More dogs die as poisonous jerky treats remain on store shelves


With each passing day that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is unable to determine the contaminate responsible for poisoning dogs in chicken jerky treats, dogs continue to die, while the deadly treats remain on store shelves.  As long as the FDA allows it, retailers will continue to sell it and manufacturers will continue to produce it.funny-dog-pictures-they-spaded-me-so-i-adopted-their-litter-of-one

The events regarding the poisonous chicken jerky, which has been under FDA scrutiny for the past five years without a resolution, has led consumers to be increasingly cautious and mistrustful of the Federal government’s commitment or ability to protect them or their pets from harm and of the assurance that the products they buy will be safe.

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A mountain of evidence

Mounting evidence of serious illness and death associated with the products has veterinarians and pet parents increasingly ill at ease. Determining the toxin responsible for the deaths presents a problem that has pet parents across the country in an uproar: the manufacturers of the treats will not pull the product from the shelves until the FDA demands that they do, which the FDA cannot do until they have conclusive proof that the products are in violation of the law. Meanwhile, the FDA continues extensive chemical and microbial testing but has not identified a contaminant. Until such time, all the FDA can do is caution consumers; which, to most pet parents does not seem fair or adequate, ethical or moral.

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Another day, another death

Each day the product remains on the market brings another tragedy and devastation to one more family whose dogs are poisoned by chicken jerky treats. Grief stricken pet parents write me, pleading with me to help get the word out to consumers. Confused, they ask me why has the FDA allowed a product the FDA itself has acknowledged to be dangerous remain on the market? They ask me what good are warnings posted on the FDA website when the product can still be purchased in the largest retailer in the world, Wal-Mart? Why, they ask, doesn’t the FDA take a proactive stance and recall the products first and discover what the contaminate is later?

I wish I had a reasonable answer, one that would be acceptable or understandable to a grief-stricken family. But there are none, none that would make sense to a pet parent who has just buried their dog.

sheperd little girl ball playing

A broad perspective

To understand the problem from a broad perspective one must first understand the fundamental basis from which the FDA operates under, the Federal, Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) the Federal laws affording protection to humans and animals from dangerous and unsafe products. The FDA is in charge of enforcing the FFDCA and the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) is the branch within the FDA that is specifically responsible for making sure that foods for animals are safe.

The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) that states in part:

The use of food products is governed by the provisions of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA), and the regulations issued under its authority. These regulations are published in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The FFDCA defines food as “articles used for food or drink for man or other animals…” Therefore, any article that is intended to be used as an animal feed ingredient, to become part of an ingredient or feed, or added to an animal’s drinking water is considered a “food” and thus, is subject to regulation. FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) is responsible for the regulation of human food products. CVM is responsible for the regulation of animal food (feed) products.

The FFDCA sets forth requirements for “foods” in the Sections 402 and 403. Failure to meet these requirements can result in a product being deemed adulterated or misbranded. Adulteration includes, among other things, food packaged or held under unsanitary conditions, food or ingredients that are filthy or decomposed, and food that contains any poisonous or deleterious substance. A food may be considered misbranded if its labeling is false or misleading in any way or fails to include required information.

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As early as 2007

The FDA has been aware of food-related nephrotoxicity in dogs associated with the consumption of chicken jerky treats from China as early as 2007, perhaps even earlier. Ingestion of these treats lead to a form of acquired Fanconi syndrome, including glucosuria with normaglycemia, aminoaciduria, cilindiuria, hypokalemia, metabolic acidosis, and frequently azotemia. Gastrointestinal signs (vomiting and anorexia), and elevated liver enzymes along with a number other clinical signs has veterinarians deeply concerned.

It would be a mistake for anyone to assume that in the absence of a definitive toxin that the illnesses these dogs have faced are due to some cause other reason than the consumption of the treats. Extensive diagnostic testing eliminated other causes of the observed clinical signs, such as urinary tract infection and rickettsial disease. Glucosuria in the face of euglycemia or hypoglycemia, aminoaciduria, and metabolic acidosis confirmed the diagnosis of Fanconi syndrome. Based on the histories obtained, the chicken jerky treats were a part of the diet and were consumed daily by all dogs has led researchers to conclude a cause and effect relationship between the consumption of the treats with disease.

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The usual suspects

A well-known microbiologist in the food safety sector, Phyllis Entis of wrote to me after one of my particularly scathing condemnations of the FDA; she helped me understand the problem the FDA has faced in discovering what the specific contaminate is: they have to know what to look for before they can test for it.

The FDA, in addition to several animal health diagnostic laboratories in the U.S., has been working to determine why these products are associated with illness in dogs. To date, scientists have not been able to determine a definitive cause for the reported illnesses. Despite extensive chemical and microbiological testing, the FDA has not identified a specific contaminant — or a specific brand or type of treat. Thus far all the likely contaminates have tested negative and been eliminated from their inquiry.


