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Why I don't recommend feeding kangaroo to pets: Part I

Updated: Feb 14

Kangaroo meat is a popular protein to feed cats and dogs these days. It's considered a lean, nutritious and organic meat, a wild and natural meat that hasn't been farmed. More and more pet foods made with kangaroo are showing up on the shelves all the time. Kangaroo meat is being regarded as a good alternative for dogs and cats who suffer from allergies.

But kangaroo meat is not all its cracked up to be. In this three-part series, I will delve into the health and ethical concerns associated with kangaroo meat, being the bases of why I don't recommend feeding kangaroo to your pets.

There are two reasons why I don't recommend feeding kangaroo to your pets:

1. Health

2. Ethics

Let's talk about the health concerns associated with kangaroo meat first. In part II, I will discuss the ethical concerns.

The health concerns associated with kangaroo meat

Kangaroo meat is one of the most contaminated meats today. In fact, Australia's largest importer of kangaroo meat, Russia, has banned imports on at least two occasions due to unacceptable levels of the E.coli bacteria.

The first ban occurred in 2009. Russia banned imports again in May 2014. Apparently, Russia had put Australia on notice for some time prior to May 2014 and gave several warnings to lift its 'game' and stop sending contaminated kangaroo meat to its country.

The supplier (Macro Meats) accused Russia of using the wrong testing standards, saying that when it was tested in Australia, the kangaroo meat was within limits. Even if this were true (some say Australia didn't have adequate tests), it does not explain why contaminated kangaroo meat is being sold to Australian consumers.

In 2009, animal rights group Animal Liberation collected samples of kangaroo meat from chillers and had them independently tested by Biotech Laboratories. The test results revealed dangerous levels of salmonella and E.coli.

The concern with hygiene was flagged again in 2012 when Animal Liberation and Voiceless, the animal protection institute found contaminated kangaroo meat for sale in Australian supermarkets, namely Coles, Woolworths and IGA in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.Testing of 26 kangaroo meat samples by Biotech Laboratories showed 75% contamination with Salmonella and/or E.coli.

Kangaroo meat has been shown to have the highest levels of bacteria when compared with other types of meat. According to Voiceless, "when we compared what we found in kangaroo meat to, for instance, lamb, which is manufactured in a similar way, you don't have that level of contamination."

So what is it about kangaroo meat that results in these high levels of bacteria?

To the best of my knowledge, there are three factors that contribute to an increased risk of bacterial contamination in kangaroo meat:

1. Unhygienic processing methods

2. Wild-caught animals

3. Difficulties in identifying sick animals

Let's look at each of these in turn.

1. Unhygienic processing methods

Kangaroos are killed in the wild at night, their bodies stored and transported in open trucks. They are exposed to dirt, flies and other insects. Once the shooter has filled the truck with dead kangaroo bodies, the bodies will be transported to mobile refrigerators known as chillers.

Reports reveal that dead kangaroo bodies can be hung up in these open trucks for the duration of a night. The long delay between being shot in the field and cold storage increases the likelihood of bacterial contamination.

The bodies are stored in chillers until they are transported to processing plants. Investigations have revealed unhygienic conditions of chillers including:

  • hanging carcasses touching the floor;

  • fresh blood on the floor;

  • old dried blood that had not been washed away on the floor;

  • carcasses over-packed and touching one another;

  • no sterile zone due to only one point of entry into the chillers;

  • tags on carcasses showing that they are 12 and 13 days old; and

  • implement used for bludgeoning joeys (young kangaroos) with caked blood on the end.

According to Mark Pearson, then Executive Director of Animal Liberation NSW and now Animal Justice Party Member of the NSW Legislative Council, when you jump up and down in these chillers, they can be so filthy that muck and effluent oozes out from underneath; "Now that sits there fermenting all the time that carcasses come and go and come and go and go off to a processing plant in a truck.".

In 2012, former NSW chief food inspector, Desmond Sibraa, was reported as saying that the Australian kangaroo industry was failing to adhere to hygiene regulations and were putting Australians at risk. He said that video footage showed paws and necks touching dirty floors stained with old blood, and kangaroo carcasses crammed so close that it would be impossible for cool air to circulate adequately.

