FDA warns pet owners of jerky treats linked to animal deaths and illnesses

BY News Desk  October 23, 2013 at 12:10 PM EST

A reported 580 pets have died from jerky-related illnesses since 2007. Photo by Flickr user rawlands

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration wants to get the bottom of a mysterious outbreak that has sickened thousands of dogs and cats in the U.S. and Canada, the Toronto Star reports.

The agency issued an alert to consumers on Tuesday about reports it had received concerning jerky pet treat-related illnesses affecting 3,600 dogs and 10 cats in the U.S. since 2007. Approximately 580 of those pets have died, the agency noted.

The FDA stated that they still do not know the exact cause of the illness, but in issuing the alert to pet owners and licensed veterinarians, they hope to gather more information. “This is one of the most elusive and mysterious outbreaks we’ve encountered,” the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine Director Bernadette Dunham said in the alert.

The FDA also issued this warning to pet owners:

Within hours of eating treats sold as jerky tenders or strips made of chicken, duck, sweet potatoes and/or dried fruit, some pets have exhibited decreased appetite, decreased activity, vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes with blood or mucus), increased water consumption, and/or increased urination.

Severe cases have involved kidney failure, gastrointestinal bleeding and a rare kidney disorder. About 60 percent of cases involved gastrointestinal illness, and about 30 percent involved kidney and urinary systems.

The remaining cases reported various symptoms, such as collapse, convulsions or skin issues.

Most of the jerky treats implicated have been made in China. Manufacturers of pet foods are not required by U.S. law to state the country of origin for each ingredient in their products.

A number of jerky pet treat products were removed from the market in January 2013 after a New York State lab reported finding evidence of up to six drugs in certain jerky pet treats made in China. While the levels of these drugs were very low and it’s unlikely that they caused the illnesses, FDA noted a decrease in reports of jerky-suspected illnesses after the products were removed from the market. FDA believes that the number of reports may have declined simply because fewer jerky treats were available.

Meanwhile, the agency urges pet owners to be cautious about providing jerky treats. If you do provide them and your pet becomes sick, stop the treats immediately, consider seeing your veterinarian and save any remaining treats and the packaging for possible testing.

The FDA issued a fact sheet with information on how a pet owner can contact the agency.