Cheryl Noble gave her beloved dog a treat, never thinking it would lead to serious consequences.
Not only was her dog sick from what she believed was a contaminated pig ear, but she also became sick the same day from touching the treat without washing her hands afterward, she said.
“It was too coincidental that I went down the same day as my dog, Mulligan,” Noble said. “I had horrific intestinal pain and a 102-degree temperature. He just started getting horrible stomach problems. I thought he was going to die.”
The sickness lasted two weeks without any known cause, Noble said. But she believes it was the dog treat from Waggin Train, a company importing from China that is among the many jerky treat brands to have been reported to the Food and Drug Administration for negative effects on dogs and cats.
The Food and Drug Administration released information to veterinarians this month about jerky dog treats that have been responsible for the deaths of more than 580 pets since 2007.
As of Sept. 24, the FDA has received about 3,000 reports of pet illnesses that may be related to the consumption of jerky treats — more than 3,600 dogs and 10 cats.
Most of the reports involve treats from China, including chicken, duck and sweet potato jerky treats and related products such as jerky-wrapped rawhide treats.
More than 1,000 tests were conducted on about 250 jerky treat samples relating to more than 165 complaints and more than 200 unopened retail samples.
So far, no cause for the illnesses has been identified.
The reports have included gastrointestinal illness with or without elevated liver enzymes, kidney or urinary issues and other signs, including convulsions, tremors, hives and skin irritation, according to the FDA website.
Of the kidney and urinary cases, about 135 have been for Fanconi syndrome, a type of kidney disease in which vital nutrients are expelled in the urine rather than absorbed into the body.
Dogs with Fanconi syndrome usually drink and urinate much more than normal, according to the FDA, which can be a sign of diabetes, but Fanconi dogs are without elevated blood sugar indicative of diabetes. Dogs can also be lethargic and uninterested in eating.
Some dogs may exhibit all symptoms, while others only show some with varied level of severity.
Dogs often improve when no longer fed the treats; however, a positive urine test for Fanconi syndrome can still be detected several weeks later, according to the FDA.
The illnesses and deaths reported are mostly linked to treats sourced from China, but manufacturers do not need to list the country of origin for each ingredient used in their products, which makes detection and prevention difficult.
“The problem with that is they aren’t required to list the country of origin, so if something doesn’t say where it’s from, it could be from China,” said Rob Avery, veterinarian at For the Love of Pets in Grass Valley. “You just don’t know.”
The evidence against the treats is inconclusive, Avery said, adding correlation does not necessarily mean causation.
“There have been reports, but it doesn’t necessarily mean this particular sickness was due to the jerky treats,” he said. “Millions of jerky treats are probably sold, and an awful lot of animals are eating these and not getting sick. It’s a subgroup of animals that are getting sick, and there could be other factors.”
Regardless of the lack of conclusive evidence against the jerky treats, Avery said he would not give his pets jerky treats from China.
“(Jerky treats) contain a lot of salt and fat and other things that probably aren’t the healthiest,” Avery said. “You should get something probably low-calorie that maybe serves another purpose, like things that are good for their teeth or different types of chews to break down plaque and clean their teeth. There certainly are reputable companies that make really good treats if you use them sparingly.”
Noble developed her own brand of treats after her dog’s illness. She opened Della’s Pet Bakery last year.
The treats include pumpkin, rice flour and gluten-free oats, which are easily digestible, she said, adding she fed Mulligan probiotics with live and active cultures that she believed helped him overcome his bout of stomach problems.
“It was just a really scary situation, and out of it came non-GMO organic dog treats,” Noble said. “We have to make our treats in America in commercial kitchens that are regulated and inspected. It really followed what I believed in — to offer quality treats to pets because they deserve it. I feel like I’ve become an advocate for the underdog.”
Scrap’s Dog Bakery, located in Grass Valley and Truckee, also carries treats made only in the U.S. and discontinued one of its more popular products after discovering its Chinese origin.
“Our store prides itself on carrying items made in the USA or Canada, and we try to go with the more organic or grain-free (options),” said Arlene Morero, owner of the Scraps Dog Bakery, Truckee location.
Morero said customers have come into the store wanting a jerky dog treat not made in China.
“We definitely try to show our customer different options, so we have natural jerky dog treats made in the U.S. and some that are like jerky treats,” Morero said.
The number of FDA jerky reports has dropped sharply since several treat products were removed from the market in January 2013, following a study by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Marketing that revealed low levels of antibiotic residues in those products.
The FDA is looking for more data from practicing veterinarians and is asking owners of affected pets to provide contact information, pet symptoms, medical records and the lot number of the jerky treat product. The original packaging should be saved, and if a pet has died from what is believed to be from jerky treat-related illness, a post-mortem testing on animal tissues is requested.
For information, visit http://fda.gov/Animal Veterinary/SafetyHealth/ProductSafetyInformation/ucm371465.htm or contact the FDA at 1-888-INFO-FDA. To make a report, visit https://safety reporting.hhs.gov
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.