Federal safety officials are looking for pet owners across the country whose dogs or cats got sick after eating jerky treats.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is trying to find pet owners and veterinarians who can provide more information about pets sickened by treats that have led to some 580 dog and cat deaths since 2007. Most of the sick animals have been dogs. About 3,600 dogs have reportedly taken ill after eating the jerky pet treats.
The government's Center for Veterinary Medicine has gone to China, where the treats were made, and worked with a variety of other agencies and researchers, but has been unable to pinpoint what is making the animals sick.
"This is one of the most elusive and mysterious outbreaks we've encountered," center Director Bernadette Dunham said. "Our beloved four-legged companions deserve our best effort, and we are giving it."
The animals get sick within hours of eating the treats. They are sold as "jerky tenders" or "strips." They are made of chicken, duck, sweet potatoes and/or dried fruit. Symptoms have included reduced appetite, less activity, vomiting, diarrhea, and increased water drinking.
While the bulk of the treats that has led to the illnesses and deaths were made in China, consumers might not have a way to easily figure out where the ones they bought come from. Unlike requirements for many human foods, pet foods don't have to say where all their ingredients come from.
The FDA has been issuing recalls for these types of treats for the past six years. Here is one example. Here's another. The number of cases has shrunk, the government said, as the amount of these treats on the market have shrunk.
The FDA has not banned jerky treats, but is urging caution, suggesting that if a pet becomes sick while eating them to save the remaining treats -- and packaging -- for testing.
"Our fervent hope as animal lovers is that we will soon find the cause ofâ€”and put a stop toâ€”these illnesses," Dunham said.
Follow this link to see an FDA fact sheet that explains how to protect your pet and what to do if your dog or cat gets sick from the treats.
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Mitch Lipka is one of America's leading consumer journalists and advocates. He is an expert in product safety, recalls, scams, and helping consumers get out of jams. He is a nationally known consumer columnist and runs TheConsumerChronicle.com. He lives in Worcester. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at ConsumerNews@Aol.com