On Friday, May 16, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published an update on its ongoing investigation into pet illnesses and deaths in animals that ate jerky pet treats. While the update includes the latest information about complaints of illnesses, FDA’s collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on a new case control study, and new findings revealed through the agency’s testing, FDA officials also stated, "Unfortunately, FDA has still not been able to identify a specific cause for the reported illnesses or deaths."

Critical information in the update included the following:

  • Case numbers: Since FDA’s last update on October 22, 2013, we have received approximately 1,800 additional case reports. As of May 1, 2014, we have received in total more than 4,800 complaints of illness in pets that ate chicken, duck, or sweet potato jerky treats, nearly all of which are imported from China. The reports involve more than 5,600 dogs, 24 cats, and three people, and include more than 1,000 canine deaths. The breakdown of symptoms associated with the cases is similar to that of earlier reports: approximately 60% of the cases report gastrointestinal/liver disease, 30% kidney or urinary disease, with the remaining 10% of complaints including various other signs such as neurologic, dermatologic, and immunologic symptoms. About 15% of the kidney or urinary cases also tested positive for Fanconi syndrome, a rare kidney disease that has been associated with this investigation.
  • Response to Dear Veterinarian Letter: Following an October 2013 request for veterinarians to share case information, the agency received many well-documented case reports that have and continue to provide us with valuable information that is assisting in our ongoing investigation. Out of this effort, FDA has had the opportunity to perform necropsies (post-mortem examinations) on 26 dogs, 13 of which appeared to have causes of death not related to consumption of jerky pet treats. Of the remaining 13 cases, an association with consumption of jerky pet treats could not be ruled out. Eleven of these dogs had indications of kidney disease and two involved gastrointestinal disease.

The update also stated that FDA continues to review case records, test treat samples from reported cases, screen tissue, blood, urinary and fecal samples, and communicate with the attending veterinarians and pet owners to thoroughly investigate select cases. Because of the volume of information received in response to the Dear Veterinarian letter, the agency has not completed an update to our online case spreadsheets. FDA plans to complete and post these updates in the coming months.

Perhaps in response to press coverage of the ongoing jerky treat investigation — such as this Huffington Post article — today FDA issued a Consumer Update titled "FDA Is Vigilant About Keeping Your Pets Safe." The update discusses FDA's monitoring of both veterinary drugs and pet foods by the agency's Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM). Regarding pet foods specifically, the update reads:

Lee Anne Palmer, a veterinarian and safety reviewer at CVM says that consumers may recall that in 2007, FDA confirmed that many dogs and cats in the U.S. were developing kidney failure after eating pet foods contaminated with the chemical compound melamine. Pet food manufacturers voluntarily recalled more than 100 brands of dog and cat food across the nation as a result of an intensive investigation by the FDA.

More recently, FDA has asked veterinarians and pet owners to report dog illnesses related to eating chicken, duck, or sweet potato jerky treats, nearly all of which are imported from China. As a result, FDA has received many well-documented case reports that will greatly assist its continuing investigation into pet illnesses and deaths associated with these products.

“Although the pet food supply in the U.S. is very safe, we want to be as aware as possible of any problems connected with animals eating pet foods,” Palmer says. “To that end, we encourage consumers to report adverse events they think may be related to pet foods and to provide as much information as possible.” In calendar year 2013, CVM received over 3,000 pet food adverse event and product problem reports.

FDA scientists analyze trends over time and may identify clusters of illness tied to a particular product, looking for consistencies in such things as lot numbers or brand names. This kind of information helps FDA target problems and decide whether to collect product samples for laboratory analysis. “Many product recalls have been a direct result of adverse event reporting by animal owners, veterinarians and manufacturers,” Palmer says.

Pet owners, veterinarians, and concerned citizens can report complaints about pet food products electronically through the agency’s Safety Reporting Portal. The online questionnaire asks for information about brand name, product type, package size, lot number and use-by dates. Pet owners and veterinarians can also report by calling the FDA District Offices.

Palmer says that lot numbers and use-by dates are particularly important in helping FDA track down potential problem sources. Consumers can also find the answers to frequently asked questions about pet food safety reporting at FDA.gov.