Illnesses Linked to Pet Jerky Treats: What We Do and Don’t Know

Is it safe to feed store bought jerky treats to our pets? Doing so may be risky business given the many news reports of illnesses in dogs and cats associated with jerky consumption. The majority of the more than 2,000 incidents of jerky-related health issues reported by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have involved dogs. There have been a smattering of reports involving cats. Chicken jerky appears to be the main culprit, although duck and sweet potato jerky treats have also been implicated. Jerky-associated illnesses have been reported in every state throughout the United States as well as within six Canadian provinces.

Symptoms

A variety of symptoms have been reported including vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst, increased urination, lethargy, and loss of appetite, related to disorders such as pancreatititis (inflammation of the pancreas), gastrointestinal maladies, and kidney failure. Some deaths have been reported.

Investigative efforts

The FDA and various animal health diagnostic laboratories, including The Veterinary Laboratory Response Network  have been actively investigating cases of jerky induced illness since 2007. Jerky samples have been tested for a whole host of contaminants, infectious diseases, nutritional imbalances, and processing snafus. To date, no causative factor(s) has been identified.

Over the past decade there has been a dramatic increase in importation of jerky products from China. Earlier this year, the FDA inspected five Chinese manufacturing plants whose products have been associated with the highest numbers of reported pet illnesses. The FDA discovered that one company falsified documentation pertaining to glycerin, an ingredient in most jerky treats. How this might be related to jerky induced illnesses is unclear. No other irregularities were noted. By the way, I was unable to find factual information about the percentage of illnesses caused by products of Chinese origin versus those from other countries. If you have a source for this information, please share it with me.

Despite significant investigation, the cause of jerky induced illnesses remain a mystery. The FDA is reaching out to pet food manufacturers within the United States to help in this public health investigation. To date, no specific jerky products have been recalled.

What You Can Do

Until this mess is sorted out, I strongly encourage feeding other types of treats to your dogs and cats. There are many yummy alternatives. If you choose to continue to feed jerky products to your four-legged brood, observe closely for any signs of toxicity (may occur within hours to days following ingestion of the product).

If you suspect your pet has a jerky-associated illness, first and foremost contact your veterinarian. If your suspicion is confirmed, you or your vet can electronically file a report with the FDA. Alternatively, call the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator in your state. It helps to have the original jerky product packaging on hand.

Discuss this issue with the proprietor of your local independent pet store (assuming one still exists in your town). Even if they are unwilling to remove jerky treats from their shelves, they may opt to post a disclaimer for their customers.

How have you responded to this growing concern? Have you eliminated jerky treats from your pet’s diet?  Has one of your pets every experienced an illness associated with eating jerky?

Wishing you and your four-legged family members a joyful and healthy holiday season.

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

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20 Comments on “Illnesses Linked to Pet Jerky Treats: What We Do and Don’t Know

  1. NOTHING from China! They actually killed several human infants with the addition of melamine to baby formula. However, the Chinese don’t play games – the director of the plant was tried and executed by a firing squad for murder.

    Even so, they continue to add the toxic materials to pet food. I am also extremely leary of medicines produced in China. In short, I suspect every food item from China. I buy nothing from China!

    My dogs and cats lived long and healthy lives without any jerky and I see no reason to give it to them. The simpler and cleaner the treat, the better. My favourite: Charlee Bears made in the US. Water, flour and a touch of liver flavour, each the size of a penny and they are extremely happy with it.

    Why spend large dollars for fancy stuff when the dog is not into the fancy and the expensive, but into the love that comes with it?

    By the way, if the package says “distributed by” but not where it was made, ask the store manager. Personally, I won’t touch it since this info came to light a few years go when several of my k9 patients became deathly ill and two felines patients died a s a result of stuff from China.

    Making one’s own treats is easy and quick and above all – SAFE. If not, check the inredients, the origin and the price. Better safe than sorry and spending a lot on veterinary help.

  2. How hard are they really trying to find the cause? Here is an incisive article on the subject:
    FDA Releases Chicken Jerky Treat Test Results
    By Dr. Becker

    I have a minor update for you in the long-running, tragic, frustrating, infuriating situation with toxic chicken jerky treats from China.

    According to NBC News, “Federal Food and Drug Administration officials unexpectedly posted summaries this week of lab results of nearly 300 jerky treat samples collected and tested in the U.S. between April 2007 and June 2012.”

    The FDA released the data1 a day after it refused to release to NBCNews.com the results of February inspections of Chinese plants that make the chicken jerky treats. “The agency said releasing the information would violate rules protecting trade secrets and confidential commercial information and that it would interfere with enforcement proceedings. That data remains confidential,” according to NBC.

    The results do little more than confirm the FDA hasn’t identified what is making so many dogs sick, while the number of pet illnesses and deaths linked to the treats has now climbed to over 1,800.

    “You can’t find what you don’t look for.”

    Pet owners and advocates are unimpressed with the FDA’s efforts to find the source of the illness caused by the treats.

    “When I scanned down through the list of testing, they all seemed to be centered around the same handful of tests,” said Susan Thixton of TruthaboutPetFood.com. She thinks the FDA must broaden its view to include other potential toxins. “You can’t find what you don’t look for,” she said.

