BEIJING - Some 1,500 dogs bred for their raccoon-like fur have died after eating feed tainted with the same chemical that contaminated dairy products and sickened tens of thousands of babies nationwide, a veterinarian said Monday.
The raccoon dogs — a breed native to east Asia whose fur is used to make trim on coats and other clothing — were fed a product that contained the chemical melamine and developed kidney stones, said Zhang Wenkui, a veterinary professor at Shenyang Agriculture University. All of the dogs died on farms in just one village.
Zhang determined that the animals died of kidney failure after performing a necropsy — an animal autopsy — on about a dozen dogs. He declined to say when the deaths occurred but a report Monday in the Southern Metropolis Daily newspaper said they had occurred over the past two months.
"First, we found melamine in the dogs' feed, and second, I found that 25 percent of the stones in the dogs' kidneys were made up of melamine," Zhang told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
The Southern Metropolis Daily also blamed the deaths of several hundred dogs on melamine, but it was not immediately clear how the chemical would have entered the raccoon dog feed. In the ongoing milk scandal, melamine was said to be added to watered-down milk to artificially boost nitrogen levels, making products seem higher in protein when tested.
The animal deaths raise questions about the extent of the chemical's presence in the country's food chain.
Melamine has been found in a wide range of Chinese-made dairy products and foods with milk ingredients over the past few months. The government is still trying to win back consumer confidence after those tainted products turned up on store shelves around the world.
Four Chinese babies' deaths have been blamed on infant formula that was laced with melamine. Some 54,000 other children were sickened.
Last year, melamine-tainted wheat gluten, a pet food ingredient made in China, was blamed for the deaths of dozens of dogs and cats in North America.
When ingested by humans, the industrial chemical — used in plastics and fertilizers — can cause kidney stones as the body tries to eliminate it and, in extreme cases, can lead to kidney failure. Infants are particularly susceptible.
Zhang said the company that produces the animal feed is in talks with breeders in Xishan, the village in Liaoning province where the dogs died, about providing compensation and has pressured them not to talk to the media.
Zhang did not give the company's name but the newspaper report said the feed was produced by Harbin Hualong Feed Co. The company refused to comment Monday, saying officials were unavailable because they were in a meeting.
An official surnamed Liu at the Liaoning provincial animal feed and medicine inspection center said the facility tested one sample of animal feed from Xishan and found that it contained about 500 parts per million of melamine. China's Health Ministry recently capped the amount of melamine permissible in milk, milk powder and food products that contain more than 15 percent dairy to 2.5 parts per million.
He said that the center was assisting the Ministry of Agriculture in a nationwide inspection of animal feed for similar contamination but would not give any other details.
The ministry did not respond to a list of faxed questions. Telephone calls to the agricultural department of the Ciyutuo county government, which oversees Xishan, rang unanswered.
China's products have been under intense scrutiny after high levels of industrial toxins were found last year in exports ranging from toothpaste to toys.
The milk scandal has resulted in recalls and the blocking of Chinese imports in numerous countries.
On Monday, Australia said it had ordered a recall of a milk drink and cake brand after tests showed they were contaminated with melamine.
Lydia Buchtmann, a spokeswoman for Food Standards Australia New Zealand, said Orion brand Tiramisu Italian Cake with Cheese Cream and Dali Yuan brand First Milk vanilla-flavored drink have been taken off store shelves.