FDA asking veterinarians for help with investigating deadly jerky-related illness

After a lengthy investigation into a harmful illness affecting thousands of pets that have consumed jerky treats, the FDA is still largely confounded by the mysterious illness.

The agency is appealing to veterinarians and pet owners to report apparent jerky-related illnesses in their pets, which it hopes will provide an influx of information that ultimately leads to a solution.

In a recently posted letter to veterinarians, the FDA provided an update about the scope of the illness, as well as instructions on how veterinarians and their clients can contribute to the investigation.

Illnesses still being reported across the country

According to updated numbers from the FDA, at least 3,600 dogs and 10 cats have fallen ill after eating jerky treats - most of which were imported from China - since 2007. Within that group, at least 580 pets have died.

The agency has reportedly observed a decrease in illness reports since several large manufacturers ceased distributing their jerky products due to traces of antibiotics discovered in some samples. The decline does not necessarily signal that the problem has been solved, the FDA said.

"However, FDA does still continue to receive reports, and we believe that the decline in reports is because the majority of jerky treat products are not currently available as a result of the removal from the market of those products found to contain unapproved antibiotics," the agency said.

Commonly reported symptoms

The illness often sets in within hours after pets have eaten jerky treats made of chicken or duck, as well as treats where chicken or duck jerky is wrapped around sweet potatoes, yams, or dried fruit. Symptoms can include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Decreased activity
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea (sometimes with blood or mucus)
  • Increased water consumption and/or increased urination
  • Pancreatitis
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Kidney failure or an illness resembling Fanconi syndrome

There has been no apparent geographical pattern with the illnesses, and it appears that dogs of various sizes and breeds have been affected, the FDA said.

How veterinarians can report cases

According to FDA, there are three main ways that veterinary professionals can help the FDA gather useful information for about the illness:

  • Providing samples and information on potential jerky pet treat-related illnesses to the Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network (Vet-LIRN), an extensive network of diagnostic laboratories developed by FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine.
  • Supplying clients with the FDA's Fact Sheet on jerky pet treat products by posting it on the clinic's website, emailing it to clients, or handing it out.
  • Reporting pet illnesses associated with jerky pet treat products through the FDA Safety Reporting Portal.

For more information about helping with the investigation, read the entire FDA letter to veterinarians.