    According to Thixton, in order to find the contaminant in the massive 2007 pet food recall, scientists had to work backwards. There was no precedent for testing for melamine. Investigators analyzed the kidney tissue of pets killed by tainted food. They found crystals in the kidney tissue that ultimately led to the discovery of melamine contamination.

    Instead of testing and re-testing for the same small group of known toxins, why isn’t the FDA taking a similar approach to investigating chicken jerky treats? It’s now five long years of no progress finding the contaminant in the treats, while beloved family pets continue to get ill and die.

    The only real finding in the FDA’s released test results was some undeclared propylene glycol in a dozen samples. Propylene glycol keeps food soft and chewy. It’s also antifreeze that at certain exposure levels can be toxic to pets.

    Phyllis Entis of efoodalert.net points out that there aren’t any studies available on the effect of propylene glycol when mixed with other pet food ingredients. Entis also asks this highly relevant question, given the extreme processing pet food and treats undergo:

    “… has anyone at FDA thought to examine the chemical reactions involving propylene glycol that may take place during the manufacture of pet treats? Dow Chemical lists several reactions that could occur under favorable conditions of heat and oxidation. Has anyone investigated the effects of irradiation on propylene glycol? Some manufacturers irradiate their pet treats to ensure microbiological safety. There are, no doubt, several possible avenues of research here.”

    Is the FDA Even Up to the Task?

    In 2009, the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released an audit report 2 on the FDA’s handling of the 2007 pet food recall. Here is an excerpt from the Executive Summary:

    FDA has developed procedures for monitoring recalls and assessing a firm’s recall effectiveness. However, FDA did not always follow its procedures in overseeing three of the five recalls that we reviewed. Furthermore, FDA’s procedures were not always adequate for monitoring large recalls. FDA’s lack of authority, coupled with its sometimes lax adherence to its recall guidance and internal procedures and the inadequacy of some of those procedures, limited FDA’s ability to ensure that contaminated pet food was promptly removed from retailers’ shelves.

    Both Thixton and Entis believe the FDA’s lack of resources dedicated to investigating the jerky treat problem and its lack of a systematic approach to the investigation are behind the lack of progress to date.

    I’m Repeating Myself, but …

    I can’t in good conscience end this article without my usual warning to pet owners:

    Please DO NOT BUY OR FEED chicken jerky treats, chicken tenders, chicken strips or chicken treats made in China to your pet – and this goes for any treat you aren’t 100 percent sure originated entirely in this country. Buying pet food made in the U.S. won’t remove all risk of winding up with a tainted product, but it will certainly improve your chances of keeping your pet safe.

    References:

    1 Jerky Pet Food Lab Samples Analyzed – 1/1/2007 – 7/2/2012
    2 08-12-2009 Review of the Food and Drug Administration’s Monitoring of Pet Food Recalls

  3. One of my personal observations has been having worked in a pet store and hearing how MANY of these treats owners feed their dog every day! Good grief! No wonder why the dog is sick, if only for that reason. What I saw frequently was an obese dog being fed way too many on a daily basis — because “he is hungry,” or “he begs for them.” Well, if I ate that much of anything believe me, my gut wouldn’t be too happy either! And I am totally on target with the concerns of the “Made in China” syndrome: not for me or my dogs and horse either. Thanks Kay!

  4. I also do not feed anything from China (not for myself either). But I have given my girl HuLa HuLa Chicken from Goodness Gracious which is a chicken jerky treat “handmade in Marblehead, MA” Ingredients are listed as “100% boneless chicken breast. That’s all folks.” Does anyone have any info on these treats, pro or con? My dog really loves them, but I am reluctant to feed them now after reading info from Dr. Kay Thanks!.

  5. No more store bought for us, I make chicken jerky for my 2 dogs…… takes longer than plunking down cash @ the store, but I feel more comfortable and they are more than worth the effort!

  6. These reports are why, and the expense as well, we give yogurt as a treat. Healthier, safer, and less expensive and good for them.

  7. We rarely fed jerky treats anyway – and I know they can be made easily at home even without a dehydrator, which is what I will do if I have a desire to feed them.

    We eliminated all pet foods made in China after the Menu Foods recall. Not worth the risk. I hope more and more people will do the same, driving carriers of pet treats and rawhides to realize they don’t sell and remove them from the shelves permanently.

    My understanding is that chicken jerky tends to be made in China because of the availability of chicken for it inexpensively. So Milo’s Kitchen treats, for example, are mostly made in the U.S. but the chicken jerky is made in China.

