Advice from the Experts

Concerns build over potentially tainted dog treats from China

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Q: Why do American's have such short memories? When we went through the case of toxic melamine -- which the Chinese intentionally put in pet foods in 1997 -- animals (in the U.S.) died by the thousands. Now, according to the FDA, over 500 dogs have died over the past three years as a result of tainted chicken jerky treats from China. Are our investigators just not talking? Were they not smart enough to find a problem (with the treats)? Or are the Chinese not cooperating, but for political reasons we say they are? After all, why should they respond when we continue to buy their products? -- D.K., Las Vegas, NV

A: I've received many inquiries similar to yours. You're right that reports (as of Dec. 17, 2012) of dead dogs linked to chicken jerky treats imported from China exceeded 500, tallied over three years. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine (FDA CVM), over 2,600 dogs have become sick from eating imported chicken jerky treats.

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 voluntarily recalled this month. Oddly enough, the recalls were not sparked by three years of consumer complaints about dogs allegedly getting sick or dying after eating the treats. Instead, they were prompted by a finding by the New York State Department of Agriculture in early January of trace levels of antibiotics in some chicken jerky brands from China.

No one is certain, but according to the FDA CVM, it's not likely that the discovery of trace antibiotics has caused some dogs eating the imported snacks to get sick or die.

Regarding your questions concerning criminal activity -- as in the instance of adding melamine and cyanuric acid to pet foods in 1997 -- FDA CVM spokesperson Tamara Ward revealed a hint of potential wrongdoing for the first time in an 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," Ward states. "As a result of the inspection, 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." When I asked exactly what all of this means, Ward didn't respond, except to point out that the investigation was ongoing.

The FDA-CVM did send independent investigators to China, who found nothing else significant. There have been reports that the not all Chinese facilities were cooperative, but the FDA CVM doesn't confirm or deny this.

In the only public response so far, the Chinese responded to an inquiry made by U.S. Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA) by blaming the FDA and the U.S., whether that makes sense or not.

Because of its ongoing investigation, the FDA CVM has had no additional comment concerning the future of chicken jerky treats imported from China. Meanwhile, most experts concur, it's best to avoid chicken jerky treats from China.

As to why we continue to import products from China, since problems with food safety seem to be persistent for both pet and human foods, I don't honestly know. That's a valid question to ask your U.S. senator or representative.

Q: Can you help us promote the petition to give California ferrets a fair hearing? -- P.W., LaMesa, CA

A: Gladly. It's ridiculous, even infuriating, that playful ferrets are banned in California. It's not that anyone suggests the wiggly party mammals are inappropriate pets. However, the California Fish and Game Commission insists that somehow pet ferrets would escape outdoors and procreate, creating feral ferret colonies. That would be quite a trick since nearly all domestic ferrets are sold spayed/neutered. Also, there's a concern pet ferrets that escaped ferrets would attack chickens on farms. It doesn't seem to matter that in all other states (except Hawaii, where ferrets are also banned) there have been no reports of ferrets running amuck or attacking farm animals.

Sadly for ferrets, if they do get outdoors, they're more likely to become prey rather than predators, or succumb to the elements.

The truth is, this battle is all about politics and power. The politically influential California Fish and Game Commission appears to be entrenched in its position for no particular reason. Finally, the commission agreed to an independent study (which they had no intent to finance). So, a non-profit called commissioned an independent fact-finding study (Preliminary Environmental Impact Report on the subject from Sacramento State University). The findings aren't in line with the Fish and Game Commission, however, so the commission has refused to accept the results.

Since ferrets are illegal, California residents probably shouldn't be buying them, but the state has always led the country in ferret ownership, and veterinarians do treat the animals. Occasionally, officials crack down and confiscate ferrets in California.

When he was governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger (who appeared in the movie "Kindergarten Cop" with ferrets) came close to signing a bill legalizing ferrets, but the Terminator was intimidated by California Fish and Game. Current Gov. Jerry Brown has demonstrated no interest in the issue.

In desperation, is now attempting to petition the White House. Visit the website to sign a petition.

Q: Our lovable cat has started to charge me when I'm in bed watching TV, biting my arms, then calmly turning away. How can I break this habit? -- M.N., Cyberspace

A: "If this is a fairly new behavior, first see your veterinarian to rule out a possible physical explanation," says certified cat behavior consultant Darlene Arden, author of "The Complete Cat's Meow" (Wiley Publishing, New York NY, 2011; $19.99). "If you're screaming or reprimanding the cat, it's possible your cat is seeking attention -- even if it is negative attention. Closing the bedroom door can work, but you might hear loud protests on the other side."

Arden, of Framingham, MA, says to offer your cat exercise and an outlet before you hit the sack. Take an interactive toy (fishing pole-type toy with feathers) and play for about 10 minutes. Then offer a before-bedtime snack. Also, when you're not home or can't pay attention to your pet, make sure the cat has lots of activates and toys for amusement.

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.