Couple: Toxic jerky treats killed dog
PORT CHARLOTTE — When it came to choosing his best friend, Mark Keen selected a Brittany spaniel. Lyra was only 6 weeks old when he picked her out of a litter.
When she got big enough, Keen would take Lyra with him on hunting trips. Brittany spaniels exhibit a natural instinct to point, extending their tail, raising a paw and aiming their muzzle toward game. While Lyra was excellent at determining their next target, it was Mark who would have to wade in the mud or duck into the brush after a quail or a pheasant.
“She wasn’t the best retriever, but she was a good dog,” Keen chuckled.
Lyra was a perfectly healthy pet until about six months ago, when she got sick and died unexpectedly. It seems Lyra was only one of nearly 1,000 cases reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration of dogs that got sick or died after eating various varieties of jerky treats made in China. The FDA and the American Veterinary Medical Association first issued warnings about the treats in September 2007.
“That year we got several complaints about Fanconi-like symptoms,” said Michael San Filippo, media relations assistant for the AVMA. “It seemed there were more instances in Florida than anywhere else. We issued an alert but were never able to get a definitive answer as to why it was happening.”
Fanconi is a disease that eventually leads to kidney failure. Dogs that consumed the contaminated treats had symptoms of decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, increased water consumption and increased urination. The FDA issued additional warnings about the products in December 2008 and November 2011.
“There seemed to be a decline in the number of cases in 2009 and 2010, but lately there has been an increase,” San Filippo said.
In March 2012, MSNBC reported that internal FDA documents the news station had obtained showed the brands of chicken jerky that were most cited were Waggin’ Train, Canyon Creek Ranch and Milo’s Kitchen. This year, the FDA reported the product-associated complaints had expanded to other jerky pet-treat products, such as duck and sweet potato jerky.
Keen’s partner, Mary McNeely, had given Lyra and two of their other dogs Milo’s Kitchen chicken jerky treats. All three dogs became ill with diarrhea, and McNeely and Keen took them to a veterinarian. A blood test showed severe toxins in Lyra’s blood, according to McNeely. Within a week, Lyra was dead. The other two dogs eventually recovered.
“She wasn’t a young dog, so that probably had something to do with it,” Keen said. “But it still happened.”
The FDA has warned owners to “seek immediate treatment” if their dogs display any of the symptoms after eating the treats, but it has not recalled any products. In July 2012, the FDA released the results of multiple tests conducted on the products, but all chemical levels were considered to be nontoxic.
According to San Filippo, recalls are almost always voluntary. Only in rare cases will the FDA request a recall, and without sufficient evidence, it is limited as to what regulatory action can be taken — complaints alone are not enough.
Keen and McNeely, owners of a pet-sitting business, said they get the word out by telling their customers not to buy the jerky products made in China.
“Pets become part of the family,” Keen said. “It’s a shame to see them die over something like this, and I’m disappointed these products are still being sold.”