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.
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
What’s a Pet Parent to Do?
Salmonella has reared its ugly head again, this time in the Hartz Mountain Rawhide Chips. I am not a big advocate of feeding dogs rawhide or pig ears: They are indigestible, some occurrences of intestinal blockage have been reported, and some dogs (when left unsupervised) have choked on them. In addition, some of these products use animal parts from Asia or other third-world countries. These countries do not regulate pesticides, chemicals, or sanitation. Even if the hides are from the United States the chews could be processed in a foreign country. Arsenic is just one of the harmful substances used in rawhide processing, another is bleaching solutions (to make the hide white). Unfortunately, dog owners are blissfully unaware of this and they continue to give Fido these treats. It’s not that dog parents want to give their four-pawed pals something harmful, it’s just that most people believe these products wouldn’t be on the market if they were dangerous. And yet, time and time again the pet product industry breaks this trust.
You might recall that back in August another outbreak of Salmonella turned up in pet food. This time it was the Mars Petcare US company. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discovered a link between Salmonella Schwarzengrund, pet food, and an outbreak of Salmonella that affected sixty-six people and spanned 18 states. As it turns out, these people were affected by the exact same strain of Salmonella discovered in the Mars Petcare brand of Red Flannel Large Breed Adult Formula and the Krasdale Gravy kibble. The Pennsylvania Health Department also discovered traces of the strain at the Pennsylvania factory where the food was produced.
Mars was quick to act, recalling the food within a week of this discovery. Then once again in September another Mars Petcare US pet food recall was made. Again it was over “potential” salmonella contamination. This time a variety of their brands were affected and products in 31 states were pulled from the shelves.
No doubt about it, Salmonella is on the rise. In fact, the CDC reports that there are about 40,000 cases of Salmonella poisoning in the United States each year. That’s just the ones that are reported — milder cases are rarely reported — so it is difficult to state with certainty exactly how many cases actually occur each year. The problem is that Salmonella is highly transferable. That is, a person handling contaminated dog food can get it on their hands and accidentally ingest it. Another problem is that drug-resistant strains of Schwarzengrund Salmonella are increasing. And if a person contracts a drug-resistant variety they will require prolonged hospitalization. In some cases it results in death. As is usually the case with disease, the elderly and young are more likely to become victims. Furthermore, Schwarzengrund Salmonella can create multiple problems, even after a person recovers. One is Rieter’s Syndrome, an arthritis-like disease that causes painful joints, eye irritation, and painful urination.
On the whole, the frequency of Schwarzengrund Salmonella outbreaks is alarming. It reminds us to be cautious when handling all food products, including pet food. Certainly we need to take care in washing feeding bowls, utensils, and measuring cups. In addition, we want to caution small children about playing with pet food. Finally, as pet parents and consumers we want to educate ourselves about the food we are feeding our dogs and cats. Being enlightened will help us select the best quality of dog food or cat food for the four-pawed members of our family. It’s not just about our pets, Salmonella involves the human members of our family too. Let’s all wise up about pet food, take the time to investigate and research — after all, you wouldn’t put anything harmful into your baby’s mouth would you? By the same token, no loving pet parent would want to place harmful food into their furry baby’s bowl.