Just because it’s in stores, doesn’t mean it’s safe

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Toby and Max were Boston Terriers who died after eating chicken jerky treats. His owner, Philip Mawaka of Hartford, Conn., reports, “Toby was falling over and crying out in pain and we would give him another treat because we thought we were doing something nice for him because he was hurting.”

Bella, a two year old Pug, also died after eating jerky treats. Robin Pierre, Bella’s owner, wrote, “The last week of her life was nothing but misery and pain, separated from her family, she died all alone, in a cage, despite the fact that she had a family who loved her. She meant the world to me and my family.”

Their owners join many others in filing lawsuits against treat manufacturers and the stores that sell the treats. Yet, the jerky remains on the market, poised to sicken more dogs.

As I walked through Sam’s Club with my husband last Saturday, I remarked aloud at my amazement that various jerky type dog treats were still on the shelves. As we stood next to the display and discussed the issue, another customer took a bag of the treats and tossed them in his cart. The FDA has been cautioning consumers about these treats for months, and knowledgeable dog people have been sharing warnings about jerky treats made in China, but pet owners continue to purchase them. On September 14, the FDA announced they were investigating animal illnesses linked to these treats.

In China, the population prefers to eat the dark meat of poultry, leaving most of the light meat available for export. The volume of pet food exports from China over the past 10 years has grown 85-fold, with an estimated 86 million pounds of pet food products coming from China in 2011. Pet jerky treats are currently the fastest growing segment in the pet food market, and China supplies many of these treats. With the increase in imported jerky treats have come numerous consumer complaints.

Since 2007, the FDA has received complaints in increasing numbers of illnesses in pets who have eaten jerky pet treats. Most of these complaints have been about chicken jerky treats, but duck and sweet potato treats as well as those treats where jerky is wrapped around dried fruits, sweet potatoes and yams have also been reported. Approximately 2,200 reports of pet illnesses which may be related to consumption of the jerky treats have been reported, with most complaints involving dogs. Over the past 18 months, 360 canine deaths have been reported.

Despite repeated testing, the FDA has failed to detect any microbiological, chemical or other contaminants in high enough levels to cause the symptoms in the pets. They continue to investigate, but say they can’t issue a recall based on consumer complaints, so the treats remain on the market, and on shelves in local stores.

It is not only “off-brand” or unknown treats causing the problems. In fact, three top brands of treats, Waggin’ Train and Canyon Creek Ranch, produced by Nestle Purina, and Milo’s Kitchen Home-style Dog Treats, produced by the Del Monte Corp. are among those most often cited by pet owners and veterinarians in complaints, according to FDA records.

Jerky treats are just that, treats, and are not a necessary part of any dog’s diet. The FDA announcement states, “The FDA is reminding pet owners that jerky pet treats are not necessary for pets to have a fully balanced diet, so eliminating them will not harm pets. Commercially produced pet food, which is very safe, contains all of the nutrients that pets need.

The FDA is advising pet owners who choose to feed their pets jerky pet treat products to watch their pets closely for any or all of the following signs that may occur within hours to days of feeding the products: decreased appetite; decreased activity; vomiting; diarrhea, sometimes with blood; increased water consumption and/or increased urination. If your pet shows any of these signs, stop feeding the jerky pet treat product. Owners should consult their veterinarian if signs are severe or persist for more than 24 hours, as it is important that your pet receive prompt medical attention.”

Your dog may miss a favorite treat, but not nearly as much as you’d miss your dog if you feed him something that results in his death. My advice is to read labels and give your dog no food product made in China, especially jerky treats.

There are many great treat options out there made in the USA. For your sake, and your dogs, be safe.

Karlene Turkington, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is a lifelong animal lover who has been training dogs for over 20 years. Readers are welcome to send their questions to: info@TrainMyK-9.comfor possible inclusion in future columns. Information provided here is a basic overview of issues. Specific health or behavioral concerns should be discussed with your veterinarian or qualified animal trainer or behaviorist.

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