Dogswell announced Saturday it is withdrawing its Breathies, Happy Heart, Happy Hips, Mellow Mut, Shape Up, Veggie Life, Vitality, and Vitakitty brands following the discovery of illegal drug residue found by the New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets (NYSDAM) in a batch of their Dogswell Happy Hips Chicken Breast Jerky dog treats imported from China.
Dogswell’s announcement did not release the name or the amount of the illegal drug, instead would only say that the treats “contained trace amounts of an antibiotic residue that has not been approved for use in the United States”. Based on this discovery, Dogswell is withdrawing all chicken and duck treats imported from China with the ‘Best Before’ date of January 28th, 2015 or any earlier date.
Dogswell’s assurance denies decades of research
Although Dogswell claims that the antibiotic drug residues found in the recalled treats are not a health risk to pets, research dating back decades tells a different story. There is a reason drug residues are not allowed in food-producing animals: They can cause life-threatening reactions.
The concern is for the small percentage of dogs hypersensitive to antibiotic drugs. Hypersensitive dogs could have an allergic reaction to them even in trace amounts – with liver or kidney damage as a potential complication arising from an immune complex hypersensitivity (allergy). Tubulointerstitial nephritis is the most common allergic renal reaction, the disease found in many of the dogs that consumed the contaminated pet treats.
It is not at all uncommon for antibiotic sensitivities or reactions to happen days after the dog have been exposed to the drug. In some animals, within 24 hours you will notice something is wrong, with others it may be up to 7-14 days before you notice the symptoms.
Although effects that are more serious may not accompany the initial reactions, re-exposure can provoke this life-threatening reaction.
Although the residue levels detected may not cause a hypersensitive response, unlike most adverse drug reactions, allergic drug reactions are unpredictable.
Concentrations of residual veterinary drugs in pet foods may not be not high enough to cause an initial hypersensitive reaction, but may cause such an effect in a dog that has already become sensitized to the drug. Furthermore, idiosyncratic reactions, which mean their occurrence has nothing to do with the amount given, but instead, are about an unpredictable sensitivity to any dose.
Damage to organs tends to be slow, making this allergy symptom virtually impossible to notice until significant damage has already occurred.
Severe intestinal disease
Another problem that might occur as the result of pets consuming meat containing drug residues over a period of several days or weeks is that the drugs kill off the most susceptible (sensitive) bacteria, while leaving only the more resistant bacteria in their intestinal tracts to grow and proliferate.
When this occurs, the result could be a severe intestinal disease caused by overgrowth of pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria after the beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract were killed-off by low dose exposure to antibiotics.
Contaminated treats: A veterinarian’s perspective
Veterinarian Patrick Mahaney warned that “there are well documented adverse reactions to five antibiotics found in the treats, especially to products considered to be sulfonamindes”. Dr. Mahaney believes that the drug residues found have the potential to cause hypersensitivity (allergic) reactions, be carcinogenic (cancer causing) and have negative interactions with other drugs.
He goes on to say that because the contaminated chicken jerky treats cause an unusual form of kidney failure called Fanconi Syndrome, “one has to think that if a dog or cat consumed enough of these treats containing sulfonamide antibiotics – a correlation could be established”.
Prevalence of drug sensitivity in dogs
Estimates of the prevalence of drug sensitivity vary, but are estimated to be about 7% in the general population. There is concern because their presence can potentially cause a hypersensitivity illness in dogs that are hypersensitive to the drug or its metabolites.
The most common drug hypersensitivity in dogs is to sulfonamides. For example, some dogs are sensitive to sulfonamides because of previous exposure to the antibiotic therapeutically and could potentially suffer a hypersensitivity reaction if they consumed meat containing residues of sulfonamides.
Dogs most at risk
Certain canines appear to be at higher risk for sulfonamide allergy, which metabolize these medications more slowly. In particular, dogs are considered unable to acetylate sulfonamides to any significant degree.
Furthermore, there is known species sensitivity to sulfonamides in certain breeds of dogs. Idiosyncratic toxicosis are believed to be caused either by an immune-mediated syndrome or by an idiosyncratic reaction in dogs, perhaps due to toxic metabolites of the sulfonamide.
Dog breeds documented to be hypersensitive to sulfonamides include: Weimaraners, Vizslas, Doberman pinschers, Rottweilers, Samoyeds and other white-coated breeds, and miniature Schnauzers. Sufonamides are also not recommended for breeds like the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel and English Toy Spaniel that frequently have low platelet counts or megathrombocytes.
Therefore, careful consideration should be given to the population of immunosensitive canines.
Drug residues are monitored for several reasons, not the least of which is safety. The FDA is charged with the responsibility of assuring that meat and dairy products are safe and free from antibiotics and other drugs. The presence of drugs can cause reactions—some potentially fatal—in pets that are allergic or sensitive to those drugs.
