A Houston woman said she went through a nightmare involving deadly dog treats while visiting relatives in Connecticut last week.

Sallie Des Biens said she bought some Waggin’ Train chicken jerky treats at a grocery store for her daughter-in-law’s dog, Major.  After Des Biens fed Major a few treats, the dog went into liver failure and died.

“My daughter-in-law is a med student and couldn’t be home when her dog died. I feel so guilty,” Des Biens said. “I don’t have any pets, and mistakenly assumed if you could buy something at any store, it must be safe.”

Des Biens did some research and discovered other cases where chicken jerky was suspected in animal poisonings.

In fact, the FDA issued a warning in November: “In the last 12 months, FDA has seen an increase in the number of complaints it received of dog illnesses associated with consumption of chicken jerky products imported from China.

FDA is advising consumers who choose to feed their dogs chicken jerky products to watch their dogs closely for any or all of the following signs that may occur within hours to days of feeding the products: decreased appetite; decreased activity; vomiting; diarrhea, sometimes with blood; increased water consumption and/or increased urination. If the dog shows any of these signs, stop feeding the chicken jerky product. Owners should consult their veterinarian if signs are severe or persist for more than 24 hours.”

The federal Food and Drug Administration logged at least 353 reports of illnesses tied to imported chicken jerky products in late 2011, also sold as chicken tenders, chicken strips or chicken treats, a spokeswoman said.

That’s up from 70 reports of illnesses — and some deaths — received in 2011 before the Center for Veterinary Medicine issued an updated warning on Nov. 18.

Dog owners and veterinarians are reporting that animals have been stricken with a range of symptoms within hours or days of eating chicken jerky, including serious problems such as kidney failure and Fanconi syndrome, a condition marked by low blood sugar.

In the J Am Anim Hosp Assoc. 2011 Nov;47(6):e178-87, An Hooper reported that four small-breed dogs were diagnosed with acquired Fanconi syndrome. All of the dogs ate varying amounts of chicken jerky treats. According to the report, all dogs were examined for similar clinical signs that included, but were not limited to, lethargy, vomiting, anorexia, diarrhea, and altered thirst and urination.

The quantity of chicken jerky consumed could not be determined; however, based on the histories obtained, the chicken jerky treats were a significant part of the diet and were consumed daily by all dogs. Extensive diagnostic testing eliminated other causes of the observed clinical signs, such as urinary tract infection and rickettsial disease.  All of the dogs were diagnosed with Fanconi syndrome and received supportive care, including IV fluids, antibiotics, gastroprotectants, and oral nutritional supplements. Three dogs exhibited complete resolution of glucosuria, proteinuria, and the associated azotemia; however, one dog remained azotemic, resulting in a diagnosis of chronic kidney disease.

What is Fanconi Syndrome?

Signs of Fanconi syndrome can include decreased appetite, decreased activity, vomiting, and increased water consumption and/or increased urination. Blood tests may show increased urea nitrogen and creatinine. Urine tests may indicate Fanconi syndrome (increased glucose). It is often confused with diabetes.  Fanconi syndrome affects the kidneys and causes them to leak glucose (sugar) and other electrolytes into the urine.  Dogs that have this condition will usually be very thirsty and will urinate excessive amounts.  The most common finding in laboratory tests is that the dog has glucose in the urine, but has a normal blood glucose level.

What ingredient from China is causing the problem?

At this point we don’t know what exactly is causing the problem.  Vets are seeing more cases of Fanconi syndrome than usual. In 2007, there were many reported cases of Fanconi syndrome in the USA.  These cases were linked to melamine contamination in treats made in China.

In 2009, there was a rash of cases of dogs with Fanconi syndrome in Australia.  These were connected to either chicken treats or dental chews that were made with corn, soy and rice.

What do I do if I think my dog has Fanconi syndrome?

If your dog is drinking and urinating more and he or she has eaten chicken treats from China, then it goes without saying that you should stop giving those treats.  The next step is to have your vet examine your dog and do some blood and urine tests.  These tests will quickly tell whether the dog has Fanconi syndrom or whether there is another problem such as diabetes, cushing’s or kidney disease.  If there is Fanconi syndrome the vet will tell you whether it looks like there is damage to the kidneys.  If so, they may need to give intravenous fluids for a few days.

In the meantime, despite many complaints about the product, Waggin Train Chicken Tenders have not been recalled.  In fact, their website states the following:
A Note About Chicken Jerky
On Nov. 18, 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an update about chicken jerky treats for dogs.  Consistent with their prior 2007 and 2008 statements, the FDA has been unable to determine a definitive cause of reported dog illnesses or a direct link to chicken jerky products.  To date, extensive chemical and microbial testing performed by the FDA has not uncovered a contaminant or cause of illness from any chicken jerky treat, including Waggin’ Train treats.

The FDA continues to advise dog owners that chicken jerky products should not be substituted for a balanced diet, and are intended to be fed occasionally in small quantities.  The FDA has previously reported that any association between dog illnesses and chicken jerky may be the result of dogs (primarily small dogs) consuming treats in excess of normal or recommended levels.

Consumers are encouraged to read and follow the feeding guidelines found on Waggin’ Train packages.

Waggin’ Train has a comprehensive food safety program in place to ensure the safety of our products. We only use high-quality ingredients in our products, and the production facilities are designed and operated to meet U.S. Department of Agriculture standards. We have a dedicated team of quality control experts in China – particularly, in the plants – when Waggin’ Train products are being produced. They monitor various steps of the manufacturing process for safety and quality of the product.

The safety and efficacy of our products is our top priority, and consumers can and should continue to feed Waggin’ Train treats with total confidence.”

Once more, the onus is on pet owners to educate themselves and be conscientious about how and where their dog’s food and treats are manufactured.  It is up to you to protect your own dog and an important first step is to not feed him commercial foods that are manufactured outside the country.  This includes most kibbles because they contain premixes that are manufactured outside the US and they are not required to state this on the product label.   If you wish to feed your dog chicken jerky treats, find a local producer or, better yet, buy a food dehydrator and make them yourself!  That is the only way you will know for sure what is going into your pet.

Want to file a complaint?

If your dog has been affected PLEASE file a complaint with the FDA. You can do so here.