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“American-made” jerky tied to illness in dogs

Dogs fed jerky-style pet treats labeled as made in the United States are turning up with a rare kidney disease that’s been associated with jerky made in China.

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman confirmed that the agency is “aware of complaints related to ‘USA’ made products.” Siobhan DeLancey of the FDA’s Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine said: “We have found some of these products may contain ingredients from outside of the U.S. FDA continues its investigation into these, as well as other, jerky treats potentially linked to illnesses.”

Dr. Urs Giger, director of the Metabolic Genetics Screening Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, said his laboratory has diagnosed recent cases of acquired Fanconi disease in dogs that ate treats that ostensibly were not made in China or with ingredients from China.

Since 2007, the FDA has been receiving complaints of illness in pets, predominantly dogs, that ate jerky treats. The phenomenon became commonly understood as a Chinese-chicken-jerky-treat problem because most of the products were chicken-based and made in China. Until recently, virtually all chicken jerky for pets was imported from China.

FDA and other investigators have been unable to identify a contaminant in the implicated treats or other reason for illness. But public pressure led many companies selling treats to shift or establish manufacturing operations in the United States within the past year or two.

Not only are cases continuing to occur in the United States, instances of jerky-associated Fanconi have begun turning up in Europe, as well.

Giger, the metabolic genetics lab director at UPenn, said, “We have recently received samples from Europe where we confirmed an acquired Fanconi syndrome and associated it to jerky-treat consumption, and reversal (of illness) or improvement following withdrawal (of the treats).”

Giger co-authored a report of the first jerky-related case of Fanconi in Europe to be recorded in a scientific journal. Involving a 5-year-old male border terrier, the case was published April 5, 2014, in Veterinary Record, the journal of the British Veterinary Association. Every day, the dog ate various beef and chicken jerky treats, some of which contained ingredients originating in China. His clinical signs improved four weeks after he no longer was given the treats. By 19 weeks after he first took ill, the owner reported that the dog was completely normal.

As a geneticist, Giger encountered the jerky-treat issue through his work on hereditary Fanconi syndrome. His laboratory has provided Fanconi screening for decades, he said. Historically, Fanconi in dogs was a well-recognized genetic disease in basenjis. Around 2007, Giger said, the laboratory began seeing cases of Fanconi-like syndrome in other breeds, mostly small-breed dogs and mostly related to jerky consumption.

Between 2009 and 2012, Giger said his lab identified 400 cases of Fanconi. He said he continues to see new cases weekly, amounting to about 100 per year.

Whether American-made treats are less suspect than or equally suspect as Chinese-made treats is impossible to say, Giger said, because labels tend to tell an incomplete story.

“When you’re looking at pet jerky-treat products, and I’ve checked shelves at stores, the label does not necessarily say where it came from,” Giger said. “It (identifies) the company but not where it was manufactured or where (all) the ingredients came from.”

If a marketer claimed a product was made from ingredients that originated solely in the United States, he said, “one would have to check on that very carefully, as manufacturers may have sourced ingredients through third parties.”

Giger added that treats associated with illness aren’t necessarily identified as jerky, but may contain jerky and be called sausages or biscuits or something else.

In light of the ongoing mystery, Giger suggested that pet owners consider refraining from giving any commercial jerky treats to their pets. “While some may think pets cannot be without jerky treats, I do not consider them as part of a healthy diet or treat, even when labeled ‘all natural,’ and thus, currently do not recommend any,” he said.


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