The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released on October 22 an update to its investigation into pet illnesses and deaths associated with jerky pet treats from China. The update includes a description of the extent of the agency's testing and current findings, as well as a "Dear Veterinarian" letter and "Fact Sheet" for pet owners.
The "Dear Veterinarian" letter to veterinary professionals explains how they can provide assistance to FDA's investigation, requests that veterinarians report to FDA any cases of jerky pet treat-related illness that come to their attention and, when requested, that they also provide samples for diagnostic testing by the Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network (Vet-LIRN), a network of veterinary laboratories affiliated with FDA.
The "Fact Sheet" for pet owners lists steps they can take to prevent or detect illness related to the treats. FDA continues to caution pet owners that jerky pet treats are not required for a balanced diet. The agency encourages pet owners to consult with their veterinarian prior to feeding treats and if they notice symptoms in their pets.
As of September 24, FDA says it has received more than 3,000 complaints of illness related to consumption of chicken, duck or sweet potato jerky treats, nearly all of which were imported from China. The reports involve more than 3,600 dogs, 10 cats and include more than 580 deaths.
According to FDA, the rate of complaints associated with jerky pet treats dropped sharply after several well-known brands were removed from the market in January, when a study conducted by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Marketing (NYSDAM) detected low levels of antibiotic residues in those products. FDA believes that the drop in complaints is linked to a decrease in the availability of jerky pet treats rather than the low levels of antibiotics found in January, which FDA believes are unlikely to be the cause of the illnesses. However, FDA is performing an evaluation to determine the possibility for low levels of the antibiotics to cause illness in dogs when fed over a length of time. This process involves review of the scientific literature, as well as any adverse event reports and consumer complaints sent to the FDA in connection with dogs and sulfonamide drugs, and may take many months to complete. In the meantime, FDA's investigation continues to evaluate all potential causes for illness from the jerky pet treats.
While FDA has not yet identified a cause for the reported illnesses, the agency, together with its Vet-LIRN partners, continue to perform testing to help identify cases and examine both animal tissue and product samples associated with the cases. FDA also continues to work with the manufacturers and distributors of the treats and China's Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine to investigate potential sources of contamination or causes of illness in pets.
By Lindsay Beaton
As work continues on creating a new nutrition label that focuses on simplifying information for consumers, challenges remain.
By Tang Yu