Three things to know about the jerky illnesses

Let’s imagine, for a moment, that there is a serial killer loose in your town. One by one, he picks little kids off from the local playground, and it’s horrible and awful. The police are working around the clock, but the killer remains elusive.

But he only ever chooses his victims from that one playground.

You wouldn’t take your kids there, right? Even if *most* of the kids who play there end up ok, even if the police chief says, well, it might be OK now? Why take that chance, when there are plenty of safe alternatives?

That’s kind of how I feel about this jerky thing. From the latest FDA update:

The agency has repeatedly issued alerts to consumers about reports it has received concerning jerky pet treat-related illnesses involving 3,600 dogs and 10 cats in the U.S. since 2007. Approximately 580 of those pets have died.

Since 2007, guys. Keep in mind that the FDA is usually all over dog foods when there is potential human illness involved as well, but the wheels turn a little more slowly when there is no indication people are also getting sick. Regardless, I’m glad they are becoming involved- and the level in which they are asking for veterinarians and consumers to participate is much higher than I’ve seen before- but there’s no indication when we might have some answers.


There’s really only three things I’m reminding people of here:

1. It’s not just chicken

Everyone keeps focusing on chicken jerky as the culprit, but some sickened dogs have eaten duck, fruit, or sweet potato jerkies as well. Most of the treats have come from China (they aren’t saying it outright in the fact sheet, but we can read between the lines here.)

2. The symptoms are diffuse

Not every dog has the same symptoms. Some have GI signs, some have liver issues, others have renal disease. There may be one cause but it is possible we are dealing with multiple contaminants, drugs, or toxins. Which is really frightening.

3. This is 100% entirely preventable

Now that we know it’s a problem, there’s an easy solution. Don’t feed jerky treats from China. They are not a necessary part of anyone’s daily nutrition. It won’t find the culprit, but it will keep your pet safe until they do. Here are some alternatives:

  • Make your own. No special equipment required.
  • Use fresh alternatives like baby carrots or apples
  • Become obsessive about label-reading. Even some products that appear to be from the US or distributed from the US have ingredients made in China. If you’re not sure, don’t buy it.

I made this video almost two years ago, and we STILL don’t know what is going on with those jerky treats.

YouTube Preview Image


Do you know anyone whose pet was sickened from jerky?

Filed: Blog, Cooking, Daily Life, Health Tagged: , , ,
  • E.A. Summers

    Obsessive about label reading … 3 years ago I was buying a treat from a local ranch supply with a brand that appeared “Western”. I had bought several packages when I noticed in very small print that they were made in China and only distributed by a U.S. company. It was extremely deceiving. The ingredient list looked good and did not note the source of ingredients – just the small “made in China” in a different area of the package from the ingredients.
    So, as you suggested, I’m obsessive about label reading and/or make my own.

    • Isn’t it awful how deceptive they are?

  • Jessi

    In the last few years I’ve also become obsessed with reading labels. I even found some bags in my home that I had bought previously and threw them out, despite the fact my two had eaten those same ones in the past with no ill effect.

    With this mess back in the news today though, my office started getting phone calls. Turns out some (I believe local) news was putting out the story with a Hill’s treat photo attached to it and client concerns skyrocketed (as it’s one of the things we sell in our office).

    • Oh man, I bet Hills loved that. :/

  • Leah Ackerson

    Thanks Dr. V for posting this. I pay a little more, but only get my dog treats from either my friend who owns her own dog treat business, or from local pet bakeries. I cringe when I walk into one of the big box stores and still see them on the shelves. Is there anything we can do about that?

    • Continue to complain, on their social media sites (which are usually monitored) and in person. Eventually, hopefully, they will get the hint!

  • KolchakPuggle

    That is the best analogy I have heard so far. Great way to put a bit of perspective on the whole situation.

  • JaneK

    you are always so good at keeping us informed and I know this is not a laughing matter in the slightest but I do have to share my chuckle…. l when I read your post title I was thinking your were going to be talking about illnesses that cause jerking movements like seizures or something. But, no, you were literally talking about jerky illness! For whatever reason, I have misread your posts titles on a number of occasions and the mis-reads (or misunderstanding in this case) are always funny. I just had to share ๐Ÿ™‚ thanks for keeping us informed!!

    • That is funny! Some titles are hard to write succinctly, for sure. Just for you I should do a mirror post with the same title about tonic-clonic seizures. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Some Guy

    Another reason not to buy ANYTHING from China.

  • I don’t trust commercial foods any more, and in consultation with my vet, have devised a recipe for my elderly dog. She is a 14 year old rescue from a puppy mill who has lived with me 6 yrs and was starting to show some kidney problems. Seems to have escaped that and is doing well. Some great treats are baked yam chips, apple slices and broccoli which can be shared with you!

  • Linda Case

    Thanks for another great post Dr. V, and a perfect analogy. This is an important and frightening problem that has been around for WAY too long. Love your blog and all that you do for dogs and their people. Thanks.

  • Sally Bahner

    This is gonna sting, but I can’t believe that after seven years of regular media postings, people are still buying this crap. Why? Big pet food is preying on people’s ignorance.

  • Cathey

    Thanks for the reminder, Dr. V – it’s easy to get lazy, but our friends are worth the effort of finding safe treats!

  • Great post. Thank you. My readers will enjoy this!

  • Parenting Furkids

    Five years ago, our previous 2 dogs got sick. The bloody, strawberry jam type, diarrhea & vomiting. Our Corgi got sick first. I asked the vet if it was anything contagious and would Dannyboy get sick too. He said he’d never seen any get sick at the same time with these symptoms in a LONG time. Well sure enough, 2 days later, Dannyboy got sick. I’m blaming the later on the fact that he was 3x larger than Sharkly. Same symptoms exactly. The vet was shocked, but then he was reading everything they ate too and perplexed. I contacted every company that they’d eaten anything from–Kibble, Canned, Treats. The only one that didn’t contact us back (after 3 emails–but everyone else was calling me within 3 hours of the email sent out) was one with sweet potato stuffed pork skin rolls. Until recently I didn’t know that sweet potato jerky was on the list of problematic items. I’m no longer betting that it was those that made them sick. I’m positive now. Because they never contacted me back, I didn’t give them to them again, and we’ve refused to buy anything from that company or China since.

  • Brianna Gemini

    Mine. $800 bill. Overnight hospital stay was required.

  • Kaileigh

    It’s terrifying just how hard it is to find out where companies source their ingredients from. “Made in USA”, “Made in Canada” was enough for me to be comfortable but through research (thank god not illness) I’ve discovered ingredient source information. It’s a lot of legwork but ALWAYS worth it!
    I always buy treats from local companies who only source their own ingredients and stick to vet brand food (Canin, Science Diet) for my animals. It shouldn’t be this easy to put animals at risk for profit.

  • Mollie Morrissette

    My hypothesis that some dogs have an immune response to sulfonamides is currently under investigation by FDA/CVM. Whether they will actually acknowledge the hypothesis depends largely on whether they want to continue trade with China. As my friend Tony Corbo (at Food and Water Watch) continually reminded me when I fretted over the FDA’s lack of action, “Mollie, it’s all about trade”.

  • Mollie Morrissette

    One more thing, it bears repeating that COOL laws do not apply to processed meat – so essentially pet food manufacturers do not have to label the country of origin of their product. You will never know for certain where it came from. There is no law preventing pet food manufacturers from labeling it ‘Made in the USA’ when it wasn’t.