US-made Optima dog food in China may have killed my dog

In what’s poised to be the absolute worst Christmas ever, there is an excellent chance my dog – my awesome, beautiful, wonderful, fantastic dog – is going to die.

After posting the other day about the possibility of her having come into contact with aflatoxin contaminated Optima dog food, a visit to the vet yesterday confirmed it. Her liver is shutting down.

We had hoped that her fussy eating lately was just her usual finicky self. However, when the whites of her eyes yellowed yesterday and she peed in the house (something she never does) we called up the vet and had them send over a car – the downside of having no car in China is that most taxis wont take you with a large dog.

Upon the recommendation of our pet shop, we took Addie to Cao Lang Feng Pet Hospital. The service was great, if somewhat typically health care in style (lots of smiles, but little direct information). Addie had blood taken and we then waited 30 minutes or so for the results to come out.

While waiting we asked some of the vet nurses (assistant vets? what’s the terminology here?) if they had seen a lot of dogs coming in because of the Optima dog food problem and they confirmed they had.

The blood results showed she was definitely symptomatic of liver failure due to aflatoxin exposure.

The vet explained that dogs afflicted are showing about a 20% chance of recovery (a euphemism for saying that 4/5ths of the dogs are dying). He prescribed some liver protecting medication and told us all we can do is take care of her best we can and hope she pulls through.

The medication is all done via IV, but the vet gave us the option of leaving her there for them to care for her or letting us take her home to care for her. We decided on bringing her home, figuring that the cold, strange and noisy kennel was no place for her to try and fight this.

Essentially, the vet said that once diagnosed most dogs were either improved or dead after 10 days – so that’s our time frame.

While waiting for the medication to be prepared, some representatives from the dog food distributor arrived. I’m not sure if they were from Optima (as they were Chinese, that’s unlikely), Natrual Pet (the Taiwanese importer to the Mainland) or the local Chinese representatives for Natural Pet (most likely).

Corporate Damage Control

I watched Addie while Maggie went into a room with them and talked about the situation. They essentially laid out that they would cover all medical costs related to this, and in the event of her death they would come up with compensation of some sort. How exactly do they calculate that? Pro-rated from time of birth with a bonus for a good temperament and numbers of hours trained? I realize they’re managing the damage and just doing their jobs, but fuck – assholes. They very likely killed my dog and actually had the audacity to tell Maggie they’ll reimburse us based on book value for the breed plus a bit for pain and suffering.

The one good thing that came out of the conversation is that we learned a bit more about what happened. Apparently the Olympics are to blame. Fucking Olympics. Allegedly, the reason for the contamination is because during the Olympics the Chinese gov’t set tight restrictions on ports of entry for importing. All the dog food was therefore brought in through the hot and humid Guangzhou, where it sat in a non-temperature controlled warehouse long enough for the aflatoxin to develop in the food.

Back at home

Getting Addie back home we set her up with a custom rigged IV suspender (a step-ladder and a coat hanger – I felt like frigin’ MacGyver). It’s a bit weird giving your dog an IV, but they made it as easy as possible by installing an “butterfly” in her leg by which we can just plug in the new IV to.

She was prescribed four medications, and about 10 minutes into the second bag of medi-juice she started fidgeting and her lips swelled up. Almost immediately after pulling out the IV she let loose from both ends. Our night was going swell. While I sat with Addie, as she slowly slipped into unconsciousness, Maggie called the vet in a panic.

With no way to get Addie to the vet, we were referred to a pet shop in SIP (our district) that had the shot she needed to reverse the allergic reaction. Unfortunately, no cab was going to take Addie, even if we could get her out to the road. Miracuously the vet called up a staff member and sent him out to our house with the needles. By the time he arrived Addie was nearly normal (thank god), but we stuck her just to be sure.

By the time we were finally able to get the next IV into her it was midnight, and we were completely beat. Rather than have both of us fight to stay awake with her, we decided to take shifts. Maggie went first, and I promptly slept through the first shift change, finally taking over at about 4:30 until the last drop dripped at about 7am.

And that’s the story of how I discovered there was no Santa Clause. Fat man never showed.

Christmas Morning … later

After a bit of sleep, we got up and did our best to have a Christmas morning. I did a bit of a fry-up, we exchanged gifts and then went back to worrying about Addie.

We took her back down to the vet at about 1:30 today and got more blood work done. No major changes, but her platelet count (I’m guessing by the rough translation I got) was lower – not great.

The vet suggested that while we were there we again give her the IV she had a reaction to last night, but add in some anti-allergy stuff. Though the reaction wasn’t as bad, she still began getting irritated and her face began to swell a bit – so that stuff’s out. We stuck around a bit longer to let Addie’s veins suck back one of the other bags of meds – one less thing we’d have to do later at home and nice to have the vet show us how the damn IV works (a day late).

We’re home now, just hooking Addie up to one of two more IVs she’ll need to have tonight and trying to figure out when best to give her some food and a pill she needs to have (but always ends up throwing up a couple hours after taking it).

To her credit, Addie is being a complete doll about everything. She’s let an endless line of people jab her with sharp objects, stick chemicals in her, push pills down her throat and force her into cars (she’s NOT a car dog). Through it all she sort of lumbers along, only showing enough distaste for it to let us know she’s not pleased about it but trusts that we know what we’re doing.

I wish we did. This is easily one of the most difficult things I’ve had to deal with. Not having any control or real understanding of what is happening is not a feeling I will be looking to repeat.

