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Reference Desk March 2012

Questions and Answers Regarding Chicken Jerky Treats from China

    SILVER SPRING, Maryland, March 9, 2012—The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today announced an update of its information for consumers on chicken jerky treats from China:

    Why did FDA issue a cautionary update in November 2011?

    In 2011, FDA saw an increase in the number of complaints it received of dog illnesses associated with consumption of chicken jerky products imported from China. FDA previously issued a cautionary warning regarding chicken jerky products to consumers in September 2007 and a Preliminary Animal Health Notification in December of 2008. The number of complaints being received dropped off during the latter part of 2009 and most of 2010. However in 2011, FDA once again started seeing the number of complaints rise to the levels of concern that prompted release of our earlier warnings.

    Since the issuance of the Center for Veterinary Medicine Update on November 18, 2011, the agency has received numerous additional complaints regarding chicken jerky products.

    What are the products involved?

    The cautionary update specifically refers to chicken jerky products that are imported from China. These dried chicken jerky products, intended for dogs, may also be sold as tenders, strips, or treats.

    What are the signs of illness that are being reported?

    The signs that may be associated with chicken jerky products include decreased appetite; decreased activity; vomiting; diarrhea, sometimes with blood; increased water consumption and/or increased urination. These signs may occur within hours to days of feeding the products.

    Laboratory tests may indicate kidney problems, including Fanconi-like syndrome. Although many dogs appear to recover, some reports to the FDA have involved dogs that have died.

    FDA continues to investigate the problem and its origin. Some of the illnesses reported may be the result of causes other than eating chicken jerky.

    What is FDA testing for?

    Since 2007, FDA has been actively investigating the cause of illness in pets reported in association with the consumption of chicken jerky products. Samples have been tested by FDA laboratories, by the Veterinary Laboratory Response Network (Vet-LRN), and by other animal health diagnostic laboratories in the U.S for multiple chemical and microbiological contaminants.

    Product samples were tested for Salmonella, metals, furans, pesticides, antibiotics, mycotoxins, rodenticides, nephrotoxins (such as aristolochic acid, maleic acid, paraquat, ethylene glycol, diethylene glycol, toxic hydrocarbons, melamine and related triazines) and were screened for other chemicals and poisonous compounds. DNA verification was conducted on these samples to confirm the presence of poultry in the treats. Samples have also been submitted for nutritional composition (which includes glycerol concentrations), vitamin D excess and enterotoxin analysis. Some samples from recent cases (2011-2012) have been submitted for multiple tests and we are awaiting results. More samples are in the process of being collected for testing.

    What are the results of testing?

    Samples collected from all over the United States have been tested for a wide variety of substances and to date, scientists have not been able to determine a definitive cause for the reported illnesses.

    Has there been any indication that metal contamination in chicken jerky products may be the cause of illness in dogs?

    FDA’s previous testing of chicken jerky product samples did not show toxic levels of metals. In addition, results from March 2012 toxic metal analyses, which included tests for heavy metals, have again shown samples of chicken jerky products to be negative for toxic metals.

    Are there specific brands we should be concerned about?

    No specific products have been recalled because a definitive cause has not been determined. The FDA continues to actively investigate the problem and its origin. If the FDA identifies the cause, the agency will take appropriate action and notify the public.

    Why aren’t these products being taken off the market?

    There is nothing preventing a company from conducting a voluntary recall. It is important to understand that unless a contaminant is detected and we have evidence that a product is adulterated, we are limited in what regulatory actions we can take. The regulations don't allow for products to be removed based on complaints alone. This is an ongoing investigation and FDA will notify the public if a recall is initiated. Currently, FDA continues to urge pet owners to use caution with regard to chicken jerky products.

    Should I stop feeding chicken jerky treats to my dog?

    Chicken jerky products should not be substituted for a balanced diet and are intended to be fed occasionally in small quantities.

    FDA is advising consumers who choose to feed their dogs chicken jerky products to watch their dogs closely for any or all of the following signs that may occur within hours to days of feeding the products:

    • decreased appetite;
    • decreased activity;
    • vomiting;
    • diarrhea, sometimes with blood;
    • increased water consumption; and/or
    • increased urination.

    If the dog shows any of these signs, stop feeding the chicken jerky product. Owners should consult their veterinarian if signs are severe or persist for more than 24 hours. Blood tests may indicate kidney failure (increased urea nitrogen and creatinine). Urine tests may indicate Fanconi-like syndrome (increased glucose).

    What should I do if my dog shows signs of illness after eating chicken jerky products?

    If your dog shows any of the signs listed above, stop feeding the chicken jerky product. Owners should consult their veterinarian if signs are severe or persist for more than 24 hours.

    Veterinarians and consumers alike should report cases of animal illness associated with pet foods to the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator in their state, or electronically through the Safety Reporting Portal.

    More information regarding How to Report a Pet Food Complaint can be found at http://www.fda.gov/petfoodcomplaints.

    What should I do with the remainder of the chicken jerky product that may have made my dog sick?

    If your pet has experienced signs of illness, please retain the opened package and remaining pieces of the chicken jerky product that are in the original packaging. It is possible that your samples will be collected for testing. If your product samples are collected, please be sure to provide the FDA official with all of the sample that you have. The extensive testing that is being conducted may require multiple pieces from the package. It is also possible that a toxicant may be present in some of the samples in the package, but not all. We may be able to get better or more accurate testing results with a larger sample size.

    After you have reported the problem to FDA, we will determine what type of follow-up is necessary and whether your particular sample will be collected for analysis.

    I’ve already submitted a complaint to FDA, when will I get a response?

    Every report is important to FDA. In each case, the information the consumer furnishes is evaluated to determine how serious the problem is and what follow-up is needed.

    Once a consumer has filed a report with their local FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator, or electronically through our safety reporting portal, FDA will determine whether there is a need to conduct a follow-up phone call, or obtain a sample of the chicken jerky product in question. While FDA does not necessarily respond to every individual complaint submitted, each report becomes part of the body of knowledge that helps to inform FDA on the situation or incident.

    Additional information on what happens when a problem is reported can be found at the following link: http://www.fda.gov/Safety/ReportaProblem/QuestionsandAnswersProblemReporting/ucm056069.htm.

    I reported a complaint to the FDA, but my sample of chicken jerky was never tested, could I get my sample tested by a private lab?

    Even though your particular sample may not be tested, your report to FDA is important. While in some cases, a sample of the product may be collected directly from the consumer, in many cases, product samples from the same lot and code will be collected from retailers, wholesalers or the manufacturer for laboratory analysis.

    FDA is working with various animal health diagnostic laboratories across the U.S. to determine why these products are associated with illness in dogs. You may have your treat tested by a private laboratory if you wish; however, it may be costly to have numerous tests conducted on your sample. Please be assured that FDA and the laboratories involved in this investigation are working diligently to determine what may be causing these illnesses associated with chicken jerky products.

    Have there been reports similar to this in other countries?

    We have reached out to relevant competent authorities in other countries to request intelligence on increased reports of illness in dogs associated with consumption of chicken jerky treats, any investigations conducted, analyses conducted on suspect products, etc. We have received some feedback regarding our questions and some suggested collaboration and sharing of information.

    Where can I go to get more information?

    Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration

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