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Treats for Dogs are Potentially Dangerous

Check the label for country of origin, and be observant if you give your dog chicken jerky treats. The American Veterinary Medical Association was notified last week by the Canadian VMA that several Canadian veterinarians have seen dogs with a condition that resembles Fanconi syndrome, and it may be associated with the consumption of chicken jerky treats manufactured in China. Similar incidents were reported in the United States in 2007 and investigated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which issued a further warning in 2008.

It’s unknown if the problem is limited to Canada. The AVMA reports that it has not received any recent reports from U.S. veterinarians about pets with illness that may be related to chicken jerky treats, and there have been no recalls of any chicken jerky treat products associated with the Canadian complaints. Brand names of the products involved are not available.

Fanconi syndrome affects the kidney tubes and can be heritable or acquired. The heritable form is rare and usually is seen only in certain breeds, including basenjis and Norwegian elkhounds. The acquired form can be caused by heavy metal poisoning or certain chemicals. Dogs affected with the acquired syndrome usually have signs that include vomiting, listlessness and lack of appetite. According to the FDA’s 2008 report, extensive chemical and microbial testing did not turn up any contaminant or a definitive cause for the reported illness. Most dogs recover, but some reports to the FDA involved dogs that died.

After checking the information on the Veterinary Information Network, Lake Forest veterinarian Scott Weldy of Serrano Animal and Bird Hospital said that so far, the reports have been anecdotal, with no evidence tying the problems to the chicken jerky treats.

“Right now they’re basically not blaming anything,” he says. “They’re saying it might be from chicken treats, but they don’t know yet.”

According to the comments on VIN, Weldy says, veterinarians are reporting cases infrequently, “maybe one case every week or two or three.” Some cases have a reasonably suspicious history.

“Right now it is speculation,” he says. “Everybody wants to jump on a cause for everything that happens, and they’ll look for some common link. Cheap treats and cheap foods are by far more popular than more expensive things because people are trying to save money. A lot more people are using cheaper products or are being sold products that are marketed better, so they’re more common in the market. Sometimes those get blamed first when they have nothing to do with anything.”

Nonetheless, it doesn’t hurt to be cautious.

“I would be skeptical to put a cause-and-effect relationship on the chicken treats right now, but I also wouldn’t feed my dog a chicken jerky treat right now,” he says. “It’s an easy thing to avoid.”

Limit the amount of jerky treats you give to a small dog. If you give your dog chicken jerky treats, pay attention if the dog’s appetite or activity level decreases, if it vomits or has diarrhea, or starts to drink more water and urinate more frequently. Signs can occur within hours to days of giving the treats.

Stop giving the jerky if your dog shows any of these signs, and take him to the veterinarian if the signs are severe or continue for more than a day. Blood tests should be run to check for kidney failure or an increase in liver enzymes and urine tests to check for increased glucose levels. Treatment involves supportive care, such as fluids and electrolyte supplements.

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