January 12, 2009
Mystery of illness associated with jerky treats persists
FDA advises continued caution
By: Edie Lau
For The VIN News Service
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has received 153
complaints during the past 16 months about illness in dogs that have
eaten chicken jerky treats and continues to take reports “at a steady
clip,” an agency spokeswoman said Friday.
The FDA in
mid-December posted on its Web site cautionary notes to dog owners about
jerky treats, following the Dec. 9 voluntary recall by the Australian
company KraMar of its chicken breast strip treats.
fall of 2007, veterinarians in both countries have seen symptoms in
dogs that mimic the kidney disease Fanconi after the dogs ate chicken
snacks. In Fanconi syndrome, which usually is inherited, the kidneys do
not properly resorb electrolytes and nutrients to the body. Glucose
“spills” into the urine, while blood-glucose levels are normal or even
Reports of Fanconi-like disease in the United States
initially led to some voluntary product recalls but the culprit has not
been identified. Likewise, KraMar in Australia has emphasized that it
has no scientific evidence that its products are the cause of the
Laura Alvey, a spokeswoman for the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, said Friday in an e-mail response to questions:
FDA is actively investigating the matter and conducting analysis for
multiple different chemical and microbiological contaminants. We have
tested numerous samples of chicken jerky products for possible
contaminants including melamine. The complaints received have been on
various chicken jerky products but to date we have not detected any
contaminants and therefore have not issued a recall or implicated any
products. We are continuing to test and will notify the public if we
find evidence of any contaminants.”
Alvey said the agency has
logged 153 complaints since September 2007. She could not say
specifically at what rate new cases continue to be reported.
the FDA saw fit to issue a fresh caution in December, the continuing
problem in this country has drawn little attention. A spokesman for the
American Veterinary Medical Association told the VIN News Service in
December that U.S. cases seemed to have “flamed out” in 2008.
Sharon Gwaltney-Brant, vice president and medical director of the
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Animal
Poison Control Center in Urbana, Ill., said the center received fewer
than a dozen calls in total about jerky treats in 2007 and 2008
combined. That’s out of 136,000 and 146,000 cases of suspected and
actual poisonings in each year, respectively.
Of the 10 or 11
calls the center received, some were only inquiries; others involved
animals that had eaten jerky treats but did not show symptoms, she
said. In only one case was there a report of glucosuria, or glucose in
Gwaltney said Dr. Stephen Sundlof, director of the
FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, and former director
of the agency’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, told participants of a
meeting at the University of Illinois in September that pet owners
should be careful not to overfeed their dogs with the treats.
“It sounds like maybe they’re giving them the whole bag of Oreos,” is how Gwaltney took it.
its cautionary statement to pet owners, the FDA advises: “Do not
substitute chicken jerky products for a balanced diet. The products are
intended to be used occasionally and in small quantities. Owners of
small dogs must be especially careful to limit the amount of these
But when asked whether the cases tend to involve
animals that were given an overabundance of treats, FDA spokeswoman
Alvey responded, “We can’t speculate on what might be causing the
One commonality between the suspect jerky
treats in the United States and those produced by KraMar in Australia
is that they were manufactured in China. Consumers are especially wary
of that source in the aftermath of a massive contamination with melamine
of pet food by Chinese suppliers in 2007.
said, the Chinese origins of suspected chicken treats may not be much
of a clue. Paraphrasing Sundlof, she said, “We can blame China, but
maybe that’s just because most treats are made in China.”
VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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