The safety of jerky treats for dogs has been in doubt since early 2007, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration began hearing from dog owners and veterinarians about animals becoming ill or dying after eating chicken jerky treats made in China.
After several years of searching for a contaminant that would explain the illnesses and deaths and coming up with no answers, a veterinary pathologist leading an independent probe of the ongoing pet treat mystery states that chicken jerky treats consumed by dogs that became sick have been found to be tainted by the insect repellent DEET and the drug amantadine.
Consumer pressure for answers has continued to grow since the issue first surfaced with the FDA receiving some 4,800 jerky-related complaints of illness in the United States, Canada and Australia.
The FDA says it has received reports "involving more than 5,600 dogs, 24 cats, three people and including more than 1,000 canine deaths." The FDA statement goes on to say that "60 percent of the cases report gastrointestinal/liver disease; 30 percent kidney or urinary disease; and the remainder a variety of other signs, including convulsions, tremors, hives and skin irritation. Of the kidney and urinary cases, about 220, or 15 percent, tested positive for Fanconi syndrome, a rare condition that has come to be associated with jerky consumption."
According to FDA spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey, "the human cases involved three separate incidents: two toddlers and one adult. One of the infants was subsequently diagnosed with salmonella, the second infant had gastrointestinal illness and fever, which were symptoms that matched those of the dogs in the household who ate the same treats. The adult reported nausea and headache." DeLancey went on to say the toddlers ate imported pet jerky treats and the adult ate a domestic jerky pet treat.
Dr. Kendal Harr, who owns a pathology company, URIKA, LLC, in Washington state, is the head of the jerky treat team for the Veterinary Information Network, which began focused research on the problem in early 2013. She said samples of suspect treats were submitted by veterinarians whose patients became ill after eating the treats. Once VIN collected the samples, they were sent for analysis to the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets Food Laboratory in Albany. Whether the adulterants are responsible for making the pets sick is unclear, but according to Harr, "I think what the illegal residues tell us is that we have a contaminated food source."
The antiviral medication amantadine is approved for used in humans to treat Parkinson's disease and to prevent and treat influenza A, although the FDA said it no longer recommends it for the flu because some strains are resistant to it. According to the FDA jerky update, amantadine was prohibited in the United States in 2006 for use in poultry, but has been used legally in an extra-label manner in dogs for pain control. DeLancey says that the University of California, Davis, which is a member of the FDA Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network, detected amantadine in treats that were purchased a year or more ago and that DEET was not detected in those samples.
Harr says that the VIN jerky treat survey is ongoing and emphasized the danger of DEET contamination in a food source. Although typically and commonly applied by people to their skin to repel biting insects, N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide, better known as DEET, is also used as an insecticide. She goes on to say, "It melts plastic, you get it on your tent and you have a hole in your tent. It certainly doesn't belong in the food supply."
Thanks to massive online campaigns and growing public mistrust of all pet food and treats made in China, many stores and vendors are finally moving away from Chinese production with giants Petco and PetSmart recently announcing they would phase out all made-in-China foods within a year. But get this, pet treat makers and retailers say they are switching to domestically made treats not for safety reasons, but to satisfy consumer preferences. Seriously? Here I was thinking that safety IS the consumer's preference.
And purchasing jerky treats that come in packaging proudly advertising "MADE IN THE U.S.A." doesn't guarantee their safety for your dog either. Pet food products made domestically can still contain imported ingredients (from places such as Brazil, Hondourus and I don't know, maybe China?) and there is no requirement for a package to list the source of each ingredient. According to Lisa Stark, a spokeswoman for Petco, "We're not doing any kind of major verification, we just expect our vendors are providing us with what they say they're providing us with."
Hmm. Trust you to trust them, nestled cozily in a protective veil of plausible deniability? I think I'll pass and just take the following advice from Dr. Jennifer Larson, a veterinary nutritionist who wrote recently on VIN, "I don't think we know that jerky treats made in the U.S. are safe do we? But we keep specifying Chinese-made products. Until we more fully characterize this problem and can determine any treat as safe I will continue to recommend against using jerky treats regardless of country of origin."
Sherry Davis is a dog trainer/ owner of CSI 4 K9s. Email her at csi4k9s@ yahoo.com. These are her opinions, not necessarily The Californian's.