Dog's death leads to federal lawsuit over chicken jerky treats from China

Dog's death leads to federal lawsuit over chicken jerky treats from China

Case highlights ongoing concerns of veterinarians and pet owners over FDA warnings.
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May 25, 2012

A dog owner in the Chicago area has filed a class action lawsuit alleging that his 9-year-old Pomeranian died as a result of eating Nestlé Purina’s Waggin’ Train Yam Good dog treats. The fatality and resulting lawsuit are the most recent in a series of events illustrating the public’s growing anxieties over an apparent connection between chicken jerky treats from China and a surge of unexplained illness in dogs.

According to the lawsuit, filed on April 18 in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois by Dennis Adkins of Orland Park, Ill., the dog became ill and died of kidney failure less than two weeks after consuming the treats in March. Adkins says he gave one of the treats to his dog daily for two days and that no other changes were made to the dog’s diet. His other Pomeranian was not fed the treats and did not become ill. The suit names as defendants Waggin’ Train LLC, the manufacturer of the product; Nestlé Purina Petcare Co., the corporation that owns Waggin’ Train LLC; and Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., the distributor.

The lawsuit states that although Nestlé Purina and Waggin’ Train had received complaints of more than 500 incidents in which dog treats containing chicken jerky imported from China caused dogs to become sick or die, they continued to market their product as being “wholesome” and placed no warnings concerning the product on the packaging. Additionally, it states that Nestlé Purina and Waggin’ Train knew there was a substantial risk of death or harm associated with its dog treats and intentionally concealed known facts concerning the safety of the dog treats in order to increase or maintain sales.

Keith Schopp, spokesperson for Nestlé Purina and Waggin’ Train, states, “We believe the claims made in the lawsuit to be without merit and we intend to vigorously defend ourselves. We can say that Waggin’ Train products continue to be safe to feed as directed.”

The lawsuit brings eight counts against the defendants by Adkins and on behalf of all consumers who purchased the chicken jerky dog treats. The allegations include breach of implied and express warranty, consumer and common law fraud, unjust enrichment, negligence, and strict products liability with defective design or manufacture and failure to warn. Adkins is seeking an excess of $5 million for compensatory and punitive damages and costs of the suit.

The case is just one of many reported incidences of illness in pets in association with the consumption of chicken jerky products. Numerous complaints concerning Waggin’ Train chicken jerky treats sickening or killing dogs can be found on the Internet and have sparked the creation of petitions and social media groups by and for pet owners who have lost their pet to illness that they believe is associated with the treats.

Dating back to 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been investigating a potential connection between the illnesses reported and the treats and has tested a number of samples for contaminants and toxins. However, according to the FDA, scientists have been unable to determine a definitive cause for the reported illnesses. Unless a contaminant is detected and there is evidence that a product is adulterated, the FDA is limited in the regulatory actions it can take.

The FDA did issue cautionary warnings to the public concerning chicken jerky treats in September 2007 and issued a Preliminary Animal Health Notification in December 2008. The number of complaints declined during the latter part of 2009 and most of 2010, the agency reports, but an increase in consumer complaints prompted the FDA to issue a cautionary update again in November 2011. Since that issuance, there has been a steady rise in complaints regarding the chicken jerky products,with more than 900 cases reportedly affected by consumption of these treats, the FDA says.

No recalls have been issued for Waggin’ Train or any brand of chicken jerky treats to date. On the company’s web site, Waggin’ Train addresses consumer concerns and continues to maintain the integrity and quality of their chicken jerky treats, asserting a comprehensive food safety program and strict quality assurance teams dedicated to overseeing the various steps of the manufacturing process.

Despite the absence of a formal recall, the FDA recommends that pet owners monitor their dogs closely for signs of illness if they choose to feed chicken jerky treats. Symptoms of disease include vomiting, lethargy and anorexia, and based on preliminary data, the problem appears more likely to occur in small-breed dogs that are fed the treats regularly or in amounts exceeding the labeled feeding recommendations. Veterinarians who suspect a pet illness associated with the consumption of chicken jerky treats are urged to report the case to the FDA immediately.