34 Responses

  1. Pingback: US-made Optima dog food killing dogs in China | Lost Laowai China Blog

  2. How awful. My best wishes to you and Addie. I’ve worked with really ill animals (cats) and you never do know how it’s going to turn out. One of them was so dreadfully sick. It took constant attention, antibiotics, hand-feeding. subcutaneous fluids, etc…against all odds he recovered and 8 years later is still with me. I’m hoping you have the same kind of outcome. Stick with it, give her all the attention and love you can. My thoughts are with you.

  3. Pingback: Cats » The Peking Duck

  4. Dude, that’s fucking awful.

    That is one awesome dog, and I hope she pulls through.
    Pepe is rooting for her here across the water, in the hopes that he can evetually get back to China for a blind date.

    This is nuts.

  5. I’m so sorry this is happening to you guys. Our prayers are with Addie. We got our dog Baozi just a few months before you got her, and he threw up a couple of times yesterday, but seems better today. He doesn’t eat that brand but you just never know do you?

  6. That’s it. I’m not doing anything without wordpad.

    My previous message went astray on-line.

    …contact with aflatoxin contaminated Optima dog food…

    ….(a euphemism for saying that 4/5ths of the dogs are dying).

    This is totally unacceptable in Suzhou. We live in the westernised part of China. Well, westernised part of Suzhou.

    If dog food suppliers cannot guarantee the quality of dog food, then how about food for Humans ?

    “…They essentially laid out that they would cover all medical costs related to this, and in the
    event of her death they would come up with compensation of some sort. How exactly do they calculate that? ”

    This incident, obviously caused by malignant negligence has cost you both, our friends and
    potential new friends, quality time and fellowship in lieu of the family table in Canada or elsewhere for a Christmas dinner that we’d planned for – has
    compromised Addie’s life.

    It is outrageous.

    I’m normally a cat man, but Addie – I have to ruffle her head and stroke her when she sniffs me and gets a sense of who Jamieson is, paws my legs at your place, sucking a quiet beer. She’s adorable.

    I sincerely hope she recovers !


    On the side I’ve found out why I vomit,shiver and sweat – have to cancel classes.

    It’s Dole 100% Tomato juice.

    Food allergy. Or some chemical allergy.

    “Ingredients: Water, Tomato Juice from concentrate,
    Salt, Acidity Regulator, Vitamin C, Flavour.”

    100% tomato juice, my arse.

    6 am post ? Well I slept most of the day, woke up at 4.30 despite the electric blanket and quilts & no Yukes.

    I’m going to put this on without your permission. Other Dog owners need to know about this dog food issue immediately.


  7. Been thinking of poor Addie today, as she continues to battle with what ails her. Hope she’ll be back to trying to stuff her bit of rope into my hand in the new year. *Addie, 加油!*

  8. I’m so sorry, Ryan. I’ve lost a few dogs in my life. They all went naturally, of course, but it was still very, very difficult. I can only imagine what y’all are going through now. This is just horrible.

    Much love and respect. All my best to little Addie.


  9. Thanks everyone – the well wishes are much appreciated. She’s still fighting, but we’ve yet to receive good news from the vet. Will post more when I can, but between being up on IV duty until 4am, and then up to get work done, it’s left me little time.

  10. I understand how hard a period of time makes you suffer, and I am touched by your feelings cau’s few men can be so nice to their dogs.
    Carry on! Addie! I am praying for you!

  11. I’m so sorry to hear about your dog. We all hope she pulls through, good luck to you and Maggie and thanks for being so vigilant reminding other dog owners about the dangers of Optima in China, hopefully Addie’s illness can save other pets.

  12. Pingback: Addie Update #2: The Youth in Asia Debate | A China Blog on Suzhou Expat Life | The Humanaught

  13. I was going to forward this to my girlfriend in Shanghai whose dog just died, and had been fed Optima dog food, but the foul language in the main post and some of the replies makes that impossible. My friend is suffering the loss of her pup who had just turned 1, and I won’t subject her to such foul language as was used in posts here. That would just add more pain to her grieving heart. It hurts to know that, when we researched the food in October for her, it looked like a good brand for her to feed her dog. It’s hard to find good, safe food in China. -GL

  14. If she managed to suffer through watching her puppy die and not utter one expletive towards those responsible, I can’t imagine her heart is too grieved.

    I generally pepper my posts with a handful of epithets in hopes it will keep overly-sensitive, self-righteous commenters away; but some of the replies I get proves that’s impossible.

  15. i came across ur article while i was browsing on feeds for my 1st hardly-owned labrador who is 6 months old now… his vet prescribed her with the optima dog food 2 cups per meal 2x a day that maybe mixed with 1/2 cup of rice per serving… it’s more than a year since then.. m just wondering what’s the latest about this frightening issue
    … and i’m also wondering what happened to Addie.. my prayers for u and your pet…

  16. Hi Arabelle — this problem was strictly limited to China, and during a specific time frame. Your pup should be fine. I’ll never use Optima dog food again, and I’ll never recommend it to anyone, as the company never even responded to my attempts to contact them about this issue. However, you’re dog is likely not at risk.

      • Hi Renea, I’m sad to say that Addie died about 10 days after this entry was posted. It was a terrible crushing experience, but time has helped heal the wound, and so has our wonderful new dog, Button.

        The problem that you mention is not the same, though had the same tragic results. The melamine in pet food that killed cats and dogs in the US back in 2007 is not the same as the aflatoxin that killed our dog. Melamine was added to the dog food to skew the amount of protein in the food and results in kidney failure.

        Aflatoxin is a living thing that grows (like mold) on grain-based things if improperly stored and poisons/attacks the liver of anything exposed to it.

        Additionally, they’re different in that the melamine was added intentionally (and not just to US-exported food, but also China’s entire milk supply in 2008). The aflatoxin that killed our dog was a localized problem, and completely an accident (though born from neglect).

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