Nearly 600 pets are dead, and more than 3,600 dogs and 10 cats have suffered serious illnesses over the past 6 years from pet treats.
Jerky treats are the prime suspect.
And after 6 years, the FDA still cannot pin down the ingredient(s) or all the products causing the problem.
Last week, the FDA made a formal plea to veterinarians and consumers alike to report all suspect cases as a way to find the elusive cause of the fatalities and sicknesses. The agency issued a fact sheet for veterinarians, urging us to increase awareness and to obtain more data on suspected cases.
- Consumers are still out there buying suspect pet treats.
- Why these treats are killing pets or making them ill is still unknown.
- We don’t know which treats remaining on the shelves are dangerous.
Symptoms can be quite vague. They include decreased appetite, decreased activity, vomiting, diarrhea, increased water consumption and/or increased urination. These are commonly-seen complaints in everyday practice.
Please remember that when your pets exhibit gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting or diarrhea, they probably ate too much junk in the yard or got into a piece of trash. They have usually not been poisoned. But if you feed treats and your pet becomes ill, save the packaging and call your veterinarian right away.
Fatalities from the jerky treats have come from kidney failure, severe gastrointestinal bleeding and a rare kidney disorder similar to Fanconi’s syndrome, a disease usually found only as an inherited condition in certain breeds such as basenjis and Norwegian elkhounds.
Still No Known Cause
The FDA still does not know what makes these treats dangerous to eat, even after 6 years. They single out treats made in China and jerky treats containing chicken, duck, sweet potato and dried fruits.
In January, residues of antibiotics not allowed in foods were discovered in some jerky treats, leading to the recall of several brands. Since then, the FDA has reported a “sharp drop” in the number of complaints, but the agency is not convinced that the antibiotic residues are the culprit.
Rather, they think the drop-off in complaints is simply because there is a general lack of availability of jerky pet treat products in the marketplace.
Keep It Simple: Stay Away From Treats
Whether or not the federal government ever gets to the bottom of it, my advice to you is to stay away from treats — jerky treats specifically. Your pets don’t need them.
Turn your back on the advertising. Turn your back on the impulse buy to bring home a treat for Maybelle. There are healthier alternatives. Open the refrigerator. Make your own! You can feed treat portions of human food or look for fun and easy DIY recipes.
The pet food industry makes a killing — financially speaking — on the sale of pet treats. Now some of these treats are also literally killing our pets. As with so many needless products that prey on the American consumer, we don’t need beggin’ bits and silly strips and bacon boots and jerky anything in our homes.
Think of it as choosing the non-candy checkout line if you had a 4-year-old with you in the grocery store: Don’t go down that treat aisle, pet Mom and Dad! The majority of the treats are unhealthy, overpriced, cause obesity and have no value.
High-quality dental treats are probably the only exception I can think of where a “treat” serves a purpose. Certain supplements, like l-lysine for cats, a treatment for feline herpes, also come in a treat form. These are a far cry from Waggin’ Train Jerky Tenders, Canyon Creek Ranch Chicken Tenders and Milo’s Kitchen Chicken Jerky, 3 of the most widely implicated products that have been recalled.
Avoiding treats made in China/Asia or only jerky treats may not be enough to ensure a treat is safe.
Pet food companies are “not required by U.S. law to state the country of origin for each ingredient in their products,” according to the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine. So how can you be sure the treat you are buying is safe?
What’s Still in the Pet Treat Aisle?
I headed out to some of my typical shopping spots this past weekend to shop for some dog treats.
These treats have none of the worrisome ingredients listed by the FDA, and the bag clearly states, “All USA ingredients. Made in the USA.” Maybe they are safe, from what my research tells me.
Directly next to my Charlee Bears on the Trader Joe’s shelf are Beef Recipe Jerky Strips. This label is different. It reads “Product of USA.”
Having no bone to pick with Trader Joe’s, I still wouldn’t buy this product based on what the FDA is telling me: First of all, it has the word “jerky” in the name, but also we have no idea where the ingredients came from. “Product of USA” in no way guarantees that all the ingredients are U.S. in origin.
Continuing on my shopping spree, I hit Target next. I see they are still carrying beef jerky pet treats and chicken meatballs made by Milo’s Kitchen, maker of one of the recalled chicken jerky pet treats. The label does not tell me where this company gets its ingredients, or that the chicken in its “meatballs” is different from the chicken in the company’s recalled “jerky.”
I can’t tell you if they’re safe or unsafe, but I can tell you your pet doesn’t need ANY of these treats — so please don’t buy them.
My Milk-Bone Trail Mix has sweet potato in it, one of the ingredients the FDA told us to avoid, and the texture in the trail mix reminds me of jerky. I never realized this before. This packaging tells me nothing about where the trail mix was made or where the ingredients came from.
Is there an easy way to find out if it’s safe? The label gives you an 800-number to call during weekdays. Simplest solution: Don’t buy it.
Ask Your Veterinarian
Here’s the most recent FDA statement issued this week:
“FDA continues to caution pet owners that jerky pet treats are not required for a balanced diet. The agency encourages pet owners to consult with their veterinarian prior to feeding treats and if they notice symptoms in their pets.”
So it’s up to me, your local small-town veterinarian, to tell you which treats are safe?
“Wait one moment, ma’am, while I take your treat to my $50 million food testing lab right back by my staff bathroom and run that jerky treat through my Jerky Safety Check-O-Mometer. I’ll be back with the results faster than you can say, ‘Chinese chicken and sweet potato pie’!”
Pardon my sarcasm, but if the Animal and Veterinary Section of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been unable to solve this problem in 6 years, how in the world am I supposed to advise you on the safety of a pet treat?!
Trick, But No Treat
There are many legitimate reasons to find a pet food that is nutritious and safe. There are no reasons to ply your beloved dogs and cats with fattening treats.
I know many of you fear commercial pet foods for very good reasons. Bear in mind that the testing on food is much more rigorous than the regulations on treats, but I sympathize that there are still big worries about all pet foods. Your pet needs a well-balanced and safe diet, so you need to find a product you trust — but your pet doesn’t need commercial treats.
Based on what the FDA has put forth, please read their literature but realize they have been extremely slow to solve this problem and slow to issue recalls.
And please keep in mind that pets are still getting sick — so all the unsafe products are not off the shelves. Nobody can honestly say which products have the potential to make your pets sick, sometimes fatally so.
This pet health content was written by a veterinarian.