The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported today that jerky treats remain the suspected cause of some pet illnesses and deaths even as the number of new cases has waned.
The agency has spent the past several years looking at a possible connection between jerky consumption and pets, doing everything from laboratory testing and animal necropsies to soliciting veterinarian input and inspecting factories in China, where many of the treats are produced.
No conclusive evidence has been found to pin the blame on jerky—specifically, chicken, duck or sweet potato treats—but the FDA isn’t backing down.
“Although it is impossible to determine in every case whether the events reported were in fact caused by eating jerky pet treats, the FDA continues to believe that there is an association between some of the reports and consumption of jerky pet treats,” the agency stated.
The periodic FDA update revealed that about 270 complaints were received over a five-month period ending Sept. 30, 2014. In the previous period, from October 2013 to May 2014, some 1,800 complaints were collected.
Altogether, the consumption of jerky treats has been loosely connected to illnesses in more than 5,800 dogs, 25 cats and three people. More than 1,000 of the dogs died.
The FDA is considering cutting the frequency of its updates from twice a year to annually because of the falloff in complaints.
“This shift in reporting cycles does not mean that the FDA is reducing its effort to investigate the cause of these illnesses,” it stated. “The agency continues to devote significant resources to its investigation and will post non-routine updates if notable events occur.”
The FDA acknowledged that the latest statistics are months old.
“We are woefully late on this update due to our … resources being spread a bit thin,” said Siobhan DeLancey, RVT, MPH, a spokeswoman with the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.
Pet owners were reminded that any treats should be given in moderation.
“The agency continues to caution pet owners that jerky pet treats are not required for a balanced diet and encourage them to consult with their veterinarians, both prior to feeding treats and if they notice symptoms in their pets,” the FDA stated.
The most common symptoms displayed by the pets counted in the FDA report are gastrointestinal or liver related, followed by kidney or urinary disease.
Two big retailers, reacting to the investigation, have backed away from pet treats made in China. Petco stopped selling such items by the end of 2014, and competitor PetSmart has pledged to do the same by March.
The two chains each operate more than 1,000 stores and together account for an estimated 20 percent of all pet product sales.
A manufacturer, Nestlé Purina PetCare Co., last year resumed the production of Chinese-made jerky and assured consumers that the treats are safe. The company in early 2013 voluntarily withdrew all Waggin’ Train and Canyon Ranch dog treats upon the discovery of unapproved antibiotics in some Chinese-made jerky treats.
The company’s new Chicken Jerky Tenders are made from white meat chicken “sourced exclusively from a single, trusted supplier in China,” the company has stated.