Are Jerky Treats Healthy for Our Dogs?

I have several clients who feed their dogs chicken jerky treats. After all, chicken jerky treats sound healthy and what pet parent doesn’t enjoy giving Fido a tasty snack? With four dogs of my own, I vary in the type of treats I give them. When I decided to give these products a try, the previous concerns regarding chicken jerky treats were foremost in my mind. So, I was careful in my selection. First I chose duck strips, followed by a high dollar chicken strip treat. The price for the duck strips, about $29 a bag; the chicken strips, about $23. These are not cheap treats. The label made it appear that these products were made in the USA. There was even a little USA flag on the bag. Keep in mind, I stated APPEARED.

Since I write a pet blog I subscribe to regular updates about pet food recalls or other pet related issues.When I received the November 18, 2011 caution from the  FDA about chicken jerky products, I took immediate notice. I went into the pantry grabbed the different bags I had purchased (including one made from cage-free ducks), and read more carefully. Right there, at the bottom of the bag, in bold letters were the words: Made in China. I was shocked!

None of us like to throw money away. I’m no exception. I usually buy several bags of treats at a time. Do I just toss them away? If I don’t have a receipt I can’t really take them back. This means I’m out $60. Not a cheap lesson that I need to be more vigilant when buying pet snacks. I certainly don’t want to expose my dogs to harmful toxins that could cause their kidneys to fail, or even cause their death.

Getting back to the FDA’s concern about these jerky treats; during a 16 month period of time (spanning from 2008 to 2009) the FDA fielded 153 complaints from consumers whose dogs became gravely ill after consuming chicken jerky treats. As a result, in mid-December of 2008 the FDA posted a caution to dog owners about the treats. This coincided with a voluntary recall of Supa Naturals Chicken Breast Strips distributed by KraMar, an Australian company.

In fact, the first reported incidents of a Faconi-like syndrome in dogs who had consumed chicken treats occurred in Australia. Towards the close of 2008, Sydney veterinarians were suddenly faced with an unusually high number of small and medium-sized dogs who needed treatment for this illness. Simply stated Faconi hinders the kidneys from absorbing nutrients and electrolytes from the blood stream. The result is a spillover of glucose in the urine. The effects on the dog’s organs are damaging and will cause death if left untreated. However, Faconi is a genetic disease that appears only in certain dog breeds, particularly Basenjis.

Like super-sleuths the Australian veterinarians questioned the pet parents about their dog’s diet. (This was most likely prompted by the melamine contaminated pet food incident of 2007.) What they discovered was a commonality: All the dogs had received the KraMar chicken jerky treats. In their report to the Australian Veterinary Association, the veterinarians stated a suspected link between the rise in a Faconi-like syndrome and a pet treat manufactured in China.

According to the Australian Veterinary Association, it was at this point “AVA members were alerted via email (3 December 2008) and asked to report any similar cases to the specialist to enable further investigation of the syndrome.” As usually occurs in these situations the story was leaked to the press. Someone forwarded the email to a journalist for the Adelaide Advertiser, an Australian news source. The journalist in turn telephoned AVA president Mark Lawrie. The result of the phone interview and the email were featured in an article that appeared in the Adelaide Advertiser on  December 8, 2008. Within hours the national media got wind of the story.

The situation continues to baffle the FDA.  Extensive tests for both chemical and microbial contamination have come up empty handed. To date no known contaminant has been found. Yet dogs (particularly small breeds) who consume these treats continue to fall victim to this Faconi-like syndrome. On the other hand, Dr. Sharon Gwaltney-Brant, vice president and medical director of the ASPCA’s Poison Control Center in Urbana, Illinois stated that the center received fewer than a dozen calls about the jerky treats in 2007 and 2008. She said the majority of those calls were inquiries. Only one case turned up with glucose in the urine (a sign of the Faconi-like syndrome). She went on to comment that, “It sounds like maybe they’re giving them the whole bag of Oreos.” Hence the reason for the FDA’s cautionary statement to not feed the treats as a substitute for regular food.

