Is it safe to feed store bought jerky treats to our pets? Doing so may be risky business given the many news reports of illnesses in dogs and cats associated with jerky consumption. The majority of the more than 2,000 incidents of jerky-related health issues reported by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have involved dogs. There have been a smattering of reports involving cats. Chicken jerky appears to be the main culprit, although duck and sweet potato jerky treats have also been implicated. Jerky-associated illnesses have been reported in every state throughout the United States as well as within six Canadian provinces.
A variety of symptoms have been reported including vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst, increased urination, lethargy, and loss of appetite, related to disorders such as pancreatititis (inflammation of the pancreas), gastrointestinal maladies, and kidney failure. Some deaths have been reported.
The FDA and various animal health diagnostic laboratories, including The Veterinary Laboratory Response Network have been actively investigating cases of jerky induced illness since 2007. Jerky samples have been tested for a whole host of contaminants, infectious diseases, nutritional imbalances, and processing snafus. To date, no causative factor(s) has been identified.
Over the past decade there has been a dramatic increase in importation of jerky products from China. Earlier this year, the FDA inspected five Chinese manufacturing plants whose products have been associated with the highest numbers of reported pet illnesses. The FDA discovered that one company falsified documentation pertaining to glycerin, an ingredient in most jerky treats. How this might be related to jerky induced illnesses is unclear. No other irregularities were noted. By the way, I was unable to find factual information about the percentage of illnesses caused by products of Chinese origin versus those from other countries. If you have a source for this information, please share it with me.
Despite significant investigation, the cause of jerky induced illnesses remain a mystery. The FDA is reaching out to pet food manufacturers within the United States to help in this public health investigation. To date, no specific jerky products have been recalled.
What You Can Do
Until this mess is sorted out, I strongly encourage feeding other types of treats to your dogs and cats. There are many yummy alternatives. If you choose to continue to feed jerky products to your four-legged brood, observe closely for any signs of toxicity (may occur within hours to days following ingestion of the product).
If you suspect your pet has a jerky-associated illness, first and foremost contact your veterinarian. If your suspicion is confirmed, you or your vet can electronically file a report with the FDA. Alternatively, call the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator in your state. It helps to have the original jerky product packaging on hand.
Discuss this issue with the proprietor of your local independent pet store (assuming one still exists in your town). Even if they are unwilling to remove jerky treats from their shelves, they may opt to post a disclaimer for their customers.
How have you responded to this growing concern? Have you eliminated jerky treats from your pet’s diet? Has one of your pets every experienced an illness associated with eating jerky?
Wishing you and your four-legged family members a joyful and healthy holiday season.
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.