on weight. Two of them have put on nearly a kilo since January."
'Extremely let down'
But she says she still feels "extremely let down by Royal Canin".
In her final communication, Moorman told Porter, "I understand that the exact cause of feline IBD is unknown, and experts attribute this condition to complex interactions between the environment, genetics and diet.
"I can understand it when one cat or even two cats from the same household are diagnosed with IBD, but when it happens to five cats within 12 weeks who are not all related to each other, then this is a different scenario altogether."
All seven of Lynne Moorman's cats fell ill after eating Royal Canin Light Weight Care kibble. Five were eventually diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease.
Pet food unregulated in Australia
Pets falling ill, or worse, from eating pet food is hardly a new phenomenon in Australia. And with no mandatory pet food safety standards currently in place, pets continue to get sick.
We recently highlighted the case of Rebecca Cleaver's two rescue greyhounds being diagnosed with megaesophagus after eating Veganpet dry dog food.
In an earlier story, we focused on the case of Nina Waltman, who's convinced Royal Canin dry dog food made her Maltese Shih Tzu sick. (Royal Canin denied it was the cause.)
Dry pet foods are 'vectors of harmful mycotoxins posing the risk to pet health'US National Institutes of Health
The standards that do exist, including the voluntary ones in Australia, appear to be falling short.
As we reported in our earlier story, a study published by the US National Institutes of Health in February 2020 makes the case that the cereals used in dry pet foods are "vectors of harmful mycotoxins posing the risk to pet health", and that even at levels well below the EU regulatory threshold, mycotoxins can pose long-term health risks for pets.
More than 100 cases since 2017
Since 2017, more than 100 cases of megaesophagus have been linked to Advance Dermocare dry dog food in Australia, and at least eight dogs have died as a result of contracting the illness.
In a paper published in December 2018, the director of the University of Melbourne's U-Vet Hospital, Professor Caroline Mansfield, says there was a "one in a million probability that this occurred by chance" and that the dog food was almost certainly the cause.
Yet the manufacturer of the product, Mars Australia, told CHOICE in February 2021 that, "despite extensive investigations, a root cause of the 2018 outbreak has yet to be found".
Slow progress for government working group
With hundreds of pet food contamination incidents on record in recent decades, the federal government took action in 2018.
At the time, Minister of Agriculture David Littleproud established a working group to review the regulation and safety of pet food.
When we reported on the Veganpet case in April 2021, Littleproud's office told us the group's final report "is now being finalised and is expected to be presented to senior Agriculture officials by the end of March 2021".
Both the Australian Veterinary Association and the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia think a mandatory standard is needed
We contacted the minister's office for an update in mid-May and were told the report was still being drafted.
Both the Australian Veterinary Association and the Pet Food Industry Association of Australia think a mandatory standard is needed, as does pet food maker Royal Canin.
The recent case of Lynne Moorman and her seven cats underscores the need to accelerate the process.
Royal Canin also wants mandatory regulation
A Royal Canin spokesperson told us the company "supports the introduction of mandatory regulation of the Australian pet food industry. We recognise that adherence to consistent standards across the industry will improve the confidence of owners in the food they feed their pets".
We follow a thorough process to examine all aspects of quality and safety… when an owner or veterinarian believes it to be linked to our productRoyal Canin spokesperson
"We follow a thorough process to examine all aspects of quality and safety in our food production to investigate the cause of a pet's illness, when an owner or veterinarian believes it to be linked to our product. In the absence of batch details from the [Lynne Moorman], we've been unable to complete any testing and establish a link between the reported illness and our product."