Nevertheless, once the KraMar product was withdrawn from the market incidents of the disease in Australia declined. In America the illness has not abated. In the latest twist, Canadian dogs are now getting sick. Cases of the Fanconi-like syndrome have been reported in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario.

Closer to home, a recent case in Rockport, Texas involved a ten-year-old mixed breed dog named Sweetie. The concerned parent reported that Sweetie wasn’t doing well. Dr. Jeanna Godfrey examined the dog and drew blood. The blood test results revealed elevated liver enzymes and urinalysis indicated traces of glucose. Puzzled by this Dr. Godfrey queried the dog’s owner about the possibility of exposure to toxins. But this was eliminated. Then during her lunch break Dr. Godfrey noted an email alert from the AVMA about the Canadian cases. She promptly telephoned Sweetie’s owner and asked if Sweetie had eaten any chicken jerky treats. As it turns out Sweetie’s owner confirmed that the dog had indeed received these treats at the rate of three times a day for the past five months. When Sweetie’s pet parent brought in the bag Dr. Godfrey noted that it stated “manufactured in the U.S.” but in small print there were the words “made in China”!

Until the culprit that creates the Faconi-like syndrome is uncovered it is advisable that pet parents of small to medium dogs forgo giving their dogs any type of chicken jerky treat. If you decide that you must indulge your canine in this type of treat please limit the quantity. Additionally, watch your pet closely. If Fido begins to exhibit symptoms of diarrhea, nausea, lethargy, copious thirst, or frequent urination cease the treats immediately and take him to your veterinarian.

A San Antonio Duck Story

A Duck Story from the Riverwalk in San  Antonio

Michael R. is an  accounting clerk at Frost Bank and works there in a  second story office.  Several weeks ago, he  watched a mother duck choose the concrete awning  outside his window as the unlikely place to build a  nest above the sidewalk. The mallard laid ten eggs in  a nest in the corner of the planter that is perched  over 10 feet in the air. She   dutifully kept the eggs warm for weeks, and Monday  afternoon all of her ten ducklings  hatched.

Michael worried  all night how the momma duck was going to get those  babies safely off their perch in a busy, downtown,  urban environment to take to water, which typically  happens in the first 48 hours of a duck hatching.  Tuesday  morning, Michael watched the mother duck encourage her  babies to the edge of the perch with the intent to  show them how to jump off.  Office work came to a  standstill as everyone gathered to  watch.

The mother flew  down below and started quacking to her babies above.  In disbelief Michael watched as the first fuzzy  newborn trustingly toddled to the edge and  astonishingly leapt into thin air, crashing onto the  cement below. Michael couldn’t stand to watch this  risky effort nine more times!  He dashed out of  his office and ran down the stairs to the  sidewalk where the first obedient duckling, near its  mother, was resting in a stupor after  the near-fatal fall.  Michael stood out of sight  under the awning-planter, ready to  help.

As the second  one took the plunge, Michael jumped forward and caught  it with his bare hands before it hit the  concrete. Safe and sound, he set it down it  by its momma and the other stunned sibling, still  recovering from that painful leap.  (The  momma must have sensed that Michael was trying to  help her  babies.)

One by one the  babies continued to jump. Each time Michael hid under  the awning just to reach out in the nick of time as  the duckling made its free fall.  At the scene  the busy downtown sidewalk traffic came to a  standstill.  Time after time, Michael was able to  catch the remaining eight and set them by their  approving  mother.

At this point  Michael realized the duck family had only made part of  its dangerous journey. They had two full blocks  to walk across traffic, crosswalks, curbs  and past pedestrians to get to the closest open  water, the San Antonio   River, site of the  famed “River Walk.”  The onlooking office  secretaries and several San  Antonio police officers joined  in.  An empty copy-paper box was  brought to collect the babies. They carefully  corralled them, with the mother’s approval, and loaded  them in the container. Michael held the box low enough  for the mom to see her brood. He then slowly navigated  through the downtown streets toward the    San  Antonio River . The mother  waddled behind and kept her babies in sight, all the  way.

