The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just issued an update about its ongoing investigation into the illnesses and deaths associated with jerky treats from China and while the agency is continuing to caution people not to buy them, it still doesn’t have any real answers and has yet to take meaningful action to ensure pets are safe.
The FDA has been investigating trouble with these treats since 2007, and while it claims it’s doing everything possible to determine what’s causing pets to get sick, seven years later it still hasn’t been able to identify any specific cause or contaminant. Meanwhile, potentially toxic treats are still sitting in stores and are still being bought by unwitting petsumers.
According to the latest update, as of this month the agency has gotten more than 4,800 complaints of illness in pets who ate chicken, duck or sweet potato jerky treats. The cases have now involved over 5,600 dogs, more than 1,000 of who have died, 24 cats and now three people. According to NBC, the human cases included two toddlers who ate them accidentally and one adult, who may or may not just have questionable taste – it’s unclear why any were consumed.
The FDA stated that “approximately 60 percent of the cases report gastrointestinal/liver disease, 30 percent kidney or urinary disease, with the remaining 10 percent of complaints including various other signs such as neurologic, dermatologic, and immunologic symptoms. About 15 percent of the kidney or urinary cases also tested positive for Fanconi syndrome, a rare kidney disease that has been associated with this investigation.”
Some of the signs pets may show include decreased appetite, decreased activity, vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes with blood), increased drinking and increased urination.
Among the non-news in the update, there are a few pieces of new information, including an announcement that the agency will be partnering with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to do a study comparing foods that were eaten by pets who got sick and those who did not, in addition to a statement that it discovered a new contaminant.
New Drug Found
The FDA also found a new drug, amantadine, in treats containing chicken. According to the agency, the antiviral drug, which is approved for use in people, was found in samples that were sold more than a year ago. Even though it’s been used in an extra-label manner as a painkiller for dogs, it’s been banned for use in poultry since 2007 and it definitely shouldn’t be present in treats. Yet the FDA doesn’t mention which products contained them and while Chinese authorities and companies in the U.S. were warned about its presence, consumers weren’t.
National Retailers Are Listening
At least two national pet stores are listening to concerned pet parents about the risks associated with jerky treats. Petco announced this week that it will stop selling treats made in China at its 1,300 store locations across the country and online by the end of the year.
“We’ve been following the FDA warnings and related customer concerns closely, and we’ve been actively reducing our China-made assortment and expanding our American-made offerings for several years now,” said Jim Myers, Petco CEO, in a statement. “We know the FDA hasn’t yet identified a direct cause for the reported illnesses, but we decided the uncertainty of the situation outweighs the lack of actual proof. It has taken some time and careful thought to get to this point, but we’re proud to make the change and we believe our customers will be pleased with it as well.”
Its move to put the welfare safety of our pets over profits was followed by an announcement from PetSmart that it will also have products removed from its stores in the U.S. and Canada by March 2015.
It’s hard to imagine how heartbreaking it must be to know that your pet got sick or died from something they were intentionally given as a treat. Something that made it all the way to a store shelf. Something that should have been safe for them.
At this point, it shouldn’t even matter why pets are getting sick, only that they are and that there’s an obvious link to jerky treats from China. The FDA should take immediate action to prevent more cases by stopping imports and figuring out the how and why of it all later. Until it actually does something, it’s up to us to be vigilant about the safety of the products we’re buying for our pets and to warn other pet parents about the dangers associated with these treats.
How to Report a Problem
If you’re a pet parent, you can report an issue with these treats, or ask your vet to report on your behalf, at the FDA’s Safety Reporting Portal, or by calling the FDA’s Consumer Complaint Coordinator for your state.
Photo credit: Thinkstock