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, "leaked memos and internal documents ... showed evidence that trucks were being ''loaded hot'', exposing the carcasses to temperatures above 25 degrees for extended periods. Chillers in remote areas regularly malfunctioned.".

In 2009, ecotoxicology expert, Dr David Obendorf, said the kangaroo meat industry had been covering up problems for years.

2. Wild-caught animals

Meat from wild-caught animals generally has higher levels of E. coli compared to meat from farm animals, according to Associate Professor Vitali Sintchenko, a specialist at the Centre for Infectious Diseases and Microbiology at Sydney's Westmead Hospital. If the meat is cooked rare, or fed raw, Salmonella and E.coli levels can be dangerous.

Animals in the wild are also exposed to diseases, viruses and parasites that, if they were in a factory farmed environment, would be controlled with toxic chemicals.

3. Difficulties in identifying sick animals

The Australian Standard for Hygienic Production of Game Meat for Human Consumption stipulates that kangaroo shooters must carry out pre-death inspections of target movement to determine whether there is any indication of sickness.

According to the Standard, no animal should be harvested if it can be seen that it:

  • has an abnormal gait;

  • is weak or lethargic;

  • lacks alertness;

  • sits in an unusual way;

  • holds its head at an unusual angle;

  • has any discharge from the nose or mouth;

  • has any skin abnormalities; and/or

  • is poorly fleshed, or is otherwise apparently injured or suffering from an abnormality that may render meat derived from it unwholesome.

According to THINKK, The Think Tank for Kangaroos, quoting Desmond Sibraa:

"in practice it is difficult to comply with the Standard. Inspections are impossible to carry out because the harvesting of kangaroos occurs at night and in remote locations. Further, the shooting of a kangaroo requires that it must first be transfixed (made to stand still) making any observation of target movement impossible by a spotlight."

It seems that visual meat inspection procedures that are intended to occur after kangaroos have been shot and processed are also ineffective.

Quoting Sibraa and Dr David Obendorf, THINKK also reveal that:

"Unless gross lesions are apparent in the meat or samples are taken for testing, some infections are difficult or impossible to detect. If the animal is ill and the meat becomes fevered after death the dark colouring of kangaroo meat further reduces any chance of picking up on any visual indications of the condition."

How is this relevant to pet food?

With food allergies so common in dogs and cats these days, more and more people are looking for protein alternatives to feed their pets. The trend is to feed novel proteins, ie proteins that the animal hasn't eaten before. While once the likes of rabbit and lamb were considered "novel", meat from kangaroo, buffalo, ostriches, emu, elk and deer are now being offered. This is because dogs and cats are now developing allergies to rabbit and lamb.

One might think though, how many billions of wild animals do we need to kill in order to feed our pets? Do we need to look at other more sustainable protein sources?

With kangaroo meat now a common pet food ingredient, everything that I've mentioned above is relevant.

However, the situation is made worse by the fact that the pet meat sector operates within an independent supply chain - a supply chain that consists of:

  • chillers that are dedicated solely for pet meat; and

  • processing that occurs at premises registered to only process pet meat.

This is a concern because the hygiene and operational standards of pet meat are not as stringent as human supply chains.

On top of this, preservatives are added to fresh kangaroo pet meat to extend shelf life by inhibiting bacterial growth, diminishing bacteria-produced odour and delaying the effects of myoglobin (myoglobin causes meat to appear brown rather than red).

The preservatives added to fresh kangaroo pet meat has resulted in thiamine deficiency in pets.

You can read more about the pet nutrition concerns associated with kangaroo meat in the Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation report titled 'Building Confidence in Kangaroo Meat for Pet Nutrition'.

All of the above factors combined results in grave concerns for the health impacts of kangaroo meat on our beloved pets.

In the next instalment, I will be discussing the ethical concerns of feeding kangaroo meat to your cats and dogs. In the meantime, the below is a summary of the health concerns.

Do you think that kangaroo meat is dangerous for pets? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

For the ethical issues associated with feeding your pet kangaroo, read Part II and Part III.

#petfood #animalnutritionist #animalhealth #sahajaanimalhealing #pets #cats #dogs

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