On Monday the Veterinary Information Network posted a press release announcing that “dogs fed jerky-style pet treats labeled as made in the United States are turning up with a rare kidney disease” previously associated with jerky made in China.
Since 2007, the FDA has been receiving complaints of illness in pets, predominantly dogs, that ate jerky treats. The phenomenon became commonly understood as a Chinese-chicken-jerky-treat problem because most of the products were chicken-based and made in China. Until recently, virtually all chicken jerky for pets was imported from China.
The announcement was confirmed by a spokesperson for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). On March 27th, Siobhan DeLancey of the FDA’s Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine said that the agency is “aware of complaints related to ‘USA’ made products.” She also said, “We have found some of these products may contain ingredients from outside of the U.S. FDA continues its investigation into these, as well as other, jerky treats potentially linked to illnesses.”
The discovery that chicken jerky treats made in the USA sickened a dog was instigated by Dr. Bonnie Werner, an internal medicine specialist at Animal Emergency Medical Center in Torrance, CA when she treated a 2-year-old Yorkshire terrier. The dog was sick with vomiting and diarrhea for more than a week prior.
Dr. Werner said that tests showed the dog had impaired kidney function and glycosuria — glucose in urine — which are signs that point to acquired Fanconi disease.
Dr. Werner said the dog’s owner was aware of the link between jerky treats and illness but thought that products made in the US were safe. The brand she gave to her 5-pound yorkie was Spot Farms “all-natural chicken strips. Its website says the strips are made from “antibiotic-free chicken raised on family farms in Kentucky.”
In February, the FDA reported that the rate of complaints it received involving jerky treats slowed between May and Sept. 30, raising hopes that the problem might resolve on its own.
Dr. Urs Giger, director of the Metabolic Genetics Screening Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, said his laboratory has diagnosed recent cases of acquired Fanconi disease in dogs that ate treats that ostensibly were not made in China or with ingredients from China.
Asked whether jerky inherently might make some dogs sick, Giger said he thinks not, because he’s seen cases in which dogs ate homemade jerky without becoming ill, then became ill when fed commercially manufactured jerkies.
He speculated that homemade jerkies would be softer in texture than mass-produced treats, which he said likely are subject to any of a variety of processes, possibly including marination or irradiation.
The number of Chinese-made chicken jerky treats on US store shelves has declined significantly in the last year. In January, Petco annouced it no longer had no more chicken treats made in China on its shelves, and PetSmart said it would follow suit by March.
Many people started buying chicken treats made in the US as the number of dogs sickened by Chinese treats began to grow, but if tainted treats made in the US are now making dogs sick too, my advice would be to stop buying any chicken jerky treats and either switch to another kind of treat or make them yourself.
This info graphic from Dr. Jessica Vogelsang at Pawcurious gives a good history the chicken jerky saga.