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The food and Drug Administration is investigating reports that chicken jerky from China is making dogs sick. Here’s their bulletin:

FDA Continues to Caution Dog Owners About Chicken Jerky Products

November 18, 2011

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is again cautioning consumers that chicken jerky products for dogs (also sold as chicken tenders, strips or treats) may be associated with illness in dogs. In the last 12 months, FDA has seen an increase in the number of complaints it received of dog illnesses associated with consumption of chicken jerky products imported from China. These complaints have been reported to FDA by dog owners and veterinarians.

Chicken Jerky from ChinaFDA issued a cautionary warning regarding chicken jerky products to consumers in September 2007 and a Preliminary Animal Health Notification in December of 2008. After seeing the number of complaints received drop off during the latter part of 2009 and most of 2010, the FDA is once again seeing the number of complaints rise to the levels of concern that prompted release of our earlier warnings.

Chicken jerky products should not be substituted for a balanced diet and are intended to be fed occasionally in small quantities.

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 that may occur within hours to days of feeding the products: decreased appetite; decreased activity; vomiting; diarrhea, sometimes with blood; 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.

FDA, in addition to several animal health diagnostic laboratories in the U.S., is working to determine why these products are associated with illness in dogs. FDA’s Veterinary Laboratory Response Network (VLRN) is now available to support these animal health diagnostic laboratories. To date, scientists have not been able to determine a definitive cause for the reported illnesses. FDA continues extensive chemical and microbial testing but has not identified a contaminant.

The FDA continues to actively investigate the problem and its origin. 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 in their state or go to http://www.fda.gov/petfoodcomplaints.

The symptoms they describe are similar to the ones that showed up in the Melanin scare a few years ago. Note that they aren’t sure yet that there actually is anything wrong with the product. It will probably take the FDA months to come up with a definitive answer.

So what are we supposed to do in the meantime? As far as I can see there’s only one responsible thing to do and that’s to cut the chicken jerky out of your dogs diet. You might think that you can just avoid the Chinese product, but that doesn’t work in today’s globalized economy. Products from China are shipped over here in bulk and then repackaged without any notification of where the product came from in the first place. That was the case in the Melanin problem a few years ago. Chinese wheat gluten was being used in many of our lower priced dog foods, and that gluten had been laced with Melanin to increase the perceived protein content. The problem wasn’t with Chinese dog food so there was no way to protect yourself based on where the food itself was manufactured.

The best thing you can do is switch to a better quality dog food. Or you can try making some of your dogs food yourself by following these recipes that you can download for free.

If your dog really, really likes chicken jerky you can make it yourself. The key to making delicious dog treats is to get yourself a dehydrator. Then all you have to do is slice the chicken into thin strips and dry it for a day. The same thing can be done with liver or heart to make great healthy treats that your dog will go nuts for. One caution, though. Put the dehydrator outside on the carport or the balcony. Drying meat products give off a powerful smell that you really don’t want being pumped into your living space. I know this from personal experience.

March 20, 2012 update

The FDA is continuing to investigate this. Things are looking worse rather than better with reports of some deaths in dogs. Please don’t feed this stuff! Here’s an excerpt from the latest FDA update on this matter:

In 2011, FDA saw an increase in the number of complaints it received of dog illnesses associated with consumption of chicken jerky products imported from China.

FDA previously issued a cautionary warning regarding chicken jerky products to consumers in September 2007 and a Preliminary Animal Health Notification in December of 2008. The number of complaints being received dropped off during the latter part of 2009 and most of 2010. However in 2011, FDA once again started seeing the number of complaints rise to the levels of concern that prompted release of our earlier warnings.

Since the issuance of the CVM Update on November 18, 2011, the agency has received numerous additional complaints regarding chicken jerky products.

What are the products involved

The cautionary update specifically refers to chicken jerky products that are imported from China. These dried chicken jerky products, intended for dogs, may also be sold as tenders, strips or treats.

Signs of Illness

The signs that may be associated with chicken jerky products include decreased appetite; decreased activity; vomiting; diarrhea, sometimes with blood; increased water consumption and/or increased urination. These signs may occur within hours to days of feeding the products.

Laboratory tests may indicate kidney problems, including Fanconi-like syndrome. Although many dogs appear to recover, some reports to the FDA have involved dogs that have died.

FDA continues to investigate the problem and its origin. Some of the illnesses reported may be the result of causes other than eating chicken jerky.

Why aren’t these products being taken off the market?

There is nothing preventing a company from conducting a voluntary recall. It is important to understand that unless a contaminant is detected and we have evidence that a product is adulterated, we are limited in what regulatory actions we can take. The regulations don’t allow for products to be removed based on complaints alone. This is an ongoing investigation and FDA will notify the public if a recall is initiated. Currently, FDA continues to urge pet owners to use caution with regard to chicken jerky products.

Should I stop feeding chicken jerky treats to my dog?

Chicken jerky products should not be substituted for a balanced diet and are intended to be fed occasionally in small quantities.

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 that may occur within hours to days of feeding the products:

  • decreased appetite;
  • decreased activity;
  • vomiting;
  • diarrhea, sometimes with blood;
  • 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-like syndrome (increased glucose).

Veterinarians and consumers alike should report cases of animal illness associated with pet foods to the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator in their state, or electronically through the Safety Reporting Portal.

More information regarding How to Report a Pet Food Complaint can be found at http://www.fda.gov/petfoodcomplaints.

Keep the Treat and Have it Tested

If your pet has experienced signs of illness, please retain the opened package and remaining pieces of the chicken jerky product that are in the original packaging. It is possible that your samples will be collected for testing. If your product samples are collected, please be sure to provide the FDA official with all of the sample that you have. The extensive testing that is being conducted may require multiple pieces from the package. It is also possible that a toxicant may be present in some of the samples in the package, but not all. We may be able to get better or more accurate testing results with a larger sample size.

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