As they reached  the river, the mother took over and passed him,  jumping in the river and quacking loudly. At the  water’s edge, Michael tipped the box and helped  shepherd the babies toward the water and to  the waiting mother after their adventurous  ride.

All ten darling  ducklings safely made it into the water and paddled up  snugly to momma. Michael said the mom swam in circles,  looking back toward the beaming bank bookkeeper, and  proudly  quacking.

At last,  all present and accounted for: “We’re all together  again.  We’re here!  We’re  here!”

And here’s  a family portrait before they head outward to  further  adventures…

Like all of us  in the big times of our life, they never could have  made it alone without lots of helping hands.  I  think it gives the name of San  Antonio ’s famous “River Walk” a whole  new meaning!  Maybe you will want to share this  story with others.

Thanks to Kayla for passing this wonderful story on to me!

FDA Drops the Ball on Pet Food Recalls and Early Warning Notification System!

Whatever Happened to the Food and Drug Administration’s Animal Feed Safety System?

On the heels of the 2007 pet food scandal the shamed-faced FDA scrabbled to regain its composure by attempting to develop animal feed safeguards. As a result, in November of 2007 the FDA released its Food Protection Plan, aptly named the Animal Feed Safety System, or AFFSS. Unfortunately, rather than take responsibility the FDA offers us a spoonful of pabulum by referring to America’s previous safety record for animal feed. Conversely the FDA’s only mention of what really prompted their action is, “the public became alarmed last year when imported feed ingredients, contaminated with melamine and related compounds, were used in pet food, which resulted in sick dogs and cats.”

That is of course an understatement. Dogs and cats did not just become ill, they died! And America’s track record for animal feed safety may be “good” compared to third-world countries but this is America and Americans expect and demand higher safety standards. It could be said that it took the death of thousands of innocent American pets to get the FDA to take action on imported and domestic pet food products.

Supposedly the FDA Food Protection Plan’s intent is to identify potential food hazards before damage occurs. Here is the FDA’s own definition of the Animal Feed Safety System’s directive:

A risk-based, preventive animal feed safety program [that] will require producers and distributors of animal feeds to take into consideration hazards, whose presence in or introduction into their feeds pose an unacceptable risk to animal or human health and to develop a plan to prevent or eliminate, or reduce to an acceptable level, those hazards.

However, FDA bureaucracy enjoys adding more acts, programs, and titles, just to keep things complicated. So, not only is there an AFSS but the FDA Amendments Act of 2007 was passed to put the pressure on the FDA itself to “improve the safety of pet food and ingredients¹.” Title 10 of this act requires the FDA to establish, “by regulation, ingredient standards and definitions, processing standards, and labeling standards—including nutritional and ingredient information—for pet food. It also requires the FDA to establish an Early Warning Surveillance and Notification System to identify adulteration of the pet food supply and illness outbreaks and to notify veterinarians and other stakeholders of pet food recalls.²”

Confused by all the abbreviations, programs, titles, and acts? You are not alone! It’s no wonder that it takes a whole team of people to keep up with it all. This team is the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), also part of the FDA. In April 2008 the CVM filed its 3rd version of the AFSS Framework Document. The idea was to identify and plug in any gaps found in the original framework document. The bottom line is, what have Americans received thus far? Revisions and more revisions — all with the idea of improving the initial AFSS food protection plan.

Currently, there are still no enforceable regulations to protect pets from food contamination. Yet, it is well over a year since the deaths of thousands of America’s pets that spurred the FDA to set up the AFSS in the first place. Never mind that the tainted pet food in early 2007 resulted in a 24 million dollar lawsuit. Or that there is still no early warning notification system in place. So when will regulations for ingredients, processing, and standardization of feed labels be introduced? And, when will an early warning notification system be in place? Your guess is as good as the FDA’s!

¹2008 - Volume XXIII, No. III, FDA Newsletter

²2008 - Volume XXIII, No. III, FDA Newsletter

I deserve healthy, safe pet food standards, don't you think?

I deserve healthy, safe pet food standards, don't you think?

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