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Dr. Pawz: Beware of the pet treat label 'Made in China'

Thursday - 1/17/2013, 9:23am  ET

Katy_Nelson.jpg
Dr. Katy Nelson (Courtesy Rich Kessler Designs)

Katy Nelson, special to wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Over the past few years, you may have noticed an increase in pet food recalls. You also may have noticed that many of these recalled products have a "Made in China" label on them.

In the last six years, the Food and Drug Administration has received more than 2,200 complaints of pet illnesses and deaths due to consumption of Chinese-made jerky pet treats (mostly chicken jerky treats, but duck, sweet potato and jerky wrapped treats have been reported as well).

Over the past 18 months, the complaints have contained reports of 360 canine deaths and one feline death. Cases have been reported from all 50 states and six Canadian provinces.

The FDA has been actively investigating these reports, but no definitive cause has been identified yet. A large team of experts from around the world are currently working to sort through the theories as to why these treats are causing illnesses, including products leftover from irradiation and, more recently, antibiotic residue found in the treats.

The brands most frequently implicated in these complaints have been Waggin' Train and Canyon Ranch jerky treat products of Nestle Purina and Milo's Kitchen Home-Style Dog Treats made by Del Monte Corp. Until last week, no recalls had been issued regarding these treats, and they were still readily available at pet stores and grocery stores.

Petitions have been circulating for months, and several lawsuits have been filed against the companies, urging them to pull the treats from the shelves to protect the pet population from possible illness.

This week, both Nestle Purina and Del Monte Corp announced they are voluntarily removing the treats from stores after a trace amount of an antibiotic was found during an investigation by the New York State Department of Agriculture. Both companies released statements maintaining that no evidence has been found that the antibiotic is harmful.

Rob Leibowitz, Del Monte's general manager for Pet Products, issued a statement: "Pet safety and consumer confidence in our products are our top priorities, and while there is no known health risk, the presence of even trace amounts of these antibiotics does not meet our high quality standards. Therefore, today we decided to recall both products and asked retailers to remove the products from their shelves."

A message on the Waggin' Train website emphasizes that there are no health risk to pets, and "no indication that the trace amounts of antibiotic residue are linked to the FDA's ongoing investigation of chicken jerky products."

Regardless of the companies' confidence in these products, consumer confidence has certainly waned, and so has mine. My best advice is if you are feeding products to your pets with the label "Made in China," you may want to think twice.

If you have fed these products to your pet in the past, let your veterinarian know if your pet has experienced any of the following: decreased appetite, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea or increased thirst and increased urination. Any of these signs could be related to any number of illnesses, but it's always better to be safe than sorry.

I've always said that treats are unnecessary as they are not a balanced source of nutrition and generally too high in calories for an already overweight pet population. However, many people are committed to giving treats to their pets.

If you do decide to give treats to your pets, choose a low calorie and safe option, and always ask your veterinarian if you need a recommendation.

For more information on the FDA's investigation, visit the FDA's website.

And join me next month on "The Pet Show" on News Channel 8 Saturday at 11 a.m. as I host Tony Corbo, senior lobbyist for the Food and Water Watch, to discuss this recall and what the Food and Water Watch is doing to help.

I'll be back next week right here on WTOP Living answering your pet-related questions. Want your question answered? Email me at AskDrKaty@wtop.com.

Follow @WTOPLiving on Twitter.

(Copyright 2013 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)