Is Your Dog’s Health at Risk? Learn From Our Experience

Of all the things I did out of love for my Pomeranian puppy, one thing almost killed him. And, surprisingly, many loving toy dog owners are unknowingly doing it too.

Kona was born on Thanksgiving Day in 2006, and we continue to give thanks for the life and love of our black and fluffy, at times mischievous, little boy. Little did we know that danger lurked for him, concealed in plastic packaging.

Between the age of 3-6 months, we began to give chicken jerky strips to Kona as a treat. Purchasing them at the local pet store, the young lady at the counter mentioned, “The little dogs get so addicted to these.” Kona had become very attached to me, and suffered anxiety when I left for work in the morning. One chicken jerky strip seemed to ease his crying.

A month later, I received an email from our breeder warning us that dogs were becoming ill from chicken jerky from China. That’s when I checked the bag. I was surprised to find three words in very small print on the back of the label, at the bottom: Made in China. I emailed her back and told her that I had been feeding Kona them for awhile. She responded that perhaps it would be okay, if he hadn’t had any ill effects.

In the late spring of 2007, Kona became suddenly ill. He was unable to rise from his doggie bed, and thumped his tail as best he could to show he was happy to see me. What was wrong with him? He refused water. He refused food. However, he would accept a chicken jerky strip. I thought this would give him some protein and sustenance.

The next day it hit me. It had to be the chicken jerky. I stopped all feeding of the imported chicken jerky and made an appointment for the veterinarian. Until then, I hydrated Kona with forced liquid and baby cereal. Within 2-3 days, he was miraculously improved. Kona was lucky. I believe that due to his youth, and hopefully our quick action, he was able to survive. We hope and pray that Kona does not suffer long-term ill effects.

During this time period, we were frantically searching for an alternative to the foreign produced chicken jerky for dogs. Checking with the same local pet store, we asked the owner if she carried any chicken jerky that wasn’t from China. She responded, “We don’t carry any pet food from China.”  I took her to the treat aisle and we looked at the labels together. All of the packages had those three little words in very small letters: “Made in China”.  She was amazed!

I was having a tough time finding chicken jerky products for dogs that were made in America! So, my husband and I began experimenting dehydrating chicken jerky with supermarket bought chicken, “USDA inspected”, the same chicken we bought for the family. Eventually, we came up with a chip that Kona was wild about and we didn’t have to worry about the imported chicken jerky anymore! We started calling them Kona’s Chips, but it wasn’t until almost a year later that we began to share Kona’s Chips with loving pet owners all over the country.

In the fall of 2007 The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued two warnings for caution in feeding dogs chicken jerky from foreign sources, and again in December of 2008 (see link at end of article). Warnings were also issued from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) stating that “jerky treats from China could be causing illness in pets” and the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (ACVIM) which stated, “an unusual number of dogs with very similar presenting complaints and clinico-pathologic testing results associated with the ingestion of jerky treats from a variety of brands. They report that these are typically small dogs that present with a history of vomiting, lethargy and anorexia. They have all consumed jerky treats (mostly chicken jerky) within a few weeks prior to becoming anorexic.” The FDA reported tests were inconclusive as no single definitive contaminant could be isolated, and while certain products were removed from shelves, no product was ever recalled.

Sadly, many other dogs, mostly toys, have not been as lucky as Kona. In doing research, I came across Lacie’s Site dedicated to Lacie, a beautiful Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy, who died from kidney failure from consuming what her owner calls “poisonous pet jerky treats”. Heartbreaking stories are posted, all from dog owners whose pets have been made ill or have died from foreign pet treats. Keanu, a Chihuahua puppy from Lancaster, California, died in April of 2008 within two hours of eating one imported chicken jerky chip. His devastated owner took Keanu everywhere with her, in his stroller and her puppy dog purse. Ali, a healthy four-year old Italian Greyhound starting having a seizure after each tainted jerky treat. Veterinary bills piled up, but once the treats were stopped, the seizures did as well. While most of the affected breeds have been small or toys such as Yorkies, Chihuahuas, Italian Greyhounds, Pomeranian, Maltese and toy breed mixes, larger breeds have also been affected. Another heartbreaking story about a dog who consumed chicken jerky from China, which was left as a gift under the Christmas tree in December of 2008; the poor dog died on Christmas Day as his owners loaded him into the car to go to the emergency vet.

The FDA lists the following symptoms as warnings:

decreased appetite, although some may continue to eat the treats but not other food
decreased activity, or lethargy
vomiting and diarrhea, sometimes with blood
increased water drinking and urination

An individual dog may show some or all of these signs. Blood tests may indicate kidney failure (increased urea nitrogen and creatinine). Urine tests may indicate Fanconi syndrome (increased glucose).

Although most dogs appear to recover, some dogs have died. The addictiveness of the foreign jerky treats remains a mystery. Pet owners and veterinarians alike have noted that even ill dogs will still consume them. A loving owner of a Yorkie recently contacted me with her story when her young dog began to show some of the warning signs listed above. She shared with me, “Sadly, she is going through withdrawals from the other strips and has been absolutely driving us crazy! We have never seen such frantic behavior. My husband says it’s the way addicts act when they are coming off drugs. She was glassy-eyed and would leap into my lap, place her little paws on my chest and try to beat on me! It has been so heartbreaking to witness, but we are sticking to our guns. She has stopped being such a lazybones and napping throughout the day and is way more active. We had friends over this weekend and they couldn’t believe the way she acted!”

The mission of Kona’s Chips is to help raise awareness to the danger of foreign chicken jerky and to dedicate our product to all dogs who have become ill or have died as a result. While most dog owners are aware of the massive pet food recalls and the problems associated with foreign food products, imported chicken treat products for dogs still line the shelves at most major chain stores. We ask that loving dog owners check the labels of these products for country of origin. And if knowledgeable breeders can pass this information along to their new puppy owners, it would help to raise awareness.