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Toxic Chicken Jerky Treats: Pet Owners Square Off Against FDA

Toxic Chicken Jerky Treats: Pet Owners Square Off Against FDA

Story at-a-glance -

  • Over four years and hundreds of sick and dead pets since their first warning to consumers, the FDA continues to proceed at a snail’s pace investigating just what the problem is with chicken jerky treats from China.
  • Fed up pet owners have begun to involve their elected officials in demanding faster and more decisive action from the FDA. Pet owners have also teamed up to put pressure on retailers to voluntarily pull chicken jerky treats made in China off store shelves.
  • An internal FDA document obtained by a major media outlet mentions three brands of pet treats contained in reports from pet owners and veterinarians.
  • Predictably, the pet food companies in question and the FDA continue to insist there is no link between sick pets and chicken jerky treats.
  • Under no circumstances should pet owners offer chicken jerky treats, tenders or strips from China to their dog or cat. Buy pet food products made in the U.S., or even better -- make your own chicken jerky treats right at home.

By Dr. Becker

While the FDA continues to dilly-dally -- searching endlessly for the precise mechanism in chicken jerky treats from China that is causing illness and death in thousands of pets in the U.S. and elsewhere – pet owners are starting to demand action.

And it's no wonder, since the first FDA warning on these popular but potentially deadly treats was issued a very long four and a half years ago, in September 2007.

Pet Owners Have Had Enough

Earlier this year, pet owners and a U.S. Senator from Ohio urged the FDA to show a sense of urgency in investigating the treats at issue, and getting them pulled from store shelves.

In a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret H. Hamburg, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown made this appeal:

"I urge you to promptly pursue efforts to find the contaminant in these pet foods, alert customers of the dangers of these products, and make sure the products found harmful are pulled from the retail market."

A U.S. Representative from Ohio sent his own letter to Hamburg:

"The FDA must not wait to issue a voluntary recall until it is able to definitively identify a causal agent," said Kucinich's letter.

"The FDA has clearly established an association between consumption of the chicken jerky and illness and death. It is simply not feasible to expect every dog owner to be aware of a modestly publicized warning from the FDA."

The FDA's position is they will not implicate nor recall products until a specific contaminant has been identified. The agency maintains chicken jerky treat samples have been tested for drugs, poisons, mycotoxins, heavy metals and certain chemicals, yet the problem remains a mystery.

But while the FDA seems content to remain clueless about what's causing the problem, pet owners and veterinarians in the U.S., Canada and Australia have their own suspicions. These include:

  • Ongoing melamine contamination
  • Irradiation of ingredients in jerky treats
  • An as-yet unidentified chemical preservative
  • Diethyelene glycol (a toxin)

Meanwhile, a grassroots group calling itself Animal Parents Against Pet Treats Made in China is working -- with little success so far -- to have retailers voluntarily pull potentially tainted chicken jerky pet treats off store shelves.i

The Number of Sick and Dead Pets Continues to Climb

According to MSNBC.com, by February 10th of this year, the FDA had received 537 reports of sick dogs. That number included 353 from 2011 and 184 so far in 2012.

(Please note: The number of reported incidents varies tremendously depending on the source, thus I'm also seeing a total of 596 new reports just since the last FDA warning in November 2011ii . That would mean in about 4 months' time there have been nearly 600 new reports of illness and death in pets who ate chicken jerky treats made in China. I'm not sure which sets of figures are correct. The situation is absolutely unacceptable, regardless.)

Symptoms include loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes bloody), increased thirst and/or urination, and decreased activity.

Symptoms appear within a few hours to days after a dog eats the chicken jerky treats. Pets who become severely ill or have symptoms lasting more than 24 hours should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Blood tests may show markers for kidney failure. Urinalysis may point to acquired Fanconi syndrome.

Fortunately, most sick dogs have fully recovered, however, an increasing number of deaths are also being reported.

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Internal FDA Document Names Brands of Suspect Treats

Recently MSNBC.com got their hands on copies of internal FDA documents which included a log of complaints from pet owners and vets naming three popular brands of jerky treats linked to kidney failure and other serious illness in pets.

According to MSNBC.com:

"Of 22 "Priority 1" cases listed by the FDA late last year, 13 cited Waggin' Train or Canyon Creek Ranch jerky treats or tenders, both produced by Nestle Purina PetCare Co., the records show.

Another three listed Milo's Kitchen Home-style Dog Treats, produced by the Del Monte Corp. The rest listed single brands or no brand."

Priority 1 cases involve animals 11 years of age or younger for which medical records documenting illness exist. In many of these cases, samples of the suspect treats are also available.

This report, obtained by MSNBC.com through a public records request, is the first indication in four and a half years of any specific chicken jerky treat brands linked to illness or death.

As you might expect, Nestle Purina and Del Monte officials maintain their treats are safe.

And as we've also come to expect, the FDA continues to state that,

"No specific products have been recalled because a definitive cause has not been determined."

For Pet Owners

In an article I posted at the end of last year, I called the chicken jerky pet treat situation discouraging and troubling. Today I'll add infuriating to the list.

Four and a half years is far too long for a situation like this to drag on, while thousands of pets and their heartbroken families pay the price.

The FDA, pet food manufacturers and retailers selling the stuff should have long ago demonstrated a scrap of integrity by either taking this garbage out of circulation, or slapping a clear warning on every package.

If you are a pet owner …

  • PLEASE don't buy or feed chicken jerky treats, chicken tenders, chicken strips or chicken treats made in China to your pet. Play it safe. 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.
  • You can play it even safer by making your own chicken jerky right at home. 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.