In October, 2013, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a statement calling for help from veterinarians and pet owners in getting to the bottom of the illnesses found in dogs and cats that seemed somehow linked to jerky treats, including but not limited to those made in China.
Now, in an updated report released May 16, the FDA says they have collected more than 4,800 complaints from dog and cat owners whose pets became sick after consuming chicken, duck, or sweet potato jerky treats, with 1,800 new cases reported to the agency since October.
Sixty percent of the sickened pets were reported to have gastrointestinal or liver disease, 30 percent came down with kidney disease or urinary disease, and 10 percent of affected pets developed other troubling health issues after eating the jerky treats, including neurologic problems such as convulsions and tremors, dermatologic problems like skin irritations or hives, and immunologic symptoms. The FDA revealed that of the pets with kidney conditions, 15 percent tested positive for a rare kidney disease called Fanconi Syndrome.
Most of the questionable treats were made in China, but the FDA warns that even many treats labeled “Made in the USA” contain ingredients sourced from China.
At least 5,600 dogs, 24 cats, and 3 humans are included in these complaints, and of the affected animals, more than 1,000 dogs died after eating these jerky treats.
The human cases involved two toddlers who snacked on the treats by accident and one adult who may have snacked on the treats on purpose, according to NBC News. One of the children came down with salmonella, but the other developed a gastrointestinal condition found in some of the dogs who’d also been made ill by the jerky treats. The adult complained of nausea and a headache.
Since launching their official investigation into the source of these mysterious illnesses, the agency conducted 26 post-mortem investigations and found that half of the dogs examined likely died of causes unrelated to the jerky treats. The other half, the FDA says, may very well have perished as a result of chowing down on jerky treats. According to their findings, 11 of the dogs showed signs of kidney disease and 2 clearly had gastrointestinal disease, both conditions that seem to be associated with the questionable jerky treats.
The FDA says it will continue to work with veterinarians to delve even deeper into the issue, examining case records, testing treat samples, and processing samples of tissue, blood, urine, and feces from possibly affected animals. They have also developed a partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to compare results with those of a healthy control group of dogs.
The agency is also taking into consideration the results of tests conducted by the New York State Department of Markets and Agriculture (NYSDAM) back in 2012, tests which revealed low levels of antibiotics in jerky treat samples.
Samples of chicken jerky also contained an antiviral drug called amantadine, a drug that the U.S. prohibited from use in poultry back in 2006. While the FDA does say that amantadine should not be present in any jerky treats whatsoever, they do not believe the substance is behind the reported illnesses and deaths because the effects of the drug do not match the symptoms found in affected pets.
Treats have also been analyzed for other possible contaminants, including Salmonella, metals, furans, pesticides, rodent poisons, nephrotoxins such as melamine, and other antibiotics and antivirals, according to Food Safety News. So far tests remain inconclusive.
Back in 2007, some jerky treat manufacturers, including Del Monte (Milo’s Kitchen and Chicken Grillers) and Nestle Purina (Waggin’ Train and Canyon Creek Ranch), voluntarily pulled their products off of store shelves. These and other brands of jerky treats are showing up in stores again as the companies begin to produce some of their ingredients in the U.S. instead of China.
“We’ve listened to our consumers,” Del Monte said in a statement, “and made a decision not to source even minor ingredients from China, as of April 2014.”
Still other jerky treats and treat ingredients remain in production at Chinese plants. When NBC News traveled to a factory in Shandong, China, the factory owner, Luke Qin, even went as far as to eat one of the duck jerky treats coming off of the production line.
“It’s safe,” Qin insisted, “no problem. Human standard. You can try eating.”
Since investigations into the safety of jerky treats began, Qin’s business has suffered, forcing the factory owner to close four of his five establishments. But as a pack of Cadet Gourmet Duck Breast jerky treats rolled down the line, Qin said he still ships treats and treat ingredients to the U.S. in smaller amounts.
In the meantime, as the investigation continues, the FDA has one message for pet owners — be careful what you feed your dogs and cats.
“The agency continues to caution pet owners that jerky pet treats are not required for a balanced diet, and encourage them to consult with their veterinarians, both prior to feeding treats and if they notice symptoms in their pets,” the FDA states.
The FDA also encourages pet owners to come forward and file a report with the agency if they believe their dog or cat has an illness possibly connected with jerky treats.