The puzzling outbreak of illness comes from jerky treats made in China, which are released in the U.S. under various brand names. Only 10 cats have been sickened, but dogs of all breeds, sizes, and ages have become ill after eating treats made from chicken, duck, sweet potato, and even dried fruit.
“As of September 24, 2013, over 3,600 dogs and 10 cats have reportedly become ill from eating jerky pet treats, nearly all of which were imported from China,” Linda Tollefson, Associate Commissioner of the FDA’s Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine said. “While most pets have fully recovered, approximately 580 of these pets have died.”
The FDA has released a factsheet for pet owners and veterinarians to help them avoid and look out for signs of illness in their dogs and cats.
So far, though the pace of illness reports has decreased, the FDA continues to receive reports of sick pets, especially dogs. However, testing of jerky treats for contaminants has not yet revealed a cause. Investigators have linked the deaths and illness to the Chinese jerky treats conclusively, but how those treats make dogs and other pets sick is still a mystery.
Tollefson noted that even after testing “for microbiological contaminants, heavy metals and elements, pesticides, rodenticides, molds, antibiotics and other compounds,” the FDA needs more data. To this end, they have issued a call to veterinarians nationwide to report and share data from any pets they treat that exhibit related symptoms. They are also suggesting certain tests that veterinary practitioners should perform—including tests of blood, urine, and tissue samples—with the FDA, in many cases, covering the costs.
The symptoms follow a common pattern. The dogs and other pets eat jerky tenders or strips, then become ill, usually within hours. The animals then suffer a decrease in activity and appetite, as well as vomiting, increased water consumption with increased urination, and diarrhea. In some more serious cases, the pets affected experience kidney problems, such as Fanconi syndrome or even kidney failure.
Though the rate of illness has increased, the FDA does not believe that the threat has abated. Instead, a recall issued in January on many treats that were found to have residue of antibiotics simply decreased the number of treats on the market. Del Monte Corp.’s Milo’s Kitchen Chicken Jerky and Chicken Grillers home-style dog treats were recalled, as were Nestle Purina PetCare Co.’s Waggin Train and Canyon Creek Ranch treats, as well as varieties from three smaller retailers. However, after the extensive testing, the FDA does not believe the drug traces found in the recalled treats are related to the problem, and many of the harmful jerky treats are still in circulation.
Deput Director Martine Hartogensis, also of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, said “If we do find an adulterated product, we will recall them. In terms of doing a blanket recall, at this point we don’t have enough evidence to do a blanket recall within the authority that we have.”
Unfortunately, current laws do not require manufacturers to label pet food products with their country of origin. Speaking to NBC News, Pine Bush, NY resident Robin Pierre, who’s 2 year-old pug Bella died suddenly from the mysterious illness, expressed disgust that the law did not allow for a recall or require printed warnings on product. “As soon as a product is in doubt,” Pierre said, “A warning label should be placed at the point of sale so that consumers can make an educated choice.”
Right now, the FDA is limited to pointing out that treats, as opposed to regular pet food, are not a regular or required part of a dog or cat’s diet, and that removing them will not harm pets even if they are used to them. Though the real culprit behind the deaths of dogs and other pets remains a mystery, owners still have the option to protect their animals by eliminating the linked jerky treats entirely.
Written By: Jeremy Forbing