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.

Dog and Cat Food Safety Issues

Genetically modified corn could cause kidney damage to your pet.

One thing is for certain, the food industry is changing — on many levels. The Monsanto Company is the leader in diversifying agriculture to the point of engineering foods that appear on your dinner plate and in your pet’s bowl. The most recent travesty involves corn. The MON863 is a genetically modified corn that contains the Bacillus thuringiensis gene. Why is Monsanto inserting the bacillus gene into a corn’s gene? Because this lovely little gene actually causes the corn to produce a pesticide!

This is nothing new. Genetically engineered grains have been distributed since 1996. We are talking about corn, soy, wheat, rice, barely, and various types oil seeds, even alfalfa. The seeds are labeled “hybrid” seeds and the rationale behind using these seeds is higher crop yield. In today’s corporate farming world, the bottom line is what counts, not your safety and certainly not the safety of your pets. The defense is that these crops are used primarily for livestock. Yet, there is no evidence that this is the case. In fact, there are no laws preventing these crops from being sold for human (or pet) consumption.

Back in 1998 corn, wheat, soy, and other grain seeds developed by Monsanto to resist the Roundup herbicide were approved by the FDA. The corn is a GA21 and contains a modified epsps gene that results in the plant’s resistance to the Roundup herbicide. However, it also results in the plant’s absorption of this herbicide. (All plants exposed to an herbicide will absorb the herbicide, resulting in death of the plant.) The argument is that most plants treated with herbicides are not slated for the dinner table, hence the reason for killing them off. In the case of the GA21 corn, it is the opposite. The plant is sprayed, it absorbs the herbicide, but it resists the herbicide and does not die. Ultimately this corn ends up in the human and animal food chain.

In the case of humans or livestock, it can be argued that there is not enough concentration of the herbicide to create problems. In fact, many studies support that these genetically modified foods are perfectly safe for consumption. This is despite many reports that reveal just the opposite. Additionally, this argument can not be made for our pets, who are much smaller than us. Furthermore, independent laboratory tests have revealed that genetically modified grains can create liver, kidney and spleen damage — at least in rats. What exactly does this mean to your pet? Damage to the kidneys can result in renal failure. Damage to the liver results in liver toxicity. And damage to the spleen is fatal. For our companion animals damage to any of these vital organs spells out a death sentence.

Despite all the modern advances in pet health care and the nutritional information available to consumers, our pets are developing some alarming diseases: Diabetes, kidney failure, and cancer. These common human ailments are on the rise in our pets. Why jeopardize your pets’ health by serving food that can place them at risk? By taking the initiative to purchase only grain-free food for your pet, you will reduce their exposure to harmful GMOs. The conclusion is that any genetically modified grain that enters your dog’s and cat’s food is counterproductive to their health.

Gyvel Young is a journalist and published author. Her passion is animal behavior and nutrition.

Sources:

Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B, 6:211-225, 2003

Food and Chemical Toxicology, Volume 44, Issue 7, July 2006, Pages 1092-1099

de Vendômois JS, Roullier F, Cellier D, Séralini GE. A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health. Int J Biol Sci 2009; 5:706-726.

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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