It’s been three months since I last brought up the subject of jerky treats made in China being linked to illness in dogs in cats. If you’re not familiar with what’s been going on, here’s a quick review.

Ever since 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been receiving reports of illness after pets (primarily dogs but a few cats have been affected also) have consumed jerky treats made in China. Most of the suspect products are labeled as "chicken jerky" or something similar, but items containing other ingredients (e.g., duck and sweet potato) have also been involved.

The affected dogs and cats have come down with a variety of symptoms. Some experience gastrointestinal problems like vomiting, loss of appetite, and diarrhea (sometimes containing blood). In other cases the kidneys are the organs that take the biggest hit, which causes pets to drink and urinate more than normal. Fanconi syndrome, a specific type of kidney disease characterized by abnormal levels of glucose, sodium, potassium, phosphorus, amino acids, and other substances in the urine has also been reported. Most of the thousands of cases brought to the attention of the FDA have recovered, but unfortunately, hundreds have died despite treatment.

The Food and Drug Administration and independent laboratories have been unable to figure out what is causing pets to become ill (FDA officials even made a trip to China). According to the FDA’s website:

Product samples were tested for Salmonella, metals, furans, pesticides, antibiotics, mycotoxins, rodenticides, nephrotoxins (such as aristolochic acid, maleic acid, paraquat, ethylene glycol, diethylene glycol, toxic hydrocarbons, melamine and related triazines) and were screened for other chemicals and poisonous compounds. DNA verification was conducted on these samples to confirm the presence of poultry in the treats. Samples have also been submitted for nutritional composition (which includes glycerol concentrations), vitamin D excess and enterotoxin analysis. Some samples from recent cases (2011-2012) have been submitted for multiple tests [including irradiation byproducts] and we are awaiting results. More samples are in the process of being collected for testing.

The search for the cause is not limited to the U.S. The FDA’s Consumer Health Information Webpage states:

Australian news organizations report that the University of Sydney is also investigating an association between illness in dogs and the consumption of chicken jerky in Australia. At least one firm in Australia has recalled their chicken jerky product and the recall notification stated the product was manufactured in China.

In an update to this situation KGO-TV San Francisco recently reported that:

Bay Area Congressman Jerry McNerney wrote to the Chinese government asking to "consider halting production of these chicken jerky treats until the FDA can determine whether or not the products contain tainted material."

The Chinese government finally wrote back slamming the FDA for putting an advisory alert on its website even though the exact cause of these deaths has not been determined. The Chinese government wrote, "From the perspective of the Chinese side, there might be something wrong with the FDA's investigation guidance."

The letter from the People's Republic of China also warned not to influence public opinion and "to clear the name of Chinese pet food and eliminate the negative impact thereof on Chinese pet food trade and bilateral relationship."

Hmmm, I don’t hear much concern for the welfare of the animals eating “Chinese pet food” in that statement.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Catching up on the news by Lynn Hand / via Flickr