Advice from the Experts

Controversy still swirling over Chinese-made dog treats

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According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine (FDA CVM), from 2010 through Dec. 17, 2012, a reported 2,674 dogs were sickened as a result of eating chicken jerky treats made in China. A reported 501 dogs died as a result of eating the tainted treats. The FDA CVM has conceded publicly that something is clearly amiss. But what?

Since the FDA CVM has failed to determine why pets could get sick or die after consuming these treats from China, the agency is legally is without "evidence," and therefore has not issued a recall, according to Tamara Ward, spokesperson for the FDA CVM office of public affairs.

In early January, the New York State Department of Agriculture (NYSDA) issued a report disclosing their finding of trace levels of antibiotics in various chicken jerky products imported from China.

Until this point, U.S. pet food companies continued to blissfully sell the jerky treats, pretty much ignoring increasing public pressure to pull the products. Finally, with the report from NYSDA, there were instantly several voluntary recalls. Del Monte's Milo's Chicken Jerky and Chicken Grillers treat brands; Waggin' Train and Canyon Creek chicken jerky treats made by Nestle Purina PetCare Company and Cadet brand chicken jerky treats were all taken off the market.

"So they withdraw the (chicken jerky) treats for antibiotic residue, but not for dying dogs," marveled Dr. Sheldon Rubin, of Chicago, IL.

While the trace amounts of antibiotic can't be a good thing, the FDA CVM isn't convinced that this is what made dogs sick or caused renal failure, which ultimately killed some pets.

Ward notes, "NYSDAM has used a new laboratory method that it believes is more sensitive and accurate than the current approved regulatory methods used by FDA and we're eager to consult with NYSDAM to learn more about the validation of this new laboratory method." Still, Ward says the antibiotic levels are extremely low, and not expected to be the cause of health concerns. Also, some of the antibiotics listed in the NYSDAM report are used safely in dogs all the time.

So, essentially, we're back at square one: What has made some dogs eating the apparently tainted jerky treats sick, some so sick they died? As it turns out, there may be cause for concern about wrongdoing in at least one Chinese plant.

Ward revealed for the first time via a personal email to this reporter: "The FDA did identify that one (Chinese) firm falsified receiving documents for glycerin, which is an ingredient in the jerky pet treats. As a result of an inspection (at the plant), the Chinese authority -- the Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine -- informed the FDA that it has seized products at that firm and suspended exports of its products until corrective actions were taken by the firm."

Asked for clarification, Ward only responded that on this matter and others concerning the jerky treats, there's no further comment since the investigation by the FDA CVM in ongoing.

Dog owners and their pets have paid the price. In the case of a Shetland Sheepdog named Zach, perhaps the ultimate price. At 14, Zach had some health issues, and Hank Zabelski of Wheaton, IL, thought he was doing a good thing by offering his beloved pet some jerky treats (Canine Carry Outs from Milo's Kitchen, a division of Del Monte) in 2011. At the time, he was unaware of concerns about chicken jerky treats. His veterinarian wasn't thinking treats could be related to the dog's health.

Zabelski says his veterinarian suggested that Zach's relentless pacing, constant thirst and apparent discomfort were due to other factors. By the time is was discovered Zach was suffering from renal failure it was too late. On Dec. 8, 2011, Zach was euthanized.

"He suffered tremendously, and we needed to put an end to it," Zabelski says. "It was horrible. I wish I'd known about chicken jerky treats from China, but I didn't then. There was very little publicity, and the FDA should have done more, at least really get the word out." Zabelski's veterinarian did file a report with the FDA CVM explaining what apparently happened to Zach.

While Zabelski is not participating in a lawsuit, many pet owners whose dogs died after eating chicken jerky treats from China are filing suit against manufacturers.

As for the Chinese perspective, there's been no public response, with one bizarre exception. Several public officials have weighed in, most recently U.S. Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA). In a letter, he urged the Chinese government to "consider halting production of chicken jerky treats until the FDA can determine whether or not the products contain tainted material."

The Chinese government responded (in December 2012), saying that "from the perspective of the Chinese side, there might be something wrong with the FDA's investigation guidance," according to KGO-TV in San Francisco, CA

Nearly all experts agree that since not all chicken jerky treats made in China have been recalled, it's a good idea to avoid purchasing such treats for your pets.

Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.