This Pet Delight Can Be Fatal, Please Don't Make This Tragic Mistake

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

chicken jerky dog treats

Story at-a-glance -

  • After a dozen years and no answers, the FDA is wrapping up its investigation into the link between jerky pet treats from China and sickness and death in thousands of pets across the U.S. and several other countries
  • The investigation did uncover several contaminants in commercial pet treats, including drug residues and traces of melamine, but according to the FDA and treat manufacturers, these substances weren’t the problem
  • While the FDA claims reports of illness have dropped to “baseline levels,” as recently as last year, pet parents were still reporting cases to pet food consumer advocate Susan Thixton at TruthAboutPetFood.com
  • If you’re a pet parent, I strongly advise against store-brought jerky treats; instead, make your own by following a simple recipe

Not long ago, Food Safety News published a post on the tainted jerky treats from China fiasco I’ve written several articles about over the years. As the author of the post notes:

“More than 10 years after the first reports of pet and people illnesses linked to jerky treats from China, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is no closer to finding the root cause of the problem.”1

From August 2007 through the end of 2015, the number of reports of illness linked to the treats included more than 6,200 dogs, 26 cats and three people. More than 1,140 of the dogs didn’t survive their illness. Three years ago, in June 2016, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) issued a news release stating, “Dogs are still becoming ill after eating jerky-type treats, although illness reports have declined.”2

Around the same time, the FDA published an update on its ongoing investigation into the issue. There have been no “official” updates since then.

Lowlights From a Decade-Long Investigation

According to Food Safety News, per Dr. Lee Anne Palmer of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), since 2007 the FDA has received reports of pet illness related to jerky treats from all 50 states in the U.S., most Canadian provinces and several other countries, including Germany, the United Kingdom, Singapore and Switzerland. Some other items of note from Palmer’s summary of the FDA’s investigation that haven’t been widely reported:

  • In late 2013 the FDA requested specific clinical data from veterinarians on cases of treat-related illness in their practices. The request prompted “an immediate, massive increase in illness reports.”
  • In 2014, the FDA’s CVM and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducted the first-ever case control study for a pet illness investigation. The study involved 95 affected dogs from 31 states, and a control group of 261 dogs.
  • The study determined the illnesses were “highly associated” with eating the jerky treats from China.
  • The affected dogs were more likely to be female, and small breeds were more likely to become ill than larger dogs.
  • Nothing else the dogs in the study were exposed to was found to be associated with their illnesses.

While the FDA still hasn’t discovered precisely why the jerky treats made so many pets sick, the various investigations into the situation revealed a number of contaminants, resulting in recalls or import alerts. These included salmonella, antiviral and antibiotic drug residues, traces of melamine, excessive levels of glycerin and mislabeling.

With regard to recalls of the jerky treats, in early 2013, several brands of suspect treats were voluntarily pulled from store shelves by manufacturers, but reappeared a year later.

The FDA’s Investigation Is Ending, but Is the Problem?

According to Food Safety News, thanks to the cumulative effect of recalls and import alerts, reports of pet illness linked to jerky treats have significantly declined over time. The FDA is refocusing its investigative resources elsewhere and expects to produce a final summary of the investigation at a future date.

However, as recently as a year ago, pet food consumer advocate Susan Thixton reported that jerky dog treats imported from China “… are sickening and killing pets again.” Her website, TruthAboutPetFood.com “… has received multiple complaints over the past couple of months.”3 As Susan also points out:

“… [T]he FDA has never provided consumers with a reason/cause for the pet illnesses and deaths,” which leads to an obvious conclusion: “The FDA’s lack of action could be why we are now learning of more pet illnesses and deaths related to imported treats from China.”

Susan cites the case of a 4-year-old Yorkie in Oklahoma who was given Golden Rewards Chicken Jerky Treat purchased from a Walmart in Edmond. Zoe the Yorkie ate the treat at 10:00 am, and by 2:00 pm she had diarrhea. Zoe’s veterinarian told her mom that it didn’t look good, and little Zoe died less than 24 hours later. Toby, Zoe’s brother, also ate a treat and became sick, but was expected to recover.4

The reports Susan received last year from pet parents indicated their dogs were being diagnosed with Fanconi syndrome — the same condition linked to Chinese jerky treats since 2007. In Fanconi syndrome, the tubules of the kidneys don't function properly. In healthy kidneys, the tubules reabsorb vitamins, minerals and sugars back into the body to be reused. These tubules in a dog with Fanconi aren’t able to perform their reabsorption function.

Solutes including amino acids, glucose, phosphorus, sodium, potassium and bicarbonate are dumped into the urine and passed from the body. The loss of these solutes leads to dehydration, electrolyte imbalance and other problems. Typical symptoms are vomiting, lethargy and anorexia.

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My Advice: Skip Store-Bought Jerky Treats and Make Your Own

A dozen years is far too long for a tragic situation like this to drag on, with no real resolution. Thousands of pets and their heartbroken families have paid a heavy price. If you’re a pet parent, please don't buy or feed commercial chicken jerky treats, chicken tenders, chicken strips or chicken treats made in China to your pet. Buy only food and treats sourced and made entirely in the U.S.

Better yet, why risk your pet’s health with store-bought treats when it’s so simple to make homemade chicken jerky treats in your own kitchen? All you need is a basic dehydrator and a package of free-range organic chicken breasts to make all-natural, entirely safe chicken jerky your pets will love.

Homemade Chicken Jerky Recipe

Ingredients

  • Free-range organic chicken breasts

Directions

  1. Slice chicken breasts into 1/2-inch strips and place on dehydrator tray.
  2. Dehydrate at 145 degrees F for two hours.
  3. Reduce temperature to 120 degrees F for another four hours or until meat is thoroughly dry.
  4. Store in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.

For more homemade pet treat recipes, download my free eBook, “Homemade Treats for Healthy Pets.”