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2013-11-07

Stop buying dog treats from China

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Something that responsible pet owners have been aware of for years finally hit the national network news. Long story short, pet owners should never give their dogs and cats food or treats with the words "Made in China" on a bag, can or box.
On Tuesday, Oct. 22, researchers with the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released an update on its protracted investigation into pet illnesses and deaths associated with jerky treats from China.

Symptoms associated with the consumption of animal treats from China include decreased appetite and activity; vomiting; diarrhea, sometimes with blood or mucus; increased water drinking; and increased urination within hours of eating the treats.

According to reports, about 60 percent of cases involved gastrointestinal illness and about 30 percent involved kidney and urinary systems. Severe cases may present with kidney failure, gastrointestinal bleeding and a rare kidney disorder. The remaining cases involved a variety of symptoms, such as collapse, convulsions or skin issues.
The FDA update included a "Dear Veterinarian" letter and fact sheet for pet owners. The fact sheet lists steps pet owners can take to prevent or detect illness related to the treats. For the complete report and related documents, visit http://fda.gov then click on "Animal and Veterinary" and finally "Jerky Pet Treats" in the right hand column.
However, like many government dispatches, the so-called progress report seems to raise more questions than it answers. Bottom line, however, is that until the government can determine just what why pet treats from China persist in killing dogs and cats, conscientious pet owners should refrain from feeding their companion animals anything made in that country.
Over 580 deaths
As of Sept. 24, the FDA had received more than 3,000 complaints of illnesses related to consumption of chicken, duck or sweet potato jerky treats - nearly all of which were imported from China. The reports, involving more than 3,600 dogs and 10 cats, also includes more than 580 deaths.
Over the years, several pet treats featuring food that originated from or was processed in China have been recalled from shelves, including those from such august companies as Purina, Del Monte and Hartz.
According to the FDA, the rate of complaints associated with jerky pet treats dropped sharply after well-known brands were removed from the market in January 2013. At that time, a study conducted by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Marketing (NYSDAM) detected low levels of antibiotic residues in those products, the report noted.
"FDA believes that the drop in complaints is linked to a decrease in the availability of jerky pet treats rather than the low levels of antibiotics found in January, which FDA believes are unlikely to be the cause of the illnesses," the progress report stated (Courier emphasis). The document continued: "However, FDA is performing an evaluation to determine the possibility for low levels of the antibiotics to cause illness in dogs when fed over a length of time." It is expected the evaluation, including consumer complaints sent to the FDA connected with dogs and sulfonamide drugs, may take many months to complete.
'Truth in Pet Food'
Susan Thixton of the Association for Truth in Pet Food took exception to the FDA's press release, which she considered singularly lacking in any signification "progress," noting,
"The FDA update tells us the agency is 'still receiving new complaints' even though many of the major importers of the treats removed the products from store shelves in January 2013."
She also pointed out the FDA report erred when it referenced an antibiotic residue found in chicken jerky samples from China. "The NY Department of Agriculture did not do a 'study.' NY Department of Agriculture tested jerky treats pulled from store shelves and found illegal drug residues in the treats," Thixton wrote on her website, truthaboutpetfood.com.
She added, "It is a pretty safe theory that the drop in jerky treat reports received by the FDA since January 2013 - when numerous treat were withdrawn from store shelves - is 'the result of the general lack of availability.' But, how in the world can that be the reason for FDA to say the illegal drugs found in the treats did not make the pets sick? This entire statement makes no sense." Thixton also found it curious that the FDA report failed to mention that the drugs found in the Chinese imported jerky treats - sulfonamide - were illegal. "(The presence of sulfa drugs were) the reason the treats were removed from store shelves or recalled," Thixton wrote.
She also finds it odd that only now, after a seven-year investigation, did the FDA finally reach out to practicing veterinarians for assistance. "This should have been done years ago."
Thixton concluded, "This very lengthy jerky treat 'progress report' from FDA is hardly progress. Pet food and pet treat consumers deserve better."
Local dog death
Closer to home, Bandera's Conrad Nightingale, DVM, has treated several dogs that he believes had been adversely affected by being given pet treats from China.
"And it's just not jerky," he said in an interview on Wednesday, Oct. 24. "Any pet treat from China is dangerous to feed your dogs. We went to Wal-Mart, H-E-B and other stores for years asking them to pull these treats from their shelves."
The most common complaint associated with the toxicity of Chinese-made food, treats and chews is kidney failure, according to Nightingale.
City of Bandera Utilities Clerk Lisa Chacon found this out when Nightingale diagnosed her year-old beagle with kidney failure. Chacon had been giving her dried pigs ear treats that had been "Made in China." Unfortunately, Savannah had to be euthanized shortly after the diagnosis.
Since then, Chacon has made it her mission to warn pet owners about the dangers of feeding their beloved companions treats made in China. "I do not want to see anyone go through the same thing that has happened to myself and Savannah. It was a horrible experience and she is missed greatly," Chacon said.
'Regulatory'
withdrawal
After the Courier contacted the company about the beagle's recent illness, referencing a February recall of several of the company's products made in China, the newspaper received this reply from Anne Isenhower: "Per The Hartz Mountain Corporation, this product was not withdrawn due to a safety issue but was a regulatory issue only:
Hartz quality testing found trace amounts of unapproved antibiotic residue in samples of Hartz® Chicken Chew™ and Oinkies® Pig Skin Twists wrapped with Chicken products. These antibiotics are approved for use in poultry in China and other countries, including European Union member states, but are not among those approved in the US.
"Hartz® Chicken Chew™ and Oinkies™Pig Skin Twists wrapped with Chicken products are safe to feed as directed; however, the presence of such antibiotic residue is considered an adulteration of the product under United States law and were immediately withdrawn from the market. These unapproved antibiotics did not pose a safety risk to pets."
According to Chacon, when she spoke with a Hartz representative, she was told that her beagle probably had a "genetic defect" that contributed to the pup's kidney failure - not the Chinese-made treats she had been giving Savannah.
Make own treats
For his part, Nightingale cautions all his clients to stop buying any food products from China for their pets. "I've treated several dogs with kidney failure that can be related to Chinese dog treats. When we sent one to South Texas Veterinary Specialists, I was told they had treated seven animals with the same problems."
Nightingale urged pet owners to simply "... read the labels. The Chinese have no control over their manufacturing process. Just quit feeding your pets anything that says 'Made in China'."
Also, pets owners should be aware if a label says: "Distributed in the USA," the county of manufacture was probably China. When in doubt, look for stickers that proclaim: "Made in USA." Pet treat manufactures here are finally wising up.
For a quick and safe dog treat, Nightingale recommends spreading out canned dog food on a baking sheet and when it dries slightly, use a cookie cutter to make dog biscuits. Continue the drying process and store in an airtight container - just be sure the canned dog food was not "Made in China."

Pictured: In happier times, Savannah reclined on a coffee table watching the deer in Lisa Chacon’s front yard. The year old beagle was recently euthanized due to complications from kidney disease, which might have been precipitated by being fed dog treats manufactured in China