By Christie Long
Since 2006, the FDA has received more than 3,000 complaints from owners of pets that became ill after consuming treats made in China.
The treats in question are marketed as “jerky” and primarily contain chicken, but treats that contain sweet potato, duck and dried fruit have been found to be suspect, as well. Complaints about products spiked in late 2011 and 2012, although it’s unclear whether this is because of a true increase in contaminated products or more publicity surrounding the dangers.
This week, the FDA, the government agency responsible for overseeing the manufacture, import and sale of pet foods and related products, issued a plea to veterinarians for help with not only publicizing the risks associated with these products, but also providing information regarding potential cases of illnesses related to them. The FDA suspects that nearly 600 deaths to date, mostly in dogs, may be related to the consumption of these products.
Despite extensive testing, the specific toxin in these treats has not been identified. Products have been tested for salmonella, metals, pesticides and antibiotic residues, and other chemicals and poisonous compounds.
Nutritional composition has also been evaluated, in an attempt to look for potential sources of oversupplementation of vitamins or minerals. Pets present with rather nonspecific signs, with the complaints ranging from mild gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy and loss of appetite, to increased thirst and increased urination. Unfortunately, all of these signs can be caused by myriad disease processes, so it’s important for owners to give and veterinarians to take a full and complete history regarding all foods and treats that are being fed.
Some dogs have experienced kidney or liver failure, and several have been diagnosed with a rare kidney disease known as Fanconi’s syndrome, in which the body loses important nutrients such as glucose through the kidneys.
It’s important to remember that while most pet owners love giving their pets treats, whether as a training tool or just as a reward, treats are not a necessary part of a balanced diet, if the pet is being fed a commercially prepared pet diet. It can be difficult for pet owners to determine the origin of the components of diets and treats based on label information, since manufacturers are not required to provide this.
The FDA’s letter to veterinarians urges us to talk to owners about what types of treats they are feeding their pets, and encourage owners to avoid jerky-type treats, especially those with ingredients of unclear origin.
The FDA has posted a helpful fact sheet for pet owners at fda.gov.
It also maintains a website where suspected cases of treat-related illness can be reported.
Veterinarians are urged to assist their clients in reporting incidents when cases of poisoning are suspected.
Christie Long is a veterinarian at the VCA Animal Hospital in Fort Collins, CO. Long left her job in software sales in 2000 to travel for 13 months. Along the way, she was touched by the plight of the animals she saw and somewhere in the Nepalese Himalayas she vowed to return to school to become a veterinarian. While she often finds end-of-life situations heart-wrenching, she considers herself blessed to be called upon as a trusted adviser to families during difficult times. Dr. Long’s family includes her husband and travel partner, Wiley, their son, Wiley IV, their dogs Pancake and Gizmo and cats Sneaky and Sidh.