In a scathing report by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) they stated that: “The three agencies responsible for the national residue program—USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), FDA, and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—have not effectively coordinated their various roles so that they can ensure that harmful residue is not entering the U.S. food supply.”
The USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service, which inspects meat, was also blasted in the OIG report for lax monitoring that had allowed meat containing “dangerous substances” — including copper and dioxin — onto the market. The report went on to say that the inspection service doesn’t “attempt to recall meat, even when its tests have confirmed the excessive presence of veterinary drugs” it stated, and it doesn’t screen for several pesticides that the EPA has determined to pose “high health risks.”
Meanwhile, the FDA insists the problems continue because it doesn’t have the resources to inspect every facility connected with an animal found to be in violation.
Consumer awareness still lacking
Most consumers are aware of the risk of pathogens in pet food, such as Salmonella, however, far fewer consumers are aware of the scale of a different type of contamination and one that cannot be mitigated by good hygiene or cooking temperatures.
The issue in question: Antibiotic residue in meat and it appears that based on a daily consumption of drug residue contaminated pet food and/or treats your pet’s health may be at significant risk for disease.
Allergy to antibiotics is more common than might at first be thought, yet not all of these potentially allergic dogs will show life threatening reactions to antibiotics, but some of them will.
And although databases exist for the collection of adverse drug reactions for veterinary drugs, the collection of adverse reactions to drug residues in food are virtually non-existent and seldom, if ever, reported. Therefore, there is a large under-estimation of allergy/hypersensitivity exists for animals, and in particular for pets.
Unknown risks, consequences
Researchers do not yet understand the exact risks from decades of persistent exposure to random combinations of low levels of pharmaceuticals.
The FDA bases their skepticism that trace concentrations will ultimately prove to be harmful to pets, because their confidence about the safety of our pet’s health is based largely on studies that poison lab animals with much higher amounts.
And while drugs are tested to be safe for humans, the time frame is usually over a matter of months, not a lifetime. Pharmaceuticals also can produce side effects and interact with other drugs at normal medical doses.
Dogswell’s quality assurance: Not terribly reassuring
Dogswell’s assurance that they employ “state-of-the-art testing procedures” to ensure that their products do not contain any unapproved antibiotics does not instill confidence considering it took the NYSDAM to find what Dogswell’s testing procedures did not. Yet, strangely, in Dogswell’s announcement they state the company decided to “withdraw any chicken or duck jerky treats that have not been tested for this antibiotic”.
In Dogswell’s FAQ a consumer asks: “Why is there so much Dogswell product on the shelf if it has been withdrawn?” Dogswell’s answer: “All of the products that you see on the shelf have passed testing and were approved to be sold”. Excuse me? How can a company make that assurance without knowing the ‘Best By’ dates of the products in question?
Anyone following recent news reports about poultry facilities in China will find Dogswell’s assurance that their chickens eat a “natural diet, have plenty of room to roam, and live and grow free of stress” a bit hard to swallow. A recent yearlong investigation into poultry facilities in China revealed that multiple drugs, including many that are illegal in the U.S., are used right up until the time of slaughter causing violative amounts of drugs to appear in their tissue. Causing, I may add, the largest recall of pet treats to date: Nestle-Purina brand Waggin’ Train and Canyon Creek Ranch treats and Del Monte’s Milo’s Kitchen brand pet treats, among others all imported and manufactured at the same poultry processing facilities as the ones used by Dogswell.
Finally, the statement that Dogswell claims there is “no evidence that products containing trace amounts of this antibiotic pose a health risk for pets” is irresponsible at best and at worst is patently false and misleading.
Given Dogswell’s lack of transparency, failed testing program, and misleading information regarding the health risks of drug residues, it is highly unlikely that Dogswell will instill confidence that their products are safe nor are they likely to keep the trust of consumers who depended on them to provide a treat that was healthy and safe for their pets to enjoy.
How vets can help
Veterinarian should retain as much of the suspect pet food product as possible, as well as saving all ante-mortem or post-mortem samples from affected dogs. Any questions regarding sample collection and retention should be directed to the FDA.
FDA’s Veterinary Laboratory Response Network (VLRN) is available to support these animal health diagnostic laboratories. Veterinarians and consumers alike should report cases of animal illness associated with pet foods to the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator in their state or go to http://www.fda.gov/petfoodcomplaints.
For a detailed guide on how to report a pet food problem refer to Poisoned Pets’ Guide to making a pet food complaint to the FDA. Be sure to check out Poisoned Pets pet food resources for more help and information.
Consumer assistance is available
Consumers who need assistance are asked to contact Dogswell if you find that you have a product that is affected, are having trouble determining if you have the product that was affected, or if you would like to speak with Dogswell directly about a full refund, to please to contact them at 1-888-559-8833 or email Dogswell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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