Infinitesimal possibilities

What remains are thousands upon thousands of unknown contaminates. Further complicating the problem is the yearly introduction of thousands of new chemicals on the market. As well as any chemical that is no longer legally allowed for use in this country may be still in use in another country. And who can ignore the remarkable creativity the Chinese display in using novel contaminates with an alarming frequency. And finally, add to this equation the infinitesimal number of combinations thereof and you have a recipe to drive any scientist to drink.

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A mother’s patience

Despite the problems facing the FDA scientists, it seems inconceivable that if this were a problem with human food, that the FDA would allow it to remain on the market until such time they discover the toxin while humans continued to get sick and die. It may be unconscionable to do so, yet it is perfectly legal under Federal law to allow a deadly treat for pets to remain on the market until such time the reason for it’s toxicity is known.

I have to wonder then, does the FDA expect consumers to find it acceptable that dogs should continue to be poisoned because they have been unable to determine the contaminate? Does the FDA anticipate that consumers have an inexhaustible patience while testing continues indefinitely while the product remains on the market? Are consumers expected to be understanding of the difficulty the FDA faces while bury their dogs?

I will ask the same questions this time exchanging the word dog for child: Would the FDA expect mothers to be patient and understanding while they bury their child? Would the parents of a child that died as a result of consuming a contaminated product accept that until the FDA could determine what the contaminate was that other parents may face the same horror? Would the FDA advise parents to observe their child for symptoms of acute renal failure should they “choose to continue” feeding the contaminated product?

doggy baby snuggle

A double standard

Think back, just a few weeks ago when it was reported that an infant died from a rare bacterial infection formerly associated with a contaminated infant formula. Before the ink was even dry on the press release, and before it was even known if it was the formula that caused the death of that one precious infant – the product was yanked off the shelves so fast by retailers it made your head spin. They didn’t wait for the FDA to issue a recall. It vanished from the market in less than one day.

Hospitals across the country issued the same warning about a possible contaminated formula and it was not fed to any infants until they knew it was safe.

I don’t mean to suggest that infants are undeserving of such cautious measures, or that pets are deserving of more attention than children, quite the opposite.  I applaud the retailers, the manufacturer and the medical facilities for their prompt action in a proactive manner preventing what might have been further deaths. Mercifully, it turns out there was nothing wrong with the formula after all.

Is a safety of your dog’s food any less important than your children’s food? Not to any of the pet parents I have spoken with. Federal law does not make the distinction between the safety of food for your child or your dog, why then do retailers and manufacturers?

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Shoot first, ask questions later

The world’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart, didn’t wait for anyone to tell them to do the right thing when they pulled the Enfamil baby formula off their shelves after an infant died. Other retailers followed suit, they withdrew the formula while “awaiting further clarity from the manufacturer and FDA”.  Another retailer pulled the formula “out of an abundance of caution”. It was a shoot-first, ask questions later moment for retailers as well as consumers. The headline was scary enough to cause consumers to change their purchase patterns in the near-term, and no one knew how long that would last even if it was unjustified.

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Watch closely

Consumers who have fed their dogs chicken jerky products should watch for their dogs closely for any of the following signs that may occur within hours to days of feeding the products:

  • sluggishness or lethargy combined with a reluctance to eat in general;
  • decreased appetite, although some dogs may continue to eat the treats instead of other foods;
  • vomiting;
  • diarrhea, sometimes with blood;
  • increased water consumption;
  • increased urination, sometimes with blood;
  • yellowish tint (jaundice) to the eyes or gums
  • lift up your animals ear and look for a reddish rash or on the belly area as well

If the dog shows any of these signs, pet parents should consult their veterinarian immediately. Blood tests may indicate kidney failure (increased urea nitrogen and creatinine). Urine tests may indicate Fanconi syndrome (increased glucose). The problem can be confused with diabetes.

Dog Licking Baby

What’s a Fanconi?

This is an uncommon condition.  It affects the kidneys and causes them to leak glucose (sugar) and other electrolytes into the urine.  Dogs that have this condition will usually be very thirsty and will urinate excessive amounts.  The most common finding in laboratory tests is that the dog has glucose in the urine, but has a normal blood glucose level.

Some dogs can be born with Fanconi syndrome.  But, the latest concern is that there is something in chicken jerky strips that is actually causing some dogs to develop this problem.  Some dogs can get very sick and even go into renal failure and die.  Other dogs will have an increase in thirst and urination and possibly have accidents in the house and then they may go on to have a full recovery within a few weeks of stopping the chicken jerky treats.


What if you think your dog has Fanconi syndrome?

