Giving your dog a meaty treat is a sure way to get his tail wagging, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers once again that there may be something dangerous lurking in at least some of those treats. Since 2007, at least 1,000 dogs in the U.S. have died after eating “jerky” flavored treats (mostly made in China), and the FDA estimates that it has received more than 5,600 reports of animals – and at least three sick people – whose illnesses or deaths may be related to consumption of the savory treats. Problems have been reported with several flavors, including chicken, duck and sweet potato treats.
This week, two of the nation’s largest pet retailers – Petco and Petsmart – announced they would be removing jerky treats from their stores. Petco has already done so, and Petsmart says it will follow suit by March. Since consumers first reported problems seven years ago, the FDA has been trying unsuccessfully to find the “smoking gun” that would indicate what is behind the spate of illnesses and deaths of our beloved furry friends. The agency even asked veterinarians across the country to assist by helping examine the bodies of deceased pets. After studying 26 such necropsies, the FDA reported that half indicated causes of death other than ingesting treats. In the remaining cases, the agency indicated that a connection “could not be ruled out.” The investigation continues, but the two chains (and lots of others as well) have decided it’s not worth the risk.
“This is one of the most elusive and mysterious outbreaks we’ve encountered,” noted Bernadette Dunham, DVM, Ph.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM). “Our beloved four-legged companions deserve our best effort, and we are giving it.” The CVM has conducted thousands of tests, visited jerky pet treat manufacturers in China and collaborated with colleagues in academia, industry, state labs and foreign governments. Yet the exact cause of the illnesses remains unknown.
FDA scientists have tested the treats for a host of potential causes, including bacteria and viruses, heavy metals, poisons, chemicals, molds, nutritional composition, drugs and “nontraditional ingredients.” Most have come up negative, but one potential suspect is an anti-viral drug called amantadine, which is inexplicably present in some jerky treats.
Meanwhile, the FDA offers these pointers to help you and your canine companion:
Don’t substitute jerky products for a balanced diet. The products are intended to be used occasionally and in small quantities. Owners of small dogs must be especially careful to limit the amount of these products.
If you choose to feed your dog chicken jerky products, watch the dog closely. Stop feeding the product if your dog shows any of the following signs, which may occur within hours to days after feeding the product:
- decreased appetite, although some dogs may continue to eat the treats instead of other foods
- decreased activity
- diarrhea, sometimes with blood
- increased water drinking or increased urination
Call your veterinarian if signs are severe or last for more than 24 hours. Although most dogs appear to recover, some reports to FDA have involved dogs that have died.
And if you think your dog’s health problems may be related to ingesting jerky treats, report it to the FDA’s website at www.fda.gov/petfoodcomplaints.