Pet treats remain source of illnesses

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Dogs are still becoming ill after eating jerky-type treats, although illness reports have declined.

The Food and Drug Administration received about 200 reports of illnesses associated with such treats in the last quarter of 2014 and all of 2015, according to a mid-May announcement. Since 2007, the agency has received about 5,300 reports of illnesses associated with pet treats made of chicken, duck, or sweet potatoes.

Those reports have described illnesses in more than 6,200 dogs—of which more than 1,100 died—as well as in about two dozen cats and three people.

FDA information states that most of the illnesses and deaths are connected with treats imported from China, but manufacturers are not required to list the origins of each ingredient. The FDA’s investigation has yet to reveal a cause for the illnesses.

The volumes of reports peaked in 2012 and 2013, when about 1,900 reports were filed in each year. But about 1,600 of the 2013 reports arrived in the fourth quarter of that year, following an October 2013 request from the agency to veterinarians for reports of sicknesses in animals that may have been caused by jerky-type treats.

The volume of illness reports declined to fewer than 500 in all of 2014.

The FDA’s investigation into the illnesses has led to detection of illegal residues of the antimicrobials sulfaclozine, tilmicosin, trimethoprim, and enrofloxacin, none of which are approved for use in poultry in the U.S., as well as sulfaquinoxaline, which is approved for use in chickens and turkeys. It also has led to detection of illegal residues of the antivirals amantadine, rimantadine, and memantine, which are approved for use in chickens, ducks, and turkeys.

Bar chart: Reports of illness connected with jerky-type pet treats, 2007-2015
The Food and Drug Administration is receiving fewer reports of pet illnesses connected with jerky-type treats, but illnesses continue, and the cause remains unidentified. Illness reports spiked in late 2013 following an FDA request that veterinarians report illnesses connected with those treats. Source: Food and Drug Administration

“The agency continues to caution pet owners that jerky pet treats are not required for a balanced diet, and encourage them to consult with their veterinarians if they notice symptoms in their pets, such as decreased appetite, decreased activity, vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes with blood or mucus), increased water consumption and/or increased urination,” the agency announcement states. “The majority of complaints involve chicken jerky (treats, tenders, and strips), but others include duck, sweet potato, and treats where chicken or duck jerky is wrapped around dried fruits, sweet potatoes, yams, or rawhide.”

More than 360 of the dogs sickened since 2007 have had glycosuria and normoglycemia, which are characteristic of an acquired kidney disease similar to the rare, mostly hereditary Fanconi syndrome. In dogs with the acquired Fanconi syndrome, also known as Fanconi-like syndrome, the proximal tubule no longer works properly, and glucose, bicarbonate, and amino acids are lost in urine rather than being reabsorbed.

Those dogs can have clinical signs such as increases in drinking and urination, lethargy, and diminished appetite. Affected dogs can improve with veterinary care and removal of jerky-type treats from their diet.

FDA officials are asking that pet owners report illnesses connected with jerky-type treats here or by calling a consumer complaint coordinator; phone numbers are available here.

Related JAVMA content:

FDA continues investigating jerky treats, companies react to problems (July 1, 2014)

FDA asks veterinarians to help investigate jerky treats (Dec. 1, 2013)