The FDA on Thursday issued a report on their investigation into animal illnesses linked to jerky pet treats. The government has been aware of the problem since 2007. Most of the illnesses are linked to chicken jerky treats, tender, and strips, but other complaints have been received about duck and sweet potato treats, and products where chicken or duck jerky is wrapped around dried fruits, sweet potatoes, or yams.
There have been about 2,200 reports of pet illnesses that may be related to jerky treats. Most of the complaints are about dogs, but cats have also been affected. In the last year and a half, consumers have reported 360 dog deaths and one cat death. There is no geographic pattern to the reports, and cases have been reported from all 50 states and 6 Canadian provinces. No products have been recalled.
No definitive cause for these illnesses and deaths has been determined. The investigation has included toxicologists, epidemiologists, veterinary researchers, forensic chemists, microbiologists, field investigators, and senior agency officials. In the past 10 years, there has been a huge increase in pet foods imported from China. Since most Chinese people eat dark meat, there is a large amount of light meat available for export. From 2003 to 2011, the volume of pet food exports from China to the U.S. has grown 85-fold.
Most of the sick dogs had gastrointestinal illnesses, including vomiting and diarrhea, sometimes with blood and/or mucus, that indicate gastrointestinal bleeding or pancreatitis. Other common symptoms include kidney problems, including frequent urination, increased urine output, increased thirst, and Fanconi’s syndrome.
These products have been extensively tested by the FDA. Labs have tested for Salmonella, metals, furans, pesticides, antibiotics, mycotoxins, rodenticides, liver toxins such as ethylene and diethylene glycol, melamine, and maleic acid, and toxic metals. None of the testing results have revealed a link between any causative agent and the illnesses and deaths. The FDA is expanding its testing to include irradiation byproducts and is consulting with NASA to discuss this option.
Five plants in China were inspected by the FDA in March and April 2012. At that time, the Chinese government refused to let the FDA test samples unless the tests were conducted in Chinese-run labs.
At this time, the FDA reminds pet owners that jerky pet treats are not necessary for a balanced diet so avoiding them is just fine. If you do feed your pet jerky products, watch for the signs of illness. Consult your veterinarian immediately if your pet becomes ill. And if you have a problem, you can report the illness to the government through the Safety Reporting Portal. And the government will update its findings on its Q&A page.