Jerky Treat Update – Some Good News and Some Bad

We’ve been following the tragic saga of illnesses associated with pets eating jerky treats primarily made in China for years now. In February, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued their latest [albeit quite late] update on the situation saying:

As of September 30, 2014, the FDA has received approximately 5,000 complaints of illness associated with consumption of chicken, duck, or sweet potato jerky treats, most of which involve products imported from China. The reports involve more than 5,800 dogs, 25 cats, three people, and include more than 1,000 canine deaths.

These numbers include approximately 270 complaints received since the FDA’s last update in May 2014. This is a significant decrease from the previous period (October 2013 to May 2014), in which the FDA had received 1,800 complaints.

I’m glad to see that big decrease in reported illnesses. Perhaps owners are finally becoming more aware of the risks associated with these products. Several major pet retailers have also taken jerky treats made in China off of their shelves, but Chinese-made jerky treats are not to blame for all reported illnesses.

As the VIN News Network recently reported:

Dr. Urs Giger, director of the Metabolic Genetics Screening Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, said his laboratory has diagnosed recent cases of acquired Fanconi disease in dogs that ate treats that ostensibly were not made in China or with ingredients from China.

Whether American-made treats are less suspect than or equally suspect as Chinese-made treats is impossible to say, Giger said, because labels tend to tell an incomplete story.

“When you’re looking at pet jerky-treat products, and I’ve checked shelves at stores, the label does not necessarily say where it came from,” Giger said. “It (identifies) the company but not where it was manufactured or where (all) the ingredients came from.”

As a review, most pets who have eaten suspect jerky treats develop gastrointestinal problems like vomiting, loss of appetite, and diarrhea, which may contain blood. In other cases, the kidneys are damaged, resulting in increased thirst and urination. A percentage of these dogs have Fanconi syndrome, which causes the kidneys to “leak” glucose, sodium, potassium, phosphorus, amino acids, and other substances into the urine.

What is surprising is the rapidity with which some pets have developed symptoms, sometimes within just an hour or so of ingesting a single jerky treat. Many pets have recovered with appropriate veterinary care, but the FDA numbers reveal a death rate of around 17% for affected dogs.

Even though the numbers of pets becoming sick after eating jerky treats appears to be declining, I still recommend that owners avoid feeding these products, no matter where their labels say they come from. Pick another type of commercially prepared treat or offer something from the kitchen. Most dogs and cats would love a small piece of cooked, lean meat or fish (no bones or skin). As long as you limit treats of any sort to less than 10% of a pet’s total intake, their diet will remain nutritionally balanced.

Dr. Jennifer Coates


Why Are You Still Buying Jerky Treats? 

Fanconi Syndrome in Dogs

Image: Composite image: Javier Brosch and BW Folsom / Shutterstock