A word of caution about jerky treats

By Dr. Megan Dundas, Rhinebeck Animal Hospital

Almost all of the pet owners I meet on a daily basis have this in common: they derive great pleasure from giving their pets a treat.

Giving treats to our pets allows us to express our affection and gives us an opportunity to connect with them. Treats are also an important component in any effective training regimen. There are a wide variety of options out there — from old standards like Milk-Bone to more creative concoctions (salmon skin bones, anyone?).

But if a treat is on the store shelf, does that automatically make it safe? Not necessarily.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently issued a “Dear Veterinarian” letter asking for help in an ongoing investigation of pet treats that have been implicated in causing a sometimes-fatal form of kidney failure known as Fanconi-like syndrome. While Fanconi syndrome is typically an inherited disease associated with specific breeds, Fanconi-like syndrome is acquired, not inherited, and affects a specific structure in the kidneys causing a decrease in appetite, decreased activity levels, vomiting, diarrhea, and increased thirst and/or urination.

The FDA’s letter, issued on Oct. 22, said that, “FDA has received approximately 3,000 reports of illness, involving more than 3,600 dogs, 10 cats, and including more than 580 deaths.”

The treats in question are jerky treats made with chicken, duck, sweet potato, dried fruit or any combination of these ingredients. According to the fact sheet provided for pet owners, early signs of illness associated with these treats may occur in as little as a few hours from the time they are ingested.

The FDA has not been able to identify the contaminant in question due largely to the fact that testing for toxic substances, whether in a food, blood, or a urine sample, is exceedingly difficult to do. Consider that the veterinary profession has been aware of grape and raisin toxicity for much longer and yet the identity of that toxic agent remains elusive.

Most of the reported cases relate to treats that were made in China. However, avoiding products made in China may not be enough to protect your pet. As the FDA letter noted: “Manufacturers do not need to list the country of origin for each ingredient used in their products.”

While the investigation into the contaminant in these treats continues, I recommend that pet owners avoid jerky treats and other treats made in China — and use caution when considering jerky treats from any source.

I also recommend that pet owners read the full Fact Sheet published by the FDA on the FDA.gov website under the “Animal & Veterinary” tab. Be proactive and call your veterinarian if you notice any of the signs listed above.

The good news on the subject comes from a study published in the September issue of the “Australian Veterinary Journal,” which found that “about one out of three dogs recovered once they stopped eating the jerky.”

Please refer to our website for more information on pet food recalls: www.rhinebeckanimalhospital.com. Click on current news under the “articles and news” heading.

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