FDA searching for cause of illnesses linked to jerky pet treats

HonestEyedDog_blogThe U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is reaching out to pet owners and veterinarians in an effort to trace the source of illnesses linked to jerky-style pet treats.

Since 2007, FDA has issued several consumer alerts regarding jerky treats, which have been associated with illnesses in 3,600 dogs and 10 cats in the U.S. Sadly, of those sickened, about 580 died. In response, FDA has conducted more than 1,200 tests for a range of potential causes, including pesticides, bacteria, metals and antibiotics. The agency also has worked with experts and officials from different areas and countries, and visited jerky pet treat facilities in China (most of the treats believed to be linked to the illnesses originated in China, FDA reports). However, despite their efforts, officials still have yet to pin down what exactly is causing the illnesses.

In conjunction with the consumer update, FDA also penned a letter to licensed veterinarians with information on lab testing of treats and tips on how to investigate cases that may be linked to jerky treats. Vets may also be asked to provide blood, tissue or urine samples from the sickened pets, or information on relevant cases through the FDA’s Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network (Vet-LIRN).

“This is one of the most elusive and mysterious outbreaks we’ve encountered,” said FDA’s CVM Director Bernadette Dunham, DVM, Ph.D. in a statement. “Our beloved four-legged companions deserve our best effort, and we are giving it.”

In January, a New York state lab found evidence of six drugs in some jerky treats from China. Although FDA reports that the low levels made it “unlikely” that the treats were the cause of the illnesses, FDA did see a decrease in illness reports following the treats’ removal from the market.

The implicated jerky treats may be made of chicken, duck, sweet potatoes and/or dried fruit. Symptoms have appeared within a few hours and have included reduced appetite, diarrhea, vomiting, decreased activity, increased water consumption and increased urination. In severe cases, some pets also exhibited gastrointestinal bleeding and kidney failure. Finally, other symptoms such as skin problems, convulsions or collapse have also been reported.

Pet owners who suspect their pet has become ill as a result of jerky treats are encouraged to keep any unused product for at least 60 days in the event FDA needs to test it. They also are asked to report cases through the Safety Reporting Portal (www.safetyreporting.hhs.gov) or through their local FDA consumer complaint coordinator.

A consumer fact sheet is available here.

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