DENVER (CBS4) – Jerky treats are a popular snack for dogs. Store shelves are full of them made from chicken, duck , even sweet potatoes. But now the Food and Drug Administration is reporting it’s received 4,800 complaints from pet owners saying that treats made in China caused their dogs to get sick.
The latest numbers came out on May 16, and include reports of illnesses in 5,600 dogs, 24 cats and three people. An FDA spokesperson tells CBS4 that the human sicknesses were three separate cases involving two toddlers and an adult, who got sick from eating the treats. The report also says that more than 1,000 dog deaths have been linked to the treats.
In the May 16 update, the FDA reaffirmed its commitment to testing the treats. The agency says it’s done more than 1,000 tests on the treats since it first started investigating in 2007. But scientists still don’t know what is causing the animals to get sick and die.
CBS4 first started warning dog owners about jerky treats made in China in 2012. Since then we’ve talked to dog owners from across the country who say they’ve lost beloved pets.
Doug Danger lives in Denver and lost his yellow lab, Gracie, in 2013. He tells CBS4 that he thinks of her every day, even after a year.
“She trusted me for everything. We were inseparable,” Danger said.
Rita DeSollar spoke to CBS4 via Skype from Illinois. She lost her German Shepard, Heidi, in 2012.
“She was my child. She was my baby. She was my world,” DeSollar said.
Danger and DeSollar are frustrated with the slow response to this national problem. They’re not the only ones. Animal Parents Against Pet Treats Made In China is a Facebook group with 12,000 members. So far this social media movement has petitioned stores to stop selling the treats, encouraged members to put up warning stickers at stores, and testified in Washington, D.C., for stricter quality-control measures on pet products.
“It makes me even more committed to raising awareness, so people have the warning I didn’t have,” DeSollar said.
She is one of several plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit against Waggin’ Train LLC and Nestle Purina PetCare Company, two of the makers of the treats. Lawyers reached a settlement agreement in the lawsuit on May 30. It calls for the companies to change the way they manufacture and test the treats, to make the “Made In China” label more prominent and to set aside $6.5 million to pay medical and death expenses for pet owners. The court still needs to review and approve the settlement proposal.
“It’s not about the money. It has never been about the money,” DeSollar said.
In the days after the FDA report, retailers Petco and PetSmart announced that within a year they will no longer be selling treats made in China. Within the last couple of weeks, CBS4’s hidden cameras found bag after bag of jerky treats with “Made In The U.S.A.” labeling, but CBS4 also found treats made in China still on store shelves.
The makers of Waggin’ Train Chicken Jerky Treats issued a voluntary recall in 2013, but are once again selling treats made in China. The company’s website says it’s in complete control of the entire production process from beginning to end.
LINK: Waggin’ Train
Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald has been a veterinarian at VCA Alameda East Veterinary Hospital for 32 years. He says he’s seen cases of dogs getting sick from the treats, but not as many lately. He warns pet parents that they need to become label-readers for their furry friends, and they need to be diligent in making sure the treats they give their pets are healthy and safe.
“With treats and with many edibles, they fall through the slats. They aren’t tested and they aren’t held to the same strict requirements that drugs are,” Fitzgerald told CBS4.
Meanwhile the search continues for a cause to why these treats cause animals to get sick and die. The FDA has enlisted the Centers for Disease Control to do further testing. Members of Animal Parents Against Pet Treats Made In China are working on new ways to raise awareness of the issue and hold the pet industry accountable for animal health.
–Written for CBSDenver.com by Special Projects Producer Libby Smith