Feb. 10, 2012 at 3:44 PM ET
Amid reports of more than 500 dogs sickened by chicken jerky pet treats imported from China, government health officials are ramping up port inspections for dangerous toxins.
Food and Drug Administration officials have begun collecting and testing chicken jerky treats upon import, analyzing samples for evidence of melamine and melamine analogs and diethylene glycol, chemicals used in plastics and resins, a spokeswoman said.
Melamine-tainted imported pet food sickened and killed thousands of dogs and cats in the U.S. in 2007, leading to massive recalls and criminal indictments of Chinese and American pet food executives.
So far, FDA officials have found no evidence of harmful levels of melamine or other substances in the chicken jerky treats, said spokeswoman Tamara Ward. But the agency has increased its surveillance of the products, even as repeated chemical and microbial tests have failed to reveal a source for illnesses that continue to mount.
FDA now has received 537 reports of illnesses in dogs, including 467 reports since it issued a renewed warning about chicken jerky treats from China in November. That number includes 353 reports logged in 2011 and 184 submitted so far this year, Ward said.
Pet owners and veterinarians are reporting that animals have been stricken with a range of symptoms within hours or days of eating chicken jerky treats, including serious problems such as kidney failure and Fanconi syndrome, a condition marked by low blood sugar.
The illnesses appear tied to imported Chinese chicken jerky products, also sold as chicken tenders, chicken strips or chicken treats.
FDA scientists have worked for months to detect a source of illnesses, Ward said. Samples have been tested for drugs, poisons and mycotoxins, as well as for heavy metals and certain chemicals.
Still, the source of the problem remains a mystery and no specific brands or products have been named or recalled in connection with the illnesses, FDA officials said.
The November warning was the agency’s third alert about chicken jerky treats in four years. Previous cautions were issued in 2007 and 2008. In 2007, 156 reports of dog illnesses tied to chicken jerky were logged, but the number fell sharply, to just 41 in 2008, according to FDA reports.
Consumers can report suspicious illnesses to the FDA’s Pet Food Complaint site.