Reports of jerky-treat illnesses down but not out

FDA counts more than 6,200 dogs, 26 cats, three people affected to date

Published: May 16, 2016
By Edie Lau

Reports of illness linked to consumption of jerky pet treats continue to be reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but in much lower numbers than in years past.

The agency said in an update today that it received 200 reports from September 2014 through December 2015, a period of 16 months.

By comparison, the FDA fielded 1,600 reports in a three-month period of 2013.

Since the problem first arose in 2006, the agency has received a total of 5,200 reports of illness related to the consumption of chicken, duck and sweet-potato jerky. Most reports concern dogs, and some reports involve multiple animals. More than 6,200 dogs have been sickened; of those, more than 1,140 have died. Twenty-six cats and three people have been affected, as well.

Signs of illness include decreased appetite, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst and increased urination.

Investigators have not found a definitive reason for the illnesses, and are unable to say with certainty that jerky treats are the cause. Still, many veterinarians advise pet owners to avoid jerky treats altogether, and the FDA continues to note that “jerky pet treats are not required for a balanced diet.”

Dr. Kendal Harr, a veterinary clinical pathologist in the Seattle area, has been researching the jerky problem independently from the FDA for several years, working in conjunction with the Veterinary Information Network, an online community for the profession and parent of the VIN News Service. Harr studies cases submitted directly by veterinarians. The number of cases she’s received is down, mirroring the FDA's experience.

"I am very happy to report that [we] have had no submissions since last summer that appeared to be jerky-treat-related, which is a significant decrease from previous years," Harr said today by email.

Harr said she believes the likely reason for the drop in reported illnesses is a move by jerky manufacturers away from certain Chinese processing facilities.

Jerky treats predominantly were made in China until about 2014, when marketers began shifting to U.S.-made treats in response to pressure from pet store chains and consumer demand.

Now the "made in USA" label is common, although the FDA cautions: "Pet owners should be aware … that manufacturers are not required to list the country of origin for each ingredient used in their products."

The FDA jerky-treat investigation is continuing.

March 15, 2023, update: Figures provided by the FDA in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the VIN News Service show that the agency received a total of 6,059 reports from 2004 through 2022 of adverse events involving jerky treats marketed for pets. Reports peaked in 2013 at 1,900. The number has declined almost every year since then, to 94 in 2022.

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