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.

How Safe are Dog Jerky Treats?

Are Your Dogs Getting Sick from Dog Jerky Treats?

How safe are those tempty-tasty doggy treats that look and feel like human-grade beef or chicken jerky? Indeed how safe are any of the doggy chew treats lining the shelves of your local pet food or grocery store shelves? If a pet owner examines the historical problems with these treats they might hesitate before popping one of those morsels into Fido’s mouth. As far back as the year 2000 the FDA issued a product alert regarding pork ears, bacon chews, and dried pet treats. The affected products were produced by different manufacturers located in Canada. Both companies dutifully recalled their products in November of 1999. The reason cited was “potential” Salmonella contamination.

More recent problems with rawhide and jerky treats have surfaced. In March 31, 2007, the Del Monte Pet Products recalled their “jerky” style dog treats under the Jerky Treats©, Gravy Train© Beef Sticks and Pounce Meaty Morsels© brands. Private brand labels of Ol’Roy, Dollar General, Happy Tails produced by this same company were also recalled.

In yet another March 2007 recall, pig-ear dog treats manufactured by Petrapport, Inc. were recalled. Again the culprit was Salmonella and this time it wasn’t just suspected but it was confirmed by laboratory tests. These bulk-packed pig ears were sold at BJ’s Wholesale Club. (The pig ears were imported from Chili.)

As if that weren’t enough, in April of 2007 the FDA issued a consumer warning stating “Dog Treats May Present Health Hazard.” The FDA statement warned consumers that American Bullie A.B. Bull Pizzle Puppy chews and Dog Chews manufactured by T.W. Enterprises of Ferndale, Washington, might present a risk to pets and people. Once again it appears that the culprit was Salmonella.

More recently the FDA issued a notification regarding Chicken Jerky products for dogs. The notification was released on December 19, 2008. Although the FDA received numerous complaints about associated illnesses in dogs who had consumed the chicken jerky there are to date no laboratory substantiations that the chicken jerky (manufactured in China) is contaminated.

While conducting research on this I discovered an interesting tidbit of information on the FDA web site:

From the 2001 FDA Science Forum
Board E04a
Characterization of Salmonella Obtained from Animal Derived Dog Treats in the United States
D.G. White1*, S. Zhao1, A. Datta2, S. Friedman1,S.D. McDermott1, P.F. McDermott1, L. English1, S. Ayers1, and R.D. Walker1, 1DAFM, OR, CVM, FDA, Laurel, MD, and 2DFS, ORA, FDA, Rockville, MD

Dried pig ear dog treats have been implicated in human salmonellosis cases in Canada. To determine whether similar pet treats available in the U.S. were also contaminated, one-hundred and fifty-eight, randomly sampled, imported dog treats made from dried pig ears and other animal parts, were assayed for Salmonella. Forty-nine percent (n=78) of dog treat samples were positive for Salmonella. Twenty-seven different Salmonella serotypes were recovered including Anatum (n=10), Typhimurium (n=7), and Infantis (n=7). The majority of Salmonella isolates were susceptible to the 17 antimicrobials tested, however, resistance was observed to tetracycline (26 %), streptomycin (23 %), sulfamethoxazole (19 %), and chloramphenicol (8 %). Twenty-eight Salmonella isolates were resistant to at least one antimicrobial, whereas 10 isolates displayed resistance to 4 antimicrobials.Two S. Typhimurium DT104 isolates displayed the characteristic penta-resistance phenotype (ACSSuT). One isolate (S. Brandenburg) was resistant to 8 antimicrobials including ampicillin, chloramphenicol, streptomycin, sulfamethoxazole, tetracycline, cephalothin, gentamicin, and apramycin. Salmonella isolates were further screened for the presence of class 1 integrons via PCR. While the majority of Salmonella isolates assayed did not contain class 1 integrons, three Salmonella isolates displaying resistance patterns of ACSSuT or KACSSuT possessed two chromosomal integrons of 1 and 1.2 kb. In conclusion, this study indicates that animal derived dog treats available in the U.S. are a potential source of animal and human salmonella infections.

From the above report it is more than fair to state that imported pet treats manufactured from rawhide or other animal body parts have a high rate of contamination. Anything that tests at forty-nine percent positive for Salmonella can equate into a 50/50 risk factor of Salmonella contamination for both your dog and yourself (Keep in mind that humans can contract Salmonella by merely handling the contaminated product.).

So why is Salmonella showing up with such regularity in rawhide, jerky treats or pig ear treats? One way to uncover the possible source of Salmonella contamination is to understand how animal hide is processed and where these raw materials come from. First, let’s understand this: Most rawhide is not produced in America: It is imported from overseas, mostly from third-world countries.

