Lead Poisoning in Dogs: Raw Pheasant Pet Food Found to Contain “Very High” Concentrations of Lead

Lead Poisoning in Dogs: Raw Pheasant Pet Food Found to Contain “Very High” Concentrations of Lead

...By Judah Olanisebee for TDPel Media.

“Very High” Concentrations of Lead in Raw Pheasant Pet Food May Endanger Dogs


New research from the University of Cambridge suggests that dogs may be at risk of lead poisoning from raw pheasant pet food, due to “very high” concentrations of lead from shotgun pellets.

Lead is a toxic metal that poses a danger to both humans and animals, with its effects primarily targeting the nervous system.

Although lead shot is legally used to kill terrestrial game birds in the UK, most pheasants are consumed by humans, while others are minced for use in pet food.

In this study, over three-quarters of the 90 UK product samples taken by the researchers contained lead concentrations higher than the maximum residue level (MRL) permitted by law.

Lead Concentrations in Raw Pheasant Dog Food Are Significantly Higher Than Those in Pheasant Sold for Human Consumption

The researchers tested three raw pheasant-based dog food products and found that the mean average lead concentrations were approximately 245, 135, and 49 times higher than the MRL.

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The overall mean average in raw pheasant dog food was found to be 34 times higher than in pheasant sold for human consumption, which itself is considered too high.

The study discovered that pheasant is usually sold as whole birds or breasts for humans but minced for dogs, which may break up the lead shot and create more small particles in the meat, thereby increasing the potential for it to be absorbed into the bloodstream.

Dogs Eating High Concentrations of Lead Are at Risk of Health Hazards, Especially Puppies

The researchers reported that dogs consuming food with such high concentrations of lead, particularly as their main diet, are at risk of significant health problems.

Puppies are especially vulnerable because they absorb more of the lead they swallow, and their developing nervous system is specifically affected by the toxic metal.

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Nine shooting organisations in the UK have committed to phasing out the use of lead over five years, from February 2020, citing concerns for sustainability, wildlife, and ensuring a healthy game market.

Further Steps to Address the Issue

A ban on the sale and use of lead gunshot, along with restrictions on lead bullets, is currently under consideration under the UK Reach Chemicals Regulation.


The Cambridge researchers tested five pheasant-based dog food products and found that three of the samples were raw meat, one was dried pheasant and partridge, and the other was processed tinned pheasant and goose.

Three equivalent chicken-based products (raw, dried, and processed) were also tested.

While lead concentrations above the MRL were found in the dried pheasant-based product, none of the chicken or tinned pheasant-based products contained unacceptable levels of lead.

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Raw dog food is widely available in the UK for the 13 million dogs, and pheasant is sold by 34% of the 50 online raw pet food suppliers the researchers checked, with 71% of those stating that the meat may contain shot.

Taking Action to Minimise Risks

Professor Rhys Green, the study’s co-author, noted that while most samples from three randomly sampled raw pheasant pet food products had very high lead concentrations, this issue is much broader than just these three products.

He added that some producers may obtain pheasants that were not shot with lead, and pet owners could ask about this when buying pet food.

It is important to take steps to minimise the risk of lead poisoning in dogs, and further research is needed to identify the extent of the problem and find ways to mitigate it.


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