The Problem With Jerky Treats for Dogs

Every now and then I’ll stop by my local big chain pet shop to brush up on what’s trendy in the dog and cat product world. The store in my neighborhood has a large section devoted to bulk treats for dogs. There is no information on where these treats come from. I’ll see people feeding their dogs treats straight from the bins. The store permits and encourages this, but as you can imagine, I am shocked and sickened at the sight. Feeding dogs those treats could be like feeding them poison. I try to intervene, but I cringe when I think of how often it happens without someone to stop it.

It’s not as bad as the 2007 melamine scandal yet, but it’s bad: jerky treats are sickening and killing dogs.

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I don’t understand why this subject isn’t all over the media and on the forefront of every dog lover’s mind, but for some reason the jerky menace in dogs is little-known and receives scant attention. Hopefully that will be changing soon. I don’t understand why jerky treats haven’t been recalled en masse. Unfortunately that is not likely to happen soon. Of course, I do understand why pet stores don’t have big warning signs above the jerky treats: they’re good revenue generators.

The problem with jerky treats was first formally identified in 2007. Approximately 3,000 dogs and 10 cats are known to have become sick, and almost 600 dogs are known to have died. I can’t even imagine how many more have gone undiagnosed.

(Sign this petition to tell the FDA to ban jerky treats from China.)

Dogs sickened by jerky treats most often suffer from gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea, often accompanied by evidence of liver damage. A smaller number of dogs suffer from a form of kidney damage that leads to an unusual and formerly rare (except for in Basenjis) problem called Fanconi Syndrome. In the syndrome a portion of the kidneys called the proximal tubule is damaged. This leads to aberrations in glucose, potassium, and pH. The first symptom is generally increased urination accompanied by increased thirst. Weight loss can occur, leading to emaciation and poor body condition.

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Death can occur from uncontrollable gastrointestinal signs, pancreatitis, blood pH problems, or kidney failure. However, most dogs sickened by jerky treats recover if they receive treatment.

Here is the really scary part: nobody knows why jerky treats make dogs sick. The problem was initially considered to be an issue with “Chinese chicken jerky.” However, it is now known that duck, sweet potato, and dried fruit jerkies also can cause illness.

Most of the dogs known to have been sickened by jerky treats consumed products made in China. Therefore, many people recommend not feeding Chinese-made treats. However, remember that China bashing is highly de rigueur in today’s society. It is possible that most of the dogs have been sickened by Chinese treats simply because most treats are made in China. Also remember that many foods that are “made in the USA” contain ingredients that originated in China. Long story short: no jerky, regardless of where it comes from, should be considered safe.

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Most people assume that there is some contaminant in the treats that is sickening dogs. However, efforts to identify the contaminant have not been successful. According to a recently released FDA fact sheet, jerky treats that have sickened dogs have been tested for “Salmonella, metals, pesticides, and antibiotics, and were screened for other chemicals and poisonous compounds.” Despite these efforts, the cause of the problems remains unidentified.

This places jerky in a uniquely nefarious group of food and plant items that can sicken or kill pets for reasons unexplained by current science. Other members of the group include grapes, raisins, and lilies (in cats).

The analogy between grapes and jerky may actually be a very good one. There are some people who are beginning to suspect that there is no contaminant. Rather, they suspect that jerky itself, like grapes, may be safe for people yet toxic to some dogs (but not others).

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According to this theory, jerky (and not just the Chinese-made variety) has been poisonous all along and the problem simply wasn’t identified until 2007. This is similar to our experience with grapes, which were recommended as healthy treats for dogs until the early 2000s.

The theory is backed up by anecdotal evidence from vets going back 30 years or longer. I have heard stories of dogs dying after eating jerky intended for humans many decades ago.

Despite the theories, jerky illness in dogs remains a complete mystery. However, the FDA appears to be redoubling its efforts to get to the bottom of the matter. It recently sent out a Dear Veterinarian letter requesting that vets help raise awareness of the problem. The letter also offers guidance on collecting diagnostic samples to help determine the source of the problem. Of course, the FDA could simply ban chicken jerky treats, but it has so far refused to do that, supposedly because the adulterant, contaminant, or cause of the problems is unknown. Or maybe someone is paying them off.