Keep in mind that manufacturers do not have to divulge where their raw materials come. They can proudly tout a “Made in the U.S.A.” product if it is partially processed, packaged, and distributed in the United States. This does not mean that the product is manufactured with ingredients from American sources. In fact, the product can contain 100% imported raw materials and still be allowed to advertise itself as Made in the U.S.A. (For more information on this see number 11 at this link: http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/2lg-4.html)

Dog rawhide treats and many “jerky” style products are manufactured from rawhide scraps. Here is a statement that sheds some light on how the hide tanning industry views these “scraps:” The scraps are often chemically treated and present disposal problems. A process for utilizing rawhide scraps would save money and minimize waste. (Click here to read more.)

Why do these scraps present a disposal problem? Because beef, pork, sheep, and goat hide is treated with harmful chemicals to strip away fur, hair, and fat from the skin of the animal. Today third-world countries have become the largest producers of cheap leather goods and “raw” hide scraps. Therefore hide processing still follows antiquated methods. The raw hides are soaked in salt solutions to help remove hair, nails, fats, fibers, etc. Some utilize chemicals in this “lime” bath such as Sodium Sulphide, Sodium Hydrosulfite, Arsenic Sulphide, Calcium Hydrosulfide, Dimethyl Amine, and Sodium Sulphydrate. Furthermore, to soften the skins other agents are used including pigeon and dog dung. (Yes! Pigeon and dog dung! That was not a misstatement.)

Certainly anything that involves the use of feces can explain why there is a high-risk of Salmonella contamination (not to mention other concerns) in rawhide treats. In addition, slaughter-house regulations are much more lax in third world countries. This can explain why pig ears imported from South America are likely to be contaminated with Salmonella or even e-coli. And Salmonella is an extremely pesky bacteria that has a high rate of survival even if the product is irradiated.

One important thing to note is the caution usually present on rawhides, pig ears, and other pet treats, even pet vitamins: “Not for human consumption.” This statement should lead any pet owner to ask the question, “Why would you give something to your pet that is unsafe for YOU to consume?”

FDA Cautions Consumers about Chicken Jerky Products for Dogs

FDA Cautions Public About Chicken Jerky Products for Dogs

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine issued this caution statement yesterday:

Preliminary Animal Health Notification

December 19, 2008

FDA Continues To Receive Complaints about Chicken Jerky Products for Dogs and Cautions Consumers

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to caution consumers of a potential association between the development of illness in dogs and the consumption of chicken jerky products also described as chicken tenders, strips or treats. FDA continues to receive complaints of dogs experiencing illness that their owners or veterinarians associate with consumption of chicken jerky products. The chicken jerky products are imported to the U.S. from China. FDA issued a cautionary warning to consumers in September 2007.

Australian news organizations report the University of Sydney is also investigating an association between illness in dogs and the consumption of chicken jerky in Australia. At least one firm in Australia has recalled their chicken jerky product and the recall notification stated the chicken jerky product was manufactured in China.

FDA believes the continued trend of consumer complaints coupled with the information obtained from Australia warrants an additional reminder and animal health notification.

Chicken jerky products should not be substituted for a balanced diet and are intended to be
used occasionally and in small quantities. Owners of small dogs must be especially careful to limit the amount of these products.

FDA, in addition to several veterinary diagnostic laboratories in the U.S, is working to determine why these products are associated with illness in dogs. To date, scientists have not been able to determine a definitive cause for the reported illnesses. FDA has conducted extensive chemical and microbial testing but has not identified any contaminant.

FDA is advising consumers who choose to feed their dogs chicken jerky products to watch their dogs closely for any or all of the following signs which may occur within hours to days of feeding the product: decreased appetite, although some may continue to consume the treats to the exclusion of other foods; decreased activity; vomiting; diarrhea, sometimes with blood; and increased water consumption and/or increased urination. If the dog shows any of these signs, stop feeding the chicken jerky product. Owners should consult their veterinarian if signs are severe or persist for more than 24 hours. Blood tests may indicate kidney failure (increased urea nitrogen and creatinine). Urine tests may indicate Fanconi syndrome (increased glucose). Although most dogs appear to recover, some reports to the FDA have involved dogs that have died.

The FDA continues to actively investigate the problem. Many of the illnesses reported may be the result of causes other than eating chicken jerky. Veterinarians and consumers alike should report cases of animal illness associated with pet foods to the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator http://www.fda.gov/opacom/backgrounders/complain.html in their state.

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