If your dog is drinking and urinating more and he or she has eaten chicken treats, then it goes without saying that you should stop giving those treats.  The next step is to have your vet examine your dog and do some blood and urine tests.  These tests will quickly tell us whether the dog has Fanconi syndrome or whether there is another problem such as diabetes, Cushing’s or kidney disease.  If there is Fanconi syndrome the vet will tell you whether it looks like there is damage to the kidneys.  If so, they may need to give intravenous fluids for a few days.  If there is no damage then your dog will likely recover over the next few weeks.

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What should you do if your dog has been a victim?

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Be prepared in the event of a class action lawsuit

Contemplate carefully whether to accept an offer of compensation from the manufacturer, you may consider the possibility of joining a class action lawsuit at some point in the future. In which case, I would advise you to take these precautions in preparation of such an event (I am not an attorney, so the following list of suggestions is by no means comprehensive):

  • Keep your package of the treats and any contents, and do not send the package to the manufacturer “for a refund”;
  • Document your communications with the FDA, CVM and the manufacturer along with whom you spoke to and on what dates;
  • Take pictures and/or video tape any relevant information, date them;
  • Ask for written statements from your vet, the labs, hospitals, clinics;
  • Document related expenses: time taken off work, time and cost of traveling to and from appointments, for example;
  • Get copies of all of your pet’s medical records, lab results and invoices of medical procedures;
  • Finally, scrutinize all documents for errors or omissions and ask for corrections if you find anything that is incorrect or unclear


Sentimental value

In the state of Texas a landmark case was won that supports recovery for the loss of their pet for sentimental value damages. This sweeping change in animal law gives pet parents the potential for damages recovery for the loss of their pets that is available for the loss of a relative or close human friend.

In a groundbreaking court ruling in November, the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth ruled that a pet’s value is greater than its price tag. The court overruled a 120-year-old case in which the Texas Supreme Court ruled that pet owners could recover only the market value of their pets.

Dogs are unconditionally devoted to their owners,” according to the ruling. “We interpret timeworn Supreme Court law … to acknowledge that the special value of ‘man’s best friend’ should be protected.

The attorney that represented the pet parents was, my hero, Randy Turner of Turner & McKenzie of Fort Worth Texas.

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A final word…of caution

The press has emphasised to avoid treats made in China, which while wise advice is by no means comprehensive. What the press fail to mention is the law concerning Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) does not apply to pet food or treats, nor does it apply to dried foods or processed foods of any kind. Even with foods that are covered without going into elaborate detail, essentially the law states that if the product (ingredient) imported is changed in some manner once inside the United States, it is no longer, by legal definition, a product of the originating country from which it came from.

Thus, by law the label can say “Made in the USA”. So, do not make the assumption that if the package is printed with the assurance the product was “Made in the USA”, when in fact it did not originate in the United States. Simply put – do not buy any jerky treats  (tenders, strips, nibbles, num nums, what-evers) until this whole mess is sorted.

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Jerky treats in the news

FDA warns of possible dangers with chicken jerky dog treats Jan 27, 2012
FDA warns pet parents about jerky treats made in China
Jan 26, 2012
Sickening: Are wholesome Waggin Train treats hurting pets?
Jan 22, 2012 Updated: Jan 23, 2012
In Your Corner: FDA Warnings On Pet Treats  Jan 20, 2012
Manufacturer of possibly deadly dog treat speaks
Jan 19, 2012 Updated: Jan 20, 2012
Dog owners cautioned about chicken jerky treats
Jan 19, 2012
FDA cautions dog owners of treats Jan 18, 2012
Humane Society warns about dog treats made in China
Jan 13, 2012
FDA warns chicken jerky dog treats associated with illness
Jan 3, 2012
Warning about chicken-jerky treats for dogs
Dec 30, 2011
Family says dog died after eating treats made in China Dec 29, 2011
Chicken Jerky from China may be causing Fanconi syndrome in dogs
Updated: Dec 29, 2011
Chicken jerky treats sicken 353 dogs, owners report
Dec 28, 2011
Pet treat alert
Nov 23, 2011

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Related articles

Update: Thaxton family nightmare after dogs poisoned by jerky treats continues (
A grieving family wants chicken jerky dog treats to be taken off the market. (
FDA Still Baffled Why Pet Treats from China are Poisoning Dogs…Again (
Pet Food Expert Petitions the Government to Stop the FDA from Violating Federal Law. (
FDA gives pet food loophole to by-pass the law (TruthAboutPetFood)
Caution to Dog Owners About Chicken Jerky Products
(FDA, December 13, 2011)

Special note: Up next a personal story of how the deadly treats affected one family and their beloved dog, Sarge. And thanks to the person who put together the YouTube video.

Read more here:

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Mollie Morrissette

Mollie Morrissette, the author of Poisoned Pets, is an animal food safety expert and consumer advisor. Help support her work by making a donation today.