Dog jerky treats with Chinese** ingredients have been problematic for several years.
And, yet, there is a recent resurgence of news reports, thanks to a renewed push by the FDA to warn pet owners about the dangers of these treats.
Bottom line: Treats are, well, treats. They are not essential for a healthy diet or good overall health. Therefore, you should pick your treats carefully. As far as we know right now, all non-jerky treats are safe.
To start, eliminate all forms of jerky treats until this mystery is solved and the affected product(s) are removed from store shelves.
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Pets afflicted by jerky treats exhibit gastrointestinal (GI) illness (60 percent) and/or kidney disease (30 percent). They may vomit, have diarrhea, increased thirst, increased or absent urination. Other victims suffered collapse, seizures or skin issues.
Illness may strike within hours of eating the treats.
To date, over 3,600 dogs and 10 cats have reportedly become ill from jerky treats made in China. Nearly 600 of those dogs have died. There is no estimate of how many illnesses and deaths may have occurred in which jerky treats have not been suspected.
FDA and other researchers have worked tirelessly in an effort to find the cause of the problem. Analysis of suspect jerky treats has not yet yielded an answer.
FDA investigators from its Center For Veterinary Medicine (CVM) have even been to China and performed plant inspections, and still cannot identify the agent responsible for the syndrome. However, these inspections led to further investigation of the end-products' supply chain, which may yield answers. Meetings with Chinese regulators are ongoing.
"This is one of the most elusive and mysterious outbreaks we've encountered," says CVM Director Bernadette Dunham, DVM, Ph.D. "Our beloved four-legged companions deserve our best effort, and we are giving it."
FDA-CVM sent out a new "dear doctor" letter Oct. 22, 2013, instructing veterinarians as to how we should communicate with the FDA in case jerky-treat illnesses are suspected.
In January, "a number" of jerky products were removed from the marketplace, all manufactured in China. Six unacceptable drugs were found in the products by a New York laboratory. FDA-CVM admits that the likelihood of these ingredients causing the mystery syndrome is low, but reports of illness did fall after the removal. The update says that the drop may have been attributable to a simple reduction in jerky treat availability.
Since 2011, over 1,200 jerky treat samples have been tested by FDA-CVM.
Common factors among the suspect treats:
-- sold as jerky tenders or jerky strips
-- contain chicken, duck, sweet potato or dried fruit
If your pet becomes ill after eating jerky treats, call your veterinarian immediately. Aggressive therapy may be required to save his life, especially if kidney failure ensues. Keep the suspect product, and its original packaging, in a zipper-locking bag, in a cool place in your home and away from sunlight. FDA may request testing of the jerky at a future date, up to 60 days from the event.
There are still so many unknowns, which is why FDA-CVM seeks input from pet owners and veterinarians.
To contact the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator in your state, click over to this site: http://www.fda.gov/safety/reportaproblem/consumercomplaintcoordinators/default.htm.
**In an update to consumers, the FDA says "most of the jerky treats implicated have been made in China." I interpret that to mean that some have unknown origin of ingredients, as "manufacturers of pet food are not required by U.S. law to state the country of origin for each ingredient in their products."
UGA veterinary lab offers free testing for jerky-related illness and death. The lab has partnered with the FDA in the ongoing investigation into problematic treats from China.
Dr. Jim Randolph, a veterinarian at Animal General Hospital in Long Beach, can be reached at South Mississippi Veterinary Medical Association, 20005 Pineville Road, Long Beach, MS 39560. Include a self-addressed stamped envelope.