SHANGHAI: A brand of imported pet food has been linked to the deaths of dozens of dogs across the country.
Since the end of November, at least 30 dogs have died from liver complications after eating Optima dog food imported from Australia.
It is suspected of containing aflatoxin, an extremely toxic and carcinogenic fungus found on corn and other grains that can cause liver damage.
Aflatoxin contamination made the news in 2006 when a number of dogs died after eating the Diamond brand of dog food made in the United States.
"Since last month, we have received about 10 dogs suffering from liver damage, all of which had eaten Optima pet food," a worker at the Naughty Family Pet Co, a pet hospital in Shanghai, said.
"The dogs had diarrhea and were vomiting, both of which are symptoms of exposure to aflatoxin," the anonymous worker said.
"A week ago, my dog got very sick. She wouldn't eat and had no energy.
"She just shivered or lay on the ground," the owner, surnamed Qiang, of a 2-year old dog, said.
"So I sent her to hospital where she vomited several times. The blood results showed she had liver failure due to aflatoxin exposure," she said.
The dog had been eating the Optima food since February, she said.
A vet at the Shanghai Shensheng Pet Hospital, known only as Zhang, said: "So far, we have not received any reports that link Optima pet food to the dogs' deaths, but all the dogs in our hospital have eaten that pet food."
According to unnamed media reports, the Shanghai distributor of Optima pet food has admitted that a "severe quality problem" was found in a batch produced between August and September, and the firm has issued an emergency recall of the products.
Fang Yibo, head of Shanghai Yidi Pet Supply Co, which sells Optima, said: "We stopped selling Optima as soon as we heard about some dogs getting sick."
Yidi has about 400 to 500 Optima customers, and four of their dogs have become sick, Fang told China Daily.
"Customers can return the Optima food to exchange it for another brand," he said.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Optima dog food is made by Australia's Doane International Pet Products.
"The food is imported to China through the Taiwan company Natural Pet and then distributed on the mainland market by the Beijing Yukangyuan Trade Co and Shanghai Ruichong Trade Co," an anonymous pet food seller said.
Optima's website says the pet food is made in the US.
Dog owner Zheng Zhang said: "I just want my dogs to eat well. Optima is a very famous brand, which is part of the reason I chose it.
"I didn't expect it to be poisoned." he said.