An American mystery: Why are Chinese-made jerky treats killing pets?
Approximately 580 dogs have died and 3,600 reported sick in a mysterious connection with consuming Chinese jerky treats, according to a new update from the US FDA.
The problems date back as far as 2007, when FDA first began receiving a higher volume of reports of dogs exhibiting symptoms such as decreased appetite, lethargy, vomiting and diarrhea. Some affected pets suffer kidney failure.
The apparent commonality was a diet including various brand-name jerky treats, all of which were manufactured in China. What the pets have in common: They became ill, usually within hours, after consuming treats sold as jerky tenders or strips. The treats are made of chicken, duck, sweet potatoes or dried fruit.
Food Safety News reported on the issue in March 2012, speaking with several dog owners who said they lost their dogs to medical complications from days to years after they began eating the treats.
FDA has conducted more than 1,200 tests on various brand-name treats in an attempt to discover some type of common contamination, but those tests have not revealed any clear cause of the illnesses. The agency sent inspectors to China last year to investigate several jerky treat facilities in person.
Those tests included checking for a number of microbial contaminants, antibiotics, metals and pesticides. Some tests even examined DNA and nutritional composition. But nothing has yet stuck out to investigators as a likely cause.
“This is one of the most elusive and mysterious outbreaks we’ve encountered,” said Dr Bernadette Dunham, director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, in a news release. “Our beloved four-legged companions deserve our best effort, and we are giving it.”
The FDA, in partnership with the USDA, makes sure that the food that is fed to animals in America is a safe and high-quality product. However, just as with human food, the FDA handles pet food complaints but doesn’t pre-emptively study every product brought into the US.
The FDA now needs details on more cases and more blood, tissue and urine samples from affected pets, according to an update posted last Tuesday.
The FDA says several jerky pet treats were removed from the market in January after testing found they contained “up to six drugs.” The agency says it’s unlikely the drugs caused the illnesses, but that the rate of illnesses dropped after that, probably because fewer of the products were available.
The update says consumers should “be cautious about providing jerky treats” to pets. “If you do provide them and your pet becomes sick, stop the treats immediately, consider seeing your veterinarian and save any remaining treats and the packaging for possible testing.”
Tina Wismer, medical director of the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, says that this outbreak is different than those in the past because of how long it has lasted.
“The fact that this has gone on for an extended period of time is different. In the past, all of the contaminated food has gone out at once, they figure out what it is, and there is a recall,” Wismer says. “The earliest cases in this were reported years ago.”
Dunham directs the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, which says it has already conducted 1,200 tests and visited jerky manufacturers in China.
“Americans value their pets as family members,” says KC Theisen, director of pet care issues for the Humane Society of the United States. “An obvious answer is not jumping off the page. The FDA needs more data and more information, so they are turning to the public.”
Pet ownership has boomed in the past decade in China, a nation better known worldwide for its citizens’ delight in eating all manner of animals. China’s economic development has spurred social changes too, such as growing interest in keeping pets for companionship.
The Chinese government has been faced with several scandals involving food for people, but pet food is also a target of illegal and often dangerous product adulteration. Beijing’s promises to get tough on law-breakers have long been hampered by a highly fragmented regulatory system.
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