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The Ruff Report: Dogs and Food

This popular pet treat is killing dogs and cats

About 580 dogs and cats have died from eating jerky treats since 2007 and some 3,600 have gotten sick, yet the cause of the remains a mystery, and now the Food and Drug Administration is asking for help with its investigation into the unexplained deaths and illnesses from veterinarians and pet owners.

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"This is one of the most elusive and mysterious outbreaks we've encountered," Dr. Bernadette Dunham, director of the FDA's Center of Veterinary Medicine, states in a media release. "Our beloved four-legged companions deserve our best effort, and we are giving it." 

Since 2011, the Center of Veterinary Medicine has conducted more than 1,200 tests; visited jerky pet treat manufacturers in China; and collaborated with colleagues in academia, industry, state labs and foreign governments. Most of the jerky treats implicated have been made in China. Inspections of the facilities in China that manufacture jerky products associated with some of the highest numbers of pet illness reports did not identify the cause of illness. 

More than 1,200 jerky pet treat samples have been tested for chemical and microbiological contaminants, from antibiotics to metals, pesticides and Salmonella. DNA testing has also been conducted along with tests for nutritional composition.

Within hours of eating treats sold as jerky tenders or strips made of chicken, duck, sweet potatoes or dried fruit, some pets have exhibited decreased appetite, decreased activity, vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes with blood or mucus), increased water consumption or increased urination. Severe cases have involved kidney failure, gastrointestinal bleeding and a rare kidney disorder. About 60 percent of cases involved gastrointestinal illness, and about 30 percent involved kidney and urinary systems. The remaining cases reported various symptoms, such as collapse, convulsions or skin issues.

The FDA advises owners whose pets become ill after exacting jerky treats to seek veterinary help and save any remaining treats and the packaging for possible testing.

Dr. Doug Aspros, former president of the former American Veterinary Medical Association, advises pet owners to consult with their veterinarian about food they feed their dogs and cats. "The best thing to do ... is to talk to their veterinarian about anything they're feeding their pets," he states in a media release.

Dr. Aspros urges pet owners to help the FDA with its investigation. "We need to identify the dogs that have had symptoms and have been associated with jerky treats," he said.

Tim Evans, an associate professor of veterinary pathobiology at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine and a veterinary toxicologist, also is encouraging pet owners to help the FDA find the cause of the problem. “The FDA and scientists around the country have been working on this problem tirelessly for many years, but it has been a very difficult process because no obvious ingredients in the jerky treats have been found to cause this illness,” Evans states in a media release. “Hopefully with this latest call for help from veterinarians nationwide, the FDA will collect enough information soon to determine why this illness is occurring.”

Owners concerned about this illness should refrain from feeding jerky treats to their dogs and cats since the treats are not a part of an essential pet diet, and pets who eat jerky treats on a regular basis should be watched for signs of illness, Evans said.

While the loss of any pet is tragic, only a very small percentage of pets has been affected by this strange illness during the past six years,” Evans said. “If pet owners have been feeding their dogs or cats jerky treats containing chicken, duck, sweet potatoes and/or dried fruits, I would recommend they stop feeding the animals the treats immediately and monitor their pets’ health. While there may not be a cause for immediate alarm, owners of small-breed dogs that have consumed these treats on a regular basis, especially those with pre-existing health conditions, might want to have their pet examined by their regular veterinarian and have some laboratory testing performed." 

To report a compaint about a pet jerky treat, go to


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