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Fortunately, as long as strangers, friends, and neighbors don’t give treats to your dog, the problem is easy to avoid. Don’t feed jerky, imported or domestic, marketed for dogs or for humans, commercial or homemade, to your dog. Period.

Most dogs love baby carrots every bit as much as jerky. I recommend them as the best and healthiest treat for dogs. Baby carrots are healthful, delicious, inexpensive, non-messy, low-calorie, and safe. (For now — goodness help us all if it is someday determined that carrots, like grapes, can kill dogs.)

Photo: Jerky treat for dogs by Shutterstock

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This post was written by Dr. Eric Barchas, regular contributor to Dogster Magazine.


Jeanne H.
Jeanne H.3 years ago

Great article and comments, but I'm confused. is this article saying not to feed my dog any jerky at all, or just not store bought? I mean if I dehydrate my own jerky, is that also not safe to feed my dog? It gets just as confusing what to feed my dog as it is for myself. One day we shouldn't eat fat because it makes us fat, the next day we should eat more fat because fat makes you thin.
I avoid corn for my dog, but I personally love tortilla chips and how can you make a taco without a tortilla? I give my dog bottled and/or filtered water, but she mostly eats dry food moistened with either water or meat juice. So no kibble at all or just no dry kibble? So confusing! The bottom line for me is to stay informed and read all labels as carefully for my dog as for myself. I will only buy products that are made with the fewest ingredients necessary to make that product and I need to recognize whatever it is and where it came from before I buy it. Thanks!

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Caroline S.
Caroline S.4 years ago


The Jatropha plant is used extensively in China to produce Oils, Biodiesel, Glycerin, Propylene Glycol, Sorbitol and Proteins. This highly toxic, non-food shrub is also grown in India and parts of Africa. Three seeds from this plant can kill an adult. Symptoms include vomiting and bloody diarrhea. Haemorrhagic gastroenteritis is generally diagnosed, and the kidneys and liver can both fail. Death can occur quickly.

The FDA wants the industry to watch for glycerin from Jatropha

The FDA has issued new guidance about ingredients made from Jatropha curcas, a plant that has become popular in making biodiesel. The glycerin extracted in that process may contain toxins but which conventional testing may not find. Jatropha plants may contain phorbol esters, which could be toxic "both acute and chronic, to exposed humans and animals."

The agency says it has not discovered any problems yet but is trying to get out in front of the issue with the new rules. The plant has become popular in biodiesel production, the FDA says, because its seeds contain high levels of oil, the drought-resistant plant grows well in tropical and semi-tropical climates and it is relatively cheap to grow.

The FDA is STILL TRYING TO DEVELOP A TEST FOR THE PRESENCE OF JATROPHA because of the jerky treat issue, and InPharm says it welcomes any assistance in that effort from the indu

Vicky B.
Vicky B4 years ago

Thank you for the warning, I go in to so many pet shops to see bins full to the brim of mixed dog treats with no information on the sign about the products what so ever and this to me is very worrying. I will be avoiding the treats with jerky in at all costs and buying the carrots now that I am aware of the danger. This information was very helpful.

Carole R.
Carole R4 years ago


Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra4 years ago

Thank you Dogster, for Sharing this!

Roxana Saez
Roxana Saez4 years ago


Melinda K.
Past Member 4 years ago

Thanks for the info, chemical laden food is now infiltrating pet food, sad.

Lynn C.
Lynn C4 years ago


tracey bagatta
tracey bagatta4 years ago

Meredith - while carrots and celery are fairly high in oxalates, it's doubtful that they are the root cause of crystals. DRY kibble and tap water is almost always the root cause.... take your dog off of dry food and switch to DISTILLED water.... AVOID any food that has corn in any form - that includes the so called RX foods!