More than six months after U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a “Dear veterinarian” letter asking for assistance from private practitioners in its investigation of jerky pet treat illness, the FDA issued an update. While the agency still has not identified a specific cause for jerky-related illness, it says the many well-documented case reports it received from veterinarians since October of last year have been extremely valuable to the investigation.
“Out of this effort, FDA has had the opportunity to perform necropsies on 26 dogs, 13 of which appeared to have causes of death not related to consumption of jerky pet treats,” an FDA release says about the case studies. “Of the remaining 13 cases, an association with consumption of jerky pet treats could not be ruled out.” Reportedly, 11 of those 13 had indications of kidney disease and two involved gastrointestinal disease.
Here is the breakdown of symptoms in cases reported to the FDA:
> Approximately 60 percent of cases involved gastrointestinal or liver disease.
> 30 percent involved kidney or urinary disease.
> 10 percent involved neurologic, dermatologic and immunologic signs.
> About 15 percent of kidney or urinary cases tested positive for Fanconi syndrome.
The FDA has also enhanced its testing process. After low levels of antibiotics were found in jerky treats in 2012 (an incidental finding thought to be unrelated to the adverse events), the agency equipped its field laboratories to test imported and domestic treats for regulatory purposes. The FDA has also uncovered the antiviral drug amantadine—prohibited for use in poultry—in some jerky treats containing China-sourced chicken.
The FDA is also partnering with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in a research effort. According to the FDA, “The goal of the study is to compare the foods eaten by the sick dogs to those eaten by the dogs that did not get sick, in order to determine whether sick dogs are eating more jerky pet treats than healthy dogs are.”
The FDA’s latest report also updates the jerky-related death toll: There are now reports of more than 1,000 canine deaths in association with consumption of chicken, duck or sweet potato jerky treats, nearly all of which were imported from China. Pet retailers Petco and PetSmart wasted little time piggy-backing on the update, announcing one after the other that the big-box pet stores would no longer carry pet food and treats sourced in China. Earlier this year, treat manufacturer Milo’s Kitchen reformulated its jerky treats, choosing to source all its meat ingredients from the United States.
With no conclusive findings, the FDA says it will continue to review case records; test treat samples from reported cases; screen tissue, blood, urinary and fecal samples; and communicate with veterinarians and pet owners to investigate cases. The FDA has received a total of more than 4,800 documented complaints. Reports involve more than 5,600 dogs and 24 cats.