Pet Points: Are jerky treats safe for your pet?

Jerky treats have been reported to have caused illness and death in thousands of pets since 2007. But it’s unclear whether the treats have caused these problems, or there was another cause.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration received 5,200 complaints about sick dogs, cats and three people. Reports peaked in 2012 and 2013 with almost 2,000 complaints in each of those years.

The illnesses reported often were kidney-related with rare symptoms similar to Fanconi syndrome, where glucose was found in the urine but blood glucose was normal.

The FDA continues to warn consumers about observing for decreased appetite, reduced activity, vomiting, diarrhea with blood, increased water consumption and increased urine production.

The challenge is that many of these symptoms are what we see daily from a host of other unrelated diseases.

Dogs often eat things they should not and get sick. Diabetes in dogs and cats is common, and any change in urination should prompt owners to bring pets in for an exam, blood tests and a urinalysis.

The Veterinary Practice News described 87 postmortem studies on suspected cases where jerky treats were consumed shortly before death. More than 50 percent of them were attributed to other causes, such as cancer, Cushing’s disease, parvovirus, infections and trauma. In the other half of cases, the jerky treats could not blamed or be ruled out. Additional animals who were made ill or died might not have been identified as a jerky treat toxicity and never reported.

Chicken, duck and sweet potato jerky treats sold in the U.S. but sourced or produced in China have been implicated. The FDA has investigated cases with laboratory testing and has done inspections of Chinese factories. The FDA detected illegal residue of both antibiotics and antiviral medications used in foreign poultry.

Not every case of suspected jerky treats illness can be confirmed, but there seems to be some association. Until a true determination of the cause of the illness can be found, the FDA continues to alert consumers to be cautious with the use of jerky product.

When a pet dies it is unlikely that a full examination by a veterinary pathologist is performed because of the availability and cost. So it’s difficult to make a definitive case against a specific product.

After nine years the mystery surrounding jerky treats remains. Why the reports suddenly started, peaked in 2012 and 2013, and then dropped is not fully known. Perhaps the use of jerky treats declined after the initial reports. I have not used jerky treats in my pets recently, and I am reluctant to resume using them today.

Lawrence Gerson is a veterinarian and founder of the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. His biweekly column is intended to educate pet owners. Consultation with a veterinarian is necessary to diagnose and treat individual pets. If you have a question you'd like addressed in Pet Points, Please include your name and municipality or neighborhood.