Jerky treats: Possible cause of illness in dogs

Specific cause unknown

The risks to canine health from eating jerky treats are on the front burner again. I shared information on this problem in my Pet Care column back in March, 2012. Now, for an update.

Food safety issues are a growing problem in part because of the globalization of this industry for humans as well as animals. Reported by the Veterinary Information (VIN) News Service, Dr. Linda Fleeman and her Australian colleagues published a large case report of 108 pet dogs in the September issue of the Australian Veterinary Journal. Their findings suggested the presence of a toxin in jerky treats. According to the report, “Dried chicken treats made in China — and other treats, to a lesser extent — have been implicated in sickening dogs in the United States and Australia since 2007, and in Canada since 2011. Investigators at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and elsewhere have been unable to pinpoint the problem.” Rather unsettling.

The Australian study included a survey of veterinarians who had treated these sick pets. The signs most commonly seen were consumption of large amounts of water along with the production of a high volume of urine. Many affected dogs were lethargic, had poor appetites, vomited, and lost weight. Urinalysis and other lab work indicated a problem called Fanconi syndrome, where glucose (sugar) is released by damaged kidney tubules. Fanconi syndrome is also an inherited disease seen more in Basenjis and Norwegian elkhounds than in other dog breeds.

Most of the problems involved a chicken-based snack eaten by dogs but cats have also been affected. The Australian veterinarians found that about one third of the sick dogs recovered on their own after their owners stopped feeding them the jerky treats. Others required hospitalization. Of the 108 dogs in the study, 6 died.

So what’s behind all this? According to the VIN report, “Dr. Kendal Harr, a veterinary clinical pathologist in the United States who has been following the jerky problem since 2007, said that identifying an unknown contaminant is like searching for a needle in the proverbial haystack.” Similar to the poisonous effects of lilies on cats or raisins eaten by dogs, the cause-and-effect is clear but the specific toxin remains a mystery.