At the end of 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cautioned dog owners to be aware of a "potential association between development of illness in dogs and the consumption of chicken jerky products also described as chicken tenders, strips or treats." At that time, the FDA had received information about more than 95 dogs that may have become ill after eating chicken jerky products.

Unfortunately, the FDA has not been able to identify a cause for these illnesses even after testing products for microbial and chemical contaminants. Therefore, I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising that the problem continues and, in fact, has increased of late.

On November 18, 2011, the FDA issued another warning to dog owners, saying that they are "again" cautioning consumers about the potential association between chicken jerky products imported from China and illness in dogs. The government agency saw a decline in cases reported by pet owners and/or veterinarians in late 2009 and 2010, but the number of complaints is beginning to rise again.

Dogs that have eaten chicken jerky products are coming down with a variety of symptoms. Some are primarily gastrointestinal: vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea (sometimes containing blood), and lethargy. In other cases, the kidneys are primarily affected, typically leading to increased thirst and urination. Fanconi syndrome, a specific type of kidney disease in which abnormal levels of glucose, sodium, potassium, phosphorus, amino acids, and other substances are found in the urine has also been reported. Many affected animals have recovered, but some have died.

The FDA and other animal diagnostic laboratories continue to search for a cause.

This situation is sure to bring back memories of the 2007 melamine crisis. Thankfully, the current problems are not as widespread as that, but I have heard anecdotal reports from veterinarians who are concerned that they are seeing an increase in cases with symptoms similar to those described above in dogs that have not eaten chicken jerky products.

If you are concerned that your pet has potentially suffered illness as a result of eating a particular food, please file a report with the FDA. Their ability to track cases is only as good as the information they receive.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Vladislav Gurfinkel and leungchopan / via Shutterstock