Pet Peeves: Treats or Toxins?

Lynsey Kitching

Pets always get so excited when they see you opening the cupboard that holds their delicious treats, oh boy oh boy!

Dog tails start wagging and cats start meowing, but do we know what danger potential lie in these goodies?

Since 2007, the FDA has been involved in an investigation into certain dog treats, which have reportedly caused illness and sometimes deaths in both dogs and cats. There have been 2,200 reports of pet illness, the majority in dogs, throughout the US and six provinces in Canada, including a few in BC.

In the last 18 months (report dated September 14, 2012) there have been 360 dog deaths and one cat fatality.

The FDA has been very thorough in their investigation; however, there is still no definitive cause and to date none of the testing results have revealed the cause of the illnesses, thus making it difficult to pin point a specific factory, company, element in the treats or anything else really.

The main suspect is chicken jerky treats with ingredients deriving from China. The FDA says, “FDA is in communication with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets (NYSDAM) regarding its finding of antibiotic residues in chicken jerky treats from China.

Correspondingly, Del Monte, the company that makes Milo’s Kitchen Chicken Jerky Treats and Chicken Grillers, and Nestle-Purina, the makers of Waggin’ Train and Canyon Creek Ranch dog treats have both initiated a nationwide removal of these products from the market.”

The illnesses reported include gastrointestinal problems—vomiting and diarrhea as well as some more severe signs including pancreatitis or gastrointestinal bleeding, a common sign related to kidney function. Symptoms include frequent urination; severe thirst, kidney failure, decrease in appetite, and decrease in activity. The FDA warns if symptoms continue for more than 24 hours to call a veterinarian. Signs may occur within hours to days. The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association says, “Here in Canada, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA) is continuing to monitor the potential jerky treat toxicity issue. The CVMA has been working with and will continue to work with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (and FDA) on this matter as it is an ongoing concern that has not been resolved. We continue to communicate updated information to veterinarians so that they can caution and educate their clients on this issue.”

Local veterinarian Dr. Dana Bergen says, “Careful with treats. I’m not really fond of treats. We just sell a few here. There is so much going on with foods imported from China and that sort of thing. Again, if you can make homemade dog biscuits and you know where to source all your ingredients, I’m all for that,” she continues, “Some chicken jerky treats have been linked to potential kidney issues in dogs. There is so much out there. It seems it is too huge. Even though they haven’t found the exact issue, it’s hard to kind of pass it by as coincidence.”

Even with the numerous amounts of reports, the FDA cautions, “It is possible that other food or drug exposures caused the signs and symptoms reported in these reports; thus, there is no certainty that the reported jerky treat caused the adverse event. There may be one or more concomitant diseases, conditions, medications or other foods that can better explain the clinical signs seen.”

They have also found that with media attention drawn to certain brands, there is usually an increase in reports on those specific brands after the report is released.

So as pet owners, what do we do?

Well, the first step is to be vigilant with reading the ingredients on the label of the treats and finding out the source of the ingredients i.e. if they come from anywhere outside of Canada.

Another option, as Dr. Bergen suggested is to make your own jerky.

Healthypets.mercola.com offers an easy recipe, “If your pet loves chicken jerky, you can use some boneless chicken breasts, clean them, and slice into long, thin strips – the thinner the better.

Then, place the strips on a cookie sheet and bake them for at least three hours at 180 degrees. The low temp dries the chicken out slowly and the strips wind up nice and chewy.

Let the strips cool, and then store them in plastic bags or another airtight container. You can also freeze them.”

For more information about the chicken jerky situation or to report an incident, visit www.fda.gov.