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No Treat: Avoiding Illnesses Related to Jerky-Style Treats

Everyone likes a treat.

This is especially true for our pets. It’s a delightfully satisfying moment when you see your dog’s tail rapidly wagging or when your cat is purring and rubbing against your leg as he or she anxiously awaits the opening of that bag of goodies.

But before you hand over that treat, make sure you know what you’re giving — especially if it’s a jerky treat.

The FDA has been studying the illnesses in pets associated with the consumption of jerky pet treats since 2007. In a recent report, the FDA announced that, as of December 31, 2015, they have received 5,200 complaints of illnesses associated with the consumption of chicken, duck, or sweet potato jerky treats. These illnesses affected over 6,200 dogs, 26 cats, and three people — and resulted in at least 1,140 canine deaths.

Complaints and illness reports related to jerky treats have been decreasing over the last year or so, but the problem remains. Here’s what you need to know.

Affected Treats

Most of the complaints the FDA received were for chicken treats, including jerky, tenders, and strips, but duck and sweet potato treats were also affected, as well as dried fruits, yams, and rawhide treats that had chicken or duck jerky wrapped around them.

The FDA acknowledges that a majority of the reports of illness were related to products manufactured in China. But, where the treat is made is not the be-all, end-all — nothing requires a manufacturer to list the countries of origin for all of its product’s ingredients. Therefore, even if a product is made in the USA, it still could contain products from China or other countries whose pet food rules are not as restrictive as ours. You will not read about that on the label.

While it’s impossible to definitively say that the jerky treats were the direct cause of illness in each and every case, the FDA does see a connection between the illnesses and the consumption of jerky pet treats. The FDA continues to study the issue in coordination with the Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network (VLI-RN), the Chinese regulatory agency for pet food, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Various chemicals and microbial substances have been studied in the effort to determine the cause of illness, but to date, the FDA has found no specific contaminants.

What the Illnesses Look Like

The FDA’s jerky treat investigation has revealed several occurrences of Fanconi syndrome (or Fanconi-like syndrome, FLS), a typically rare kidney disease that is a hereditary condition in certain breeds. The kidneys filter out waste while maintaining key nutrients, such as glucose, bicarbonate, and amino acids. When an animal suffers from FLS, the kidney’s proximal tubule doesn’t work properly, and these nutrients are lost into the urine instead of being reabsorbed.

Warning signs of FLS include increased water consumption and urination, vomiting, diarrhea, and becoming lethargic and/or uninterested in eating. An animal could have some or all of these symptoms, and they could be mild or severe. The symptoms are often alleviated when you remove pet jerky treats from the diet, however, the FDA encourages pet owners to consult with their veterinarians as soon as they notice symptoms in their pets.

The FDA also requests that all instances of pet illness following ingestion of jerky treats be reported to the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator.

Should I Just Stop Giving Treats?

As pet owners and animal lovers, we all know it, yet it bears repeating — treats are just that: treats. They are not a meal replacement, nor a necessary part of a healthy diet. If your pet likes treats and you enjoy giving him or her treats, that’s fine. Again, just know what you’re giving them. Do your due diligence and understand what’s in your pet’s treats and where they came from. Size matters too.Choosing treats that are the wrong size can create serious problems. Whether they’re too big to too small, the wrong sized treat could get lodged in your pet’s mouth, esophagus, or lungs.

The best bet may be to avoid store-bought treats altogether. Vegetables, egg whites, cheese, and pasta can be great substitutes for high fat treats. Just be aware of your pet’s allergies or food sensitivities. Or, you can make treats yourself. Check out these recipes forhomemade treats for dogs and these for cats.