Since 2007, the US FDA has received more than 2500 reports of dogs that became sick after eating jerky-style treats, predominantly chicken jerky made in China. Ongoing investigations have found no identifiable toxins.
Several companies producing chicken treats for dogs recently recalled the products after the New York State Department of Agriculture found trace residues of antibiotics banned for use in poultry. Included in the recall were Nestle-Purina’s Waggin’ Train and Canyon Creek Ranch dog treats, Del Monte’s Milo’s Kitchen Chicken Jerky and Chicken Grillers treats, and Hartz’s Chicken Chews and Oinkies Pig Skin Twists wrapped with chicken. The antibiotic residues, however, are not believed to be the cause of the illnesses observed in pets.
In a posting about jerky treats, the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine noted that reports of jerky-induced illness varied widely with regard to details linking the illness to the product. Often a significant amount of time had passed between exposure and onset of symptoms, or the pet had other conditions that could have caused the symptoms. Symptoms reported included vomiting, diarrhea, and kidney disease, most notably a rare form of kidney disease known as Acquired Fanconi Syndrome.
Veterinarians began seeing this unusual form of kidney disease in dogs in 2007, apparently associated with chicken jerky treat ingestion. (There is a congenital form of the disease in Basenji dogs, but it is very rare.) In 2008, reports came from Australia of a similar problem associated with dogs eating a specific brand of chicken jerky treat. More recently, veterinarians seeing suspected jerky-associated illness are reporting less of the Fanconi Syndrome (loss of glucose, electrolytes, and amino acids in the urine) and more straightforward renal failure.
At this time, the FDA has not detected any contaminants or toxins in the jerky tested, and researchers agree that the antibiotic residues are not to blame for the illnesses. The FDA has not issued a statement regarding the safety of the treats tested, except to say that jerky treats are not a vital part of any pet’s diet. You can read the FDA’s posting here.
My personal recommendation to pet owners is to feed NO chicken or duck jerky product, and no treats of any kind that are made in China (including yam or sweet potato treats, as these have also been reported to cause illness). Be sure to read labels carefully as some products that appear to be made in the USA use chicken or other products sourced in China. And, if you do feed treats, do so in moderation. Your dog might appreciate a belly rub just as much!