I have been reporting on the illnesses and deaths in dogs and cats caused by jerky treats primarily made in China for a couple of years now. It is hard to believe that so little progress has been made in identifying the cause in that amount of time.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has just released new updates on their search for an underlying cause, including:

2010 Reports

2011 Reports

2012 Reports (through January 2013)

February-September 2013 Reports

Just in case you don’t have time to go through all that on your own, let me touch upon the highlights.

As of September 24, 2013, the FDA has received reports on more than 3,600 dogs and 10 cats, including more than 580 deaths that may or may not be related to eating jerky products.

When I read through the statements that owners and veterinarians have submitted to the FDA, what stands out most is the rapidity with which some pets develop symptoms. Descriptions along the following lines are quite common: “I gave my dog two jerky treats and about an hour later he was vomiting and very depressed. Later in the evening, he started drinking a lot of water. I took him to the veterinary hospital and the doctor diagnosed him with kidney failure. It doesn’t look like he’s going to make it.”

The FDA mentions that it has

… noticed a sharp drop in the number of complaints since several treat products were removed from the market in January 2013 following a study by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Marketing (NYSDAM) that revealed low levels of antibiotic residues in those products. Recalled products included several well-known brands believed to comprise the majority of the jerky pet treat market. FDA believes it unlikely that the reports of illness it has received are caused by the presence of antibiotic residues in jerky pet treat products. Rather, because the brands that were recalled represent a significant portion of the jerky pet treat market in the United States, FDA theorizes, therefore, that the drop off in complaints since January 2013 is more likely the result of the general lack of availability of jerky pet treat products.

Finally, the FDA makes the point that avoiding jerky treats labeled as “Made in China” may not be enough to protect pets. Manufacturers are not required to indicate the country of origin of all of their ingredients on a product’s packaging.

At the risk of stating the obvious, don’t feed your dogs and cats any type of jerky treat unless you are 100% sure that all of the ingredients originate within the U.S. Hopefully this new push by the FDA will raise pet owner awareness and further reduce the number of pet illnesses and deaths attributed to Chinese jerky treats.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Composite from SipaPhoto and BW Folsom / Shutterstock