The FDA is appealing to the pet-loving community for help in its fight to uncover the root cause of the illnesses and deaths of family pets who have eaten commercial jerky treats containing chicken, duck, sweet potato, dried fruit, or any combination thereof. The FDA has been investigating the outbreak since first receiving complaints of jerky-associated illnesses in family pets in 2007. On October 22, 2013, the FDA issued its fourth warning to consumers to avoid feeding these types of "treats" to their dogs and cats, stressing that jerky treats are not essential to a healthy, well-balanced, nutritional dog or cat diet.
Reported symptoms of jerky-related toxicity, according to the FDA, include decreased appetite and activity, vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes containing blood or mucus), and increased water consumption and/or increased urination. Gastrointestinal illnesses (with or without elevated liver enzymes) account for 60% of the complaints, kidney or urinary problems another 30%, and 10% report unusual symptoms including convulsions, tremors, hives and skin irritation. Serious complications such as pancreatitis, gastrointestinal bleeding, and kidney failure, including possible non-genetic, a/k/a "acquired", Fanconi syndrome in dogs, a condition in which normal kidney function is compromised resulting in the excretion of vital nutrients from the body instead of reabsorption, have been diagnosed in the most severe cases. FDA scientists note that the heightened thirst and increased urination associated with jerky treat toxicity and/or Fanconi syndrome are similar to some of the symptoms of diabetes in pets; however, unlike dogs with diabetes, dogs suffering from jerky treat toxicity and/or acquired Fanconi syndrome do not exhibit the elevated blood sugars associated with that condition. The susceptibility to jerky-induced illness does not appear to be confined to a particular geographical locale, or breed, size, or age demographic, although the genetic version of Fanconi syndrome is reportedly breed-specific. While more than 580 fatalities have already been reported, the vast majority of pets do recover, albeit not without needless suffering.
If you notice any of the foregoing symptoms in your dog or your cat, contact your vet immediately. If your sick pet has been eating commercial jerky “treats”, the FDA asks that you and your vet let them know, too. Consumers may report suspected cases of jerky-related illness to the FDA’s Safety Reporting Portal at www.safetyreporting.hhs.gov or to their local FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator at www.fda.gov/Safety/ReportaProblem/ConsumerComplaintCoordinators/default..... In Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs, pet owners may call the regional Consumer Complaint Coordinator toll-free at 1-877-689-8073. Those utilizing TTY devices may contact the Consumer Complaint Coordinator toll-free at 1-800-877-8339. The FDA asks that consumers retain the unused portion of the jerky treat product in its original container for at least 60 days to enable the FDA to obtain samples with the lot numbers for testing. They recommend placing the original package in a sealable plastic bag, if possible. According to the FDA's website, www.fda.gov, the cost of any testing directly requested by the FDA or its Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network (Vet-LIRN), will be paid for by those entities.
Although the FDA has conducted more than 1,200 tests on pet jerky treats since 2007, the agency has yet to discover the source of the illnesses affecting these dogs and cats. “To date, testing for contaminants in jerky treats has not revealed a cause for the illnesses,” said Martine Hartogensis, deputy director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, in an NBCNews.com report. Kendal Harr, a veterinary clinical pathologist tracking the spread, told NBCNews.com, “I think that what it tells us is that the intoxicant is something that we’re not used to dealing with as a toxin in North America." As Dr. Bernadette Dunham, V.M.D., Ph.D., and Director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, stated in the FDA's report, "This is one of the most elusive and mysterious outbreaks we've encountered."
While it is looking at all possible sources for the root cause of the illness, the FDA is particularly interested right now in the possibility that low levels of sulfaclozine, sulfaquinoxaline, other sulfanomide drugs, and sulfonamide pesticide residues may compromise pet health when pets are exposed to these substances in their diets for an extended period of time. Their concern stems from the results of a recent study by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Marketing (NYSDAM) Food Laboratory which found the presence of six impermissible antibiotic drugs, in levels consistently as low as .0001%, or less than one part per million, in several jerky pet treat products sourced from China. According to NBCNews.com, the affected products are largely comprised of Nestle Purina PetCare Co.’s Waggin’ Train and Canyon Creek Ranch treats and Del Monte Corp.’s Milo’s Kitchen Chicken Jerky and Chicken Grillers treats, although three other smaller retailers have also voluntarily recalled their jerky treat products due to the outbreak. No formal recall has been mandated by the FDA yet; however, the largest manufacturers have voluntarily taken their products off the market shelves pending scientific identification of the specific agent responsible for these illnesses, leading to a significant decline in the number of reported cases of late, according to federal authorities.
While the majority of the 3,600 reported illnesses have been associated with jerky treat products emanating from China, the FDA warns that, as manufacturers are not at present required to publish the country of origin for each ingredient they incorporate into their product, even if a package represents that the product was made somewhere else, it may still contain ingredients sourced from China or other countries who trade with the United States. Consequently, it is probably better to avoid poultry-based jerky treats for pets in general, rather than take a chance with your pet's health based on what the product package says or does not say.
In the spirit of collaboration and cooperation, the FDA is working with China's General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ), the Chinese regulatory agency responsible for supervising the quality of pet food products in that country, to make sure they are cognizant of the United States' regulations regarding pet food safety and to facilitate the mutual exchange of information in an effort to further the FDA's investigation. Although the FDA does not have any clear answers yet to the question of the source of the pet illnesses in this country, they did discover the use of falsified receiving documents for glycerin, a pet jerky component, by one Chinese company. China has since assured United States authorities that it has seized the firm's inventory and suspended the company's exports.
In the interim, the FDA is leaving no stone unturned. "We understand the love and devotion pets provide, and we are determined to find the answer to this mystery," the agency states. As Dr. Dunham asserts, "Our fervent hope as animal lovers is that we will soon find the cause of--and put a stop to--these illnesses." She adds, "Our beloved four-legged companions deserve our best effort and we are giving it." With the help and vigilance of pet parents and professionals, finding the missing piece of this puzzle may happen more quickly than authorities anticipate.