The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been issuing warnings about the dangers of jerky treats to consumers since 2007, but more pets have continued to get sick and die. There are still no answers as to why.
The FDA isn’t naming names, but notes that most of the jerky products implicated were made in China and that pet food manufacturers in the U.S. are not required by law to list the country of origin for each ingredient in their products.
As of September, more than 3,600 dogs and 10 cats have reportedly suffered from jerky-related illnesses, and 580 dogs have died as a result. Despite the attention this issue has received, some vets are still concerned that pet owners are unaware of the dangers associated with these treats.
The FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) has taken a number of steps to solve the mystery — from testing treat samples for contaminants and nutritional content to verifying ingredients listed on labels and sending experts to China to inspect manufacturers to reaching out to companies in the U.S., researchers and foreign governments to share data — but the agency still hasn’t come up with anything conclusive.
“This is one of the most elusive and mysterious outbreaks we’ve encountered,” CVM Director Bernadette Dunham, DVM, Ph.D., said in a statement. “Our beloved four-legged companions deserve our best effort, and we are giving it.”
Now the FDA is calling on pet parents and veterinarians to report information about cases and issued letters to veterinarians asking them to help spread the word to pet owners, in addition to sending out consumer fact sheets. The agency also stated that it will cover the costs of any tests requested and may request vets to provide blood, urine and tissue samples with owners’ consent.
Because no exact cause has been identified, there has been no recall. However, last January the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets (NYSDAM) found trace residues of several drugs that are approved for use in China, but are banned in the U.S. due to safety concerns. The discovery led to a few companies voluntarily recalling their treats. While the FDA doesn’t believe the drugs were causing the problems, the agency did see a decline in illnesses reported, which it suspects was due to having fewer products available on the market.
A Global Problem
The problem has affected pets in the U.S., Canada and Australia, and Australian researchers are concerned that our pets may be acting as sentinels for larger problems with a globalized food system. In a study published in the Australian Veterinary Journal they argued that the risk of intoxication isn’t confined to pets, but is more easily seen in them because their diets are so limited. They note that numerous products may be affected by contaminated materials that are being produced in poorly regulated markets and transported around the globe and that this is an issue that affects everyone and should be addressed with more urgency.
Signs Your Pet Has Been Affected
According to the FDA, symptoms can appear within hours of eating jerky tenders or strips made of chicken, duck, sweet potatoes or dried fruit. Affected pets are showing a loss of appetite, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea and an increase in drinking and urination. More severe cases involve gastrointestinal bleeding and kidney failure, with some cases mimicking Fanconi’s syndrome, a disease that’s typically considered hereditary and rare. A few reported cases have involved collapse, convulsions or skin problems.
What to Do
The FDA and veterinarians are urging people not to feed their pets these types of treats. If your pet was affected, you can report it to the Safety Reporting Portal or to the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator for your state. The FDA is also asking people to seal up treats in their original packaging and hang on to them in case they want them for additional testing.
If you’re concerned about pet food safety in general and want to advocate for more transparency in the industry, visit the recently established Association for Truth in Pet Food or sign up for recall alerts at Dog Food Adviser.
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