NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The Food and Drug Administration is asking dog and cat owners to report any problems their pets have had after eating jerky treats in what it calls “one of the most elusive and mysterious outbreaks we’ve encountered.”
The FDA said Tuesday that 3,600 dogs and 10 cats have suffered from illnesses related to the treats and nearly 600 of those pets have died.
The treats in question are sold as jerky tenders or strips made of chicken, duck, sweet potatoes and/or dried fruit, the FDA said.
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As CBS 2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported, it was six years ago that Dr. Richard Goldstein first noticed that dogs, especially small ones, were coming in with gastrointestinal illnesses, vomiting or diarrhea, and other urinary or kidney problems.
Dr. Goldstein was the first to make the connection between the sick dogs and what they were being fed.
“The association between this and the treats is very strong. We almost never see it except in association with these treats,” Goldstein, the chief medical officer and the Animal Medical Center, said.
Dr. Goldstein pinpointed jerky treats, virtually all of which are made in China, as the culprit.
Many brands have been affected, all with the common factor of being primarily from China. The packages may not indicate that the products are sourced from China, the FDA said.
Though the FDA has made trips to manufacturers in China, they’ve been unable to pinpoint the contaminant in the treats.
“These are multiple small importers that may not know exactly what they’re putting in, they may not be told what they’re actually buying,” Dr. Goldstein said.
Pet owner Robin Pierre said her pug Bella died from kidney failure shortly after eating Waggin’ Train chicken jerky tenders. It’s a product made in China and distributed by Nestle Purina.
“Angry, beyond angry,” said Pierre. “This is something should never happen in the United States.”
Dog owners said in light of the new warning, they aren’t taking any chances.
“Everybody I know here in this area, in this neighborhood, would never buy anything – food or treats or anything else – that was made in China,” dog owner Jill Altman told Gomez.
“I don’t think they have regulations in place and they don’t have the FDA,” Gretchen Berger said.
Some pet food store owners say customers are coming in and looking for treats clearly marked Made in the USA.
“One brand that I used to carry that was really popular and I had to tell my customers, ‘no I don’t want to sell it anymore, I’m afraid,'” New York Dog Shop owner Lisa Borregenie told Gomez.
Several jerky products were removed from the market back in January after a lab in New York reported finding evidence of up to six drugs in certain jerky pet treats made in China, the FDA said.
The agency said that while the levels of the drugs were very low and it was unlikely that they caused the illnesses, there was a decrease in reports of jerky-suspected illnesses after the products were removed from the market.
The FDA believes that the number of reports may have declined simply because fewer jerky treats were available.
To gather even more information, the FDA is now asking vets and pet owners to contact them if they notice any symptoms after eating these treats, including decreased appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea.
The FDA is not sure exactly what specifically causes the illness. It says more than 1,200 jerky pet treat samples have been tested since 2011 for a variety of chemical and microbiological contaminants, from antibiotics to metals, pesticides and salmonella.
DNA testing has also been conducted along with tests for nutritional composition, the FDA said.
“Our beloved four-legged companions deserve our best effort, and we are giving it,” CVM Director Bernadette Dunham, DVM, Ph.D. said in a statement.
Nestle Purina says its treats are safe. The company says it has a dedicated team of quality control experts in China, particularly in the plants where Waggin’ Train products are being produced.
Dr. Goldstein advises avoiding all jerky treats for now.
If your dog is vomiting or urinating excessively, experts say it’s important to bring your pet to the vet right away along with whatever treat you’ve been giving them.
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