By Dr. Becker
The FDA has issued yet another warning to veterinarians and pet owners about chicken jerky dog treats imported from China.
The most recent FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) update is dated November 18, 2011.
FDA Warnings on Chicken Jerky Products Started in 2007
The first warning about these products was issued four years ago in September 2007, after the CVM received in excess of 70 complaints involving more than 95 sick dogs. (This total grew to 156 by year's end, according to an MSNBC.com report.)
Over a year later, in December 2008, the CVM issued an update, which included the fact that the University of Sydney in Australia was also investigating a similar link between chicken jerky products from China and illness in dogs.
At least one company in Australia recalled their chicken jerky product imported from China.
The December 2008 CVM update was followed a few days later by an FDA consumer update outlining the steps the FDA was taking to address the problem, including:
- Working with several veterinary diagnostic labs in the U.S. to find out why the products seemed to be causing illness in dogs; a precise cause for the illness had not yet been determined.
- Conducting chemical and microbial testing; no contaminant had yet been identified.
- Active investigation into the problem was continuing, however, the FDA cautioned that “… many of the illnesses reported may be the result of causes other than eating chicken jerky.”
According to the FDA, complaints dropped off in late 2009 and for most of 2010, but a rise in the number of 2011 cases prompted their most recent warning.
"At least 70 dogs have been sickened so far this year after reportedly eating chicken jerky products imported from China, FDA officials said. That's up from 54 reports of illness in 2010. Some of the dogs have died, according to the anecdotal reports from pet owners and veterinarians."
The AVMA Issued its Own Warning Six Months Ago
In mid-June 2011, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) issued an alert to its members, state veterinary medical associations and allied organizations about ongoing problems with chicken jerky treat consumption.
This move was prompted by notification from the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) of reports of possible toxicity in chicken jerky treats from China.
Symptoms Pet Parents Should Watch For
If you're still feeding your pet chicken jerky treats – which I certainly do not recommend – signs of illness can include:
- Loss of appetite
- Diarrhea, sometimes bloody
- Increased thirst and/or urination
- Decreased activity
These symptoms can appear within a few hours to days after consuming the product. If your pet becomes severely ill or the symptoms last for more than 24 hours, you should make an immediate appointment with your vet.
Blood tests may show an increase in urea nitrogen and creatinine, indicating kidney failure. A urinalysis may point to acquired Fanconi syndrome.
Most affected dogs have fully recovered, however, some reports the FDA has received have involved dogs who have died from chicken jerky-related illness.
Protecting Your Pet
Neither the FDA nor U.S. veterinary diagnostics labs working in conjunction with the FDA's Veterinary Laboratory Response Network (VLRN) have yet been able to determine how the chicken jerky treats from China are causing illness. This means nothing has changed or improved since the problem was first identified in 2007.
I find this discouraging, not to mention troubling.
I would hope in four years' time, with scientists in at least three different countries looking at the problem, the potentially toxic ingredients and/or manufacturing processes involved with this product could be identified.
Needless to say, I highly recommend you not feed chicken jerky treats – also sold as chicken tenders, strips and treats – to your dog or cat or any pet.
I also recommend you buy only food and treats made in the U.S. Buying pet food made in this country won't remove all risk of winding up with a tainted product, but it will certainly improve your chances of keeping your pet safe.
Try to stick with all-natural, high protein treats like Beef & Bison Bites or another high quality, made-in-the-USA pet treat.
If your pet happens to be wild for dehydrated chicken strips, you can make your own quite easily.
Just buy some boneless chicken breasts, clean them, and slice into long, thin strips – the thinner the better. Place the strips on a greased or non-stick cookie sheet and bake them for at least three hours at 180 degrees. The low temp dries the chicken out slowly and the strips wind up nice and chewy.
Let the strips cool, and then store them in plastic bags or another airtight container. You can also freeze them.
No matter the treat, it should only be fed occasionally – treats should never be a substitute for a balanced, species-appropriate diet for your pet.
Also, feeding treats daily, or several times a day as some folks do, is a good way to end up with an obese pet. And if you're feeding treats high in sugar, carbs and calories, your pet will get fat that much faster.