Thousands of dog poisonings linked to jerky treats

In just the past three weeks, 1,500 suspected animal food poisonings connected to pet jerky treats have been reported to the FDA.
November 12, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
In just the past three weeks, 1,500 suspected animal food poisonings connected to pet jerky treats have been reported to the Food and Drug Administration. The increased number of cases follows an urgent letter to veterinarians sent out by the FDA, last month.

The FDA has been investigating this issue for seven years. Nearly 600 dogs have been killed around the country, and more than 3,600 others have gotten sick after eating pet jerky treats, mostly from China. Pet owners want to know why it's taking so long to get to the bottom of this, so we went looking for answers.

These are much healthier times for 5-year-old Bella. It was almost two years ago that the Yorkshire terrier came close to dying at a Bay Area pet hospital.

"She's shouldn't have made it. Everything said she should not be here with us today. But thankfully she is," San Francisco resident Dana Moskowitz said.

Moskowitz said Bella had eaten three days worth of pet jerky treats before she became violently ill.

It was later discovered she had full blown kidney failure.

"Couldn't stop throwing up and was having diarrhea and like a lack of energy. So, I knew something was really wrong," Moskowitz said.

A letter from the FDA was sent to veterinarians, just three weeks ago, urging doctors to report any suspected cases of food poisonings to them.

Arnold Gutlaizer of Broadway Pet Hospital in Oakland was one of the vets who received the letter.

"They want the blood, they want the urine, obviously if they can get a package from what came in," Gutlaizer said.

Teddy, an 11-year-old Bichon went in for a routine check-up right before the FDA letter was sent out.

For Teddy's owner, the results were not encouraging.

"My husband and I were definitely in denial. We didn't really think there was anything wrong," Oakland resident Patti Olson said.

But, Olson says Teddy was limping, sluggish and drinking an excessive amount of water.

A biopsy revealed his liver had malfunctioned. Teddy had been eating these pet jerky treats.

So, are the jerky treats to blame?

"That's probably what it is. When we ruled out pretty much everything else, that's kind of what you're left with," Gutlaizer said.

But, Gutlaizer can't say for sure. Neither can Moskowitz' doctor say the jerky treats definitely made Bella sick.

And that is the problem. The FDA says the pet jerky treats from various brands have been analyzed and tested for salmonella, metals, pesticides and antibiotics and other chemicals and poisonous compounds. None of the tests have revealed the cause of the deaths or illnesses in the animals that ate them.

"There's never a clear causal relationship. It's just inferred," Gutlaizer said.

And without that clear causal relationship, the doctor says it's hard for the FDA to take action.

"My personal opinion should they recall everything? I think people should be made aware," Gutlaizer said.

Meanwhile, it's been two weeks since Teddy has stopped eating jerky treats and he's shown great improvement.

"He's seems to have more energy. He's definitely taking in a normal amount of water. And I'm hoping that his weight comes back," Olson said.

But for even those whose dogs survived the ordeal, the frustration mounts while investigators look for a cause.

"I feel sick to my stomach. I mean, I know because of what I went through, how painful it is and my dog is still here, luckily. So, the ones that lost their dogs, I just can't imagine," Moskowitz said.

The FDA has not taken action. However, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets has taken action. It has recalled several treats, including the jerky treats eaten by Bella and Teddy. Dog owners who see symptoms in their pets are urged to take them to a veterinarian and report it to the FDA.


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