  8. Jerky treats are nasty. They smell nasty. I would never feed them to my dog. They look like pressed cardboard and if you follow a rule of thumb that you do not feed your dog anything that smells like chemicals you are acting prudent. All those shaped formed treats are nasty. Our pet food industry needs to police itself. It is so sad that pets are falling ill and it is because of good owners not knowing that they are feeding chemical filled and poisonous treats. Make your own dog treats. Here is my favorite site for dog treat recipes. http://www.aroundhawaii.com/lifestyle/food/2010-04-easy-to-make-dog-cookies.html

  9. Oh did I ever make a mistake! I try to make sure any treat is made in the USA, but I didn’t check this product – as it was in the refrigerator section of the large pet food store. I bought sweet potato slices (dehydrated) jerky, and also turkey bacon jerky. After giving dogs both a sweet potato slice and a turkey bacon slice, two consecutive days, my beloved English Springer Spaniel ended up at the emergency vet with severe bloody stools. I know this is the culprit – but there is very little recourse (besides just not buying the products). I AM buying a dehydrater!!!

  10. I DO NOT GIVE MY DOGS OR CATS ANYTHING THAT COMES FROM CHINA! If I am at a pet supply place and see someone looking at treats, I always tell them to be sure it is not made in China. Maybe only one in a million dogs dies from them; but that one could be YOUR dog. I used to give my dogs the chicken jerky from Costco; ingredients listed: chicken. One of my dogs went into liver failure, from “something he ate.” We are not sure what, but the Kingdom jerky is my #1 suspect. I threw out all we had. I realized that almost all treats have unhealthy stuff for the dogs: wheat, corn, soy, GMOs; so I stopped buying most, and now I use raw chicken necks as a treat instead. Good for the dogs, great for their teeth, same price as processed treats.

  11. I don’t feed anything with a Made in China label. My local all-natural pet store sells nothing (food-wise) that’s made in China. To satisfy chewing needs my boys get raw marrow bones from a local farm or Merrick Wishbones. (Merrick has had recalls in the past so I try to keep up with that, but their meat is US sourced.) In the past I have given bully sticks, but my guys are such powerful chewers, they have gotten slab fractures in their molars from bully sticks. So the Wishbones, being softer, replaced the bullies. They smell a lot better, too :-)

  12. China has repeatedly had problems with poison in all sorts of food products – remember the infant formulas with melanin in it? That spoke volumes…

    I won’t give our (cutest puppy in the world!) one item of edibles from China – period.

  13. Another fine post, rational and realistic. As a trainer, I strongly adise all my clients to feed alternative types of treats. As you mentioned, many excellent alternatives out there with an increasing emphasis on making treats healthy. I use and recommend locally some treats made locally by a very knowledgable and responsible “biscuitologist” with her own bakery. I kow where the ingredients come from and exactly when tey were produced.

  14. No jerky treats for my pack either. I eliminated them years ago when the reports first surfaced. I figured it just wasn’t worth the risk. I do always recommend to people that they google this issue when I see them buying the treats in the store. I have also eliminated all rawhide chews from my home. Previously I bought ones that were US processed but now I have switched my dogs over to the XL elk antlers that I sell. They are minimally processed- washed and cut down. They last a long time, have no smell, and do a fabulous job of cleaning up the tartar on the rear molars.

  15. Yes, I have definitely eliminated jerky treats in our household with 4 dogs. One of my small dogs nearly died after she had a chicken jerky treat made in China. The treat got caught in her intestine and she could not digest it so after expensive surgery and weeks of special care she did recover…thankfully, but I absolutely will never feed these treats again and am very careful now as to the ingredients and wnere treats and food are manufactured.

  16. I am in lockstep with you, Dr. Kay – why take the risk when there are lots of safe and proven alternatives out there?

    I always advocate feeding non-ingestible treats, like Kong toys and rope toys. These satisfy a dog’s need to chew without any risk of blockage or toxins if used properly. All toys need to be monitored and replaced when they get small enough to be swallowed or become damaged.

    If you feel the need to provide rawhides, which I am not a fan of, only feed ones produced in the USA to avoid unwanted chemicals used in processing.

    Thanks for the useful and timely information, and happy chewing to all the pets out there!

  17. ” Have you eliminated jerky treats from your pet’s diet? ”

    Yes I have — why take the risk? There are many home made alternatives that are cheaper and healthier. I’ve tried many of the recipes (including a simple jerky recipe) from BARk magazine’s online sources with good results and my girl loves them.

    Any thoughts on bully sticks? On impulse, I just bought one — Esme loves them — but am having second thoughts re. safety.

  18. My 2 dogs (Belgians) were getting ‘the ear itchies’ – intense need to scratch about every month, or less. I would treat it with Animax and it would subside. Then it would start all over. When I stopped feeding the Costco brand chicken jerkey treats – that stopped. Completely. One of my dogs was a rehome and she had never had ear problems at her last home, and she did not have access to those treats. She got here and she started having problems. There were NO other diet or environmental changes besides eliminating the chicken treats. BTW my dogs are raw fed and get no wheat or corn either which I also believe is not good for them.

  19. No dog jerky treats for my dogs. I make my own meat treats for my dogs in a food dehydrater. I use real human grade meat with no additives. I dehydrate them until they are crunchy so they last longer. They store well in an air tight container or freezer. My dogs love them!

  20. We’ve been making our own jerky for about six years now; so on a personal level this situation doesn’t affect us at all, which I’m very glad for. Our guys love their jerky and eat plenty of it, and making it at home we don’t have to worry.

    I do find it extremely disturbing, though, that these things are STILL on the shelves :-(