FDA scrutinizes jerky treats linked with canine illness

Published on October 01, 2012
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The Food and Drug Administration has received more than 2,000 complaints in the past five years of illnesses in dogs following consumption of jerky pet treats from China.

More than 50 percent of the complaints involve gastrointestinal signs of illness, such as vomiting and diarrhea; almost 30 percent involve renal illness; and the remainder involve hepatic, hematologic, and neurologic signs as well as sudden death.

Dr. Tracy DuVernoy of the FDA Coordinated Outbreak Response and Evaluation Network spoke Aug. 7 at the AVMA Annual Convention about the agency’s increasing scrutiny of the situation.

“FDA is really not able to issue any sort of recall or issue an import alert because we have no evidence of adulteration,” Dr. DuVernoy explained.

Dr. DuVernoy said the problem came to light in mid-2007. Some dogs that ate chicken jerky pet treats originating from China became ill, sometimes developing disease signs similar to Fanconi syndrome. The FDA issued a cautionary warning in September 2007.

In response to persistent complaints and similar cases in Australia, the FDA issued a preliminary animal health notification in late 2008.

In 2009 and 2010, complaints to the FDA decreased. In 2011, similar cases arose in Canada and complaints to the FDA increased. The agency issued a cautionary update in November 2011.

Dr. DuVernoy described how the FDA has performed extensive testing on jerky pet treats from China to rule out a long list of contaminants. The agency also has performed nutritional analysis of the jerky treats.

As of early August, the FDA had received more than 2,000 reports of dogs of various breeds and ages becoming ill after eating jerky pet treats from China, with the agency receiving more than half the reports in 2012. A small proportion of reports now involve duck and sweet potato jerky treats.

“Two thousand complaints since 2007 is an incredibly small subset of the 15 million animals estimated to consume these treats,” Dr. DuVernoy said. “Therefore, it seems that this may very well be some sort of intermittent issue, or it might be just an idiosyncratic reaction within that individual animal.”

The FDA is actively following up on a small subset of recent cases of canine illness. The agency inspected certain Chinese manufacturers of jerky pet treats earlier this year and will conduct additional inspections later this year. The FDA also has increased sampling of jerky treats entering the United States from China.

Dr. DuVernoy encouraged veterinarians to report complaints about jerky treats to both the FDA and the manufacturer.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to collect some additional samples—samples of product and samples from affected animals—and try and find out what the cause of this might be,” Dr. DuVernoy said. “Again, since a lot has been ruled out, it might be a very intricate sort of biological response.”

After her presentation, Dr. DuVernoy mentioned plans for a half-day session during the 2013 AVMA Annual Convention on the problem with jerky pet treats. Questions and answers about the situation, including information about how to submit a complaint, are available at www.fda.gov/AnimalVeterinary/SafetyHealth by clicking on “Product Safety Information.”

Submitting specimens from dogs

The Veterinary Laboratory Resource Network,
a program
of the Food and Drug Administration, is seeking antemortem and
postmortem specimens from dogs that experienced an adverse event
following consumption of jerky pet treats. Assistance in submitting specimens
is available by calling Vet-LRN at (301) 210-4024.