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Detailing the Dangers of Chicken Jerky. UPDATE.
Update on toxic treats from China

[Update, 3/9/12: The FDA has released new product safety information about chicken jerky treats from China. Update, 3/14: The FDA has just released the TOP 3 brands cited in chicken jerky poisoning cases: Waggin’ Train (Nestle Purina); Canyon Creek Ranch (Nestle Purina); Milo’s Kitchen Home-style Dog Treats (Del Monte)]

China has been in the news repeatedly for problems related to the production of chicken jerky treats thought to be responsible for illness and death in our canine companions.

The connection between China and toxic pet food and treats first surfaced in 2006, when melamine-contaminated food additives imported from China triggered a nationwide recall of dog food items from a variety of manufacturers. The illness and deaths of thousands of dogs and cats were linked to the melamine.

In 2010, problems returned with 50 reports of a Fanconi-like syndrome (more on that in a second), thought to be linked to the ingestion of chicken jerky treats from China, with this number increasing to more than 70 reports in 2011.

In November 2011, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally issued an official warning to pet owners that chicken jerky food products imported from China may cause a Fanconi-like syndrome in dogs who routinely consume them or in cases where treats make up a large part of a dog’s diet.

Just last week, the FDA announced it is now analyzing products upon import for both melamine and diethylene glycol (another suspected toxin) because of an increase in pet owner complaints. Ready for the numbers? There have been 467 reports concerning toxicity placed with the FDA since it issued the official public warning in November 2011!

Just what is “Fanconi-like” syndrome?

This uncommon condition affects kidneys, causing them to leak glucose (sugar) and other electrolytes into the urine. Dogs who have this condition will usually be very thirsty and urinate excessive amounts. The most common finding in laboratory tests is that the dog has glucose in the urine, but has a normal blood glucose level. Symptoms of this illness include drinking a lot of water, urinating a lot or more frequently, decreased energy, diminished appetite, diarrhea and vomiting.

The spectrum of illness and recovery is broad. Some dogs go into renal failure and die while others will have only an increase in thirst and urination and go on to recover fully within a few weeks of stopping the chicken jerky treats.

Until more is known, these are the specific recommendations made by the FDA:

  • Chicken jerky products are not intended to be substituted for a balanced diet and should only be fed only in small quantities.
  • Consumers who feed chicken jerky products to their dogs should monitor for symptoms of decreased energy, decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, increased water consumption and increased urination.
  • Discontinue the products at the first occurrence of such problems.
  • Seek immediate veterinary care if symptoms are severe or persist for more than 24 hours.

My recommendations are a little more straightforward:

  • Buy American treats or, better yet, bake your own or buy locally made ones!
  • Raw or cooked vegetables also make tasty alternatives, and are especially good for pups who need to lose weight.

What should I do if I suspect my pet has been affected?

Have your veterinarian examine your dog and perform blood and urine tests. These tests will help determine if the Fanconi-like syndrome is present, or if your pet has other possible medical issues such as Cushing’s disease, diabetes or kidney disease.

You should report cases of illness associated with pet foods to the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator in your state, or you can go to the following website for further instruction on how to report a pet food complaint: http://www.fda.gov/petfoodcomplaints.

Where next?

Frustratingly, there has yet to be a specific causal link or contaminant identified. To date, scientists have not been able to determine a definitive cause for the reported illnesses (hence, no recall yet), but they do continue to perform extensive chemical and microbial testing on products.

Politician and pug parent U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio has become the latest unofficial champion for pooches all across America. The sympathetic senator took to the Senate floor the first week in February and urged swift action on the part of the FDA to step up their investigation.

Lets hope others follow in his footsteps, and in the meantime, let’s keep spreading the word about keeping imported treats out our pet pantries.

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Veterinarian Shea Cox has enjoyed an indirect path through her professional life, initially obtaining degrees in fine arts and nursing. She later obtained her veterinary medical degree from Michigan State University in 2001 and has been practicing emergency and critical care medicine solely since that time. In 2006, she joined the ER staff at PETS Referral Center in Berkeley and cannot imagine a more rewarding and fulfilling place to spend her working hours. In her spare time, she loves to paint, wield her green thumb, cook up a storm and sail. Her days are shared with the three loves of her life: her husband Scott and their two Doberman children that curiously occupy opposite ends of the personality spectrum.

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