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FDA says 580 pets have died from jerky-caused illness

(Reuters) - The Food and Drug Administration has turned to pet owners for help in an ongoing investigation into jerky products, most made in China, that have killed nearly 600 dogs and cats.

Since 2007, roughly 3,600 dogs and 10 cats have fallen ill - and more than 580 have died - from eating the sliced and dried meat products, the food inspection agency said in an update on Tuesday.

Pet owners and veterinarians were asked to report more cases in "one of the most elusive and mysterious outbreaks we've encountered," said Bernadette Dunham, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, in a statement posted on the FDA's website.

"Our beloved four-legged companions deserve our best effort, and we are giving it," Dunham said.

Symptoms displayed within hours of eating jerky include decreased appetite and activity, increased water and drinking and urination, vomiting and diarrhea. Severe cases involve gastrointestinal bleeding and kidney failure.

The jerky products were made of chicken, as well as duck, sweet potatoes and dried fruit and were sold under many brand names, most imported from China. An FDA spokeswoman declined to name any of the brands.

The FDA said it has inspected several manufacturing facilities in China, and continues to work with Chinese authorities.

Some jerky products were taken off the market in January, after the New York State Department of Agriculture and Marketing found six unapproved antibiotic drugs in the Chinese-made treats.

Until the investigation concludes, the FDA recommends that pet owners use caution in serving jerky to their animals.

"Pet treats are not a necessary part of a fully balanced diet, so eliminating them will not harm pets," the FDA said.

(Reporting by Luke Swiderski; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Marguerita Choy)

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