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FDA Investigates Safety Of Chicken Jerky Treats Made In China

DENVER (CBS4) Dog owners across the country are making the connection between chicken jerky treats that are made in China and serious illnesses in their dogs. The Food and Drug Administration, FDA, has gotten hundreds of complaints about the popular treats and has issued warnings, but so far there has been no recall.

Candace Thaxton of Westlake, Ohio blames chicken jerky treats made in China for the death of her dog, Chansey, a 10-year-old pug. Chansey went into kidney failure. When she got a new mixed breed puppy, Penny, and the puppy started having kidney problems, Thaxton made the connection. Chicken jerky treats made in China were the only thing the two dogs had in common.

"I was sitting at the computer and I saw the warning on the chicken jerky treats," Thaxton said.

The  FDA, has issued 3 warnings regarding chicken jerky treats made in China. In November 2011, the FDA warning stated that the agency saw an increase in the number of complaints it's received of dog illnesses, and the signs of illness included kidney problems.

"I went and grabbed the bag and when I looked at the bag, it said it was manufactured and distributed in South Carolina, but under the bar code it had 'Made In China'," Thaxton remembered.

It was a bag of Waggin' Train Chicken Jerky Treats. Thaxton was able to get Penny to the vet in time and she has since recovered, but the medical bills for both dogs total thousands of dollars. Thaxton contacted Nestle Purina, the makers of the treats.

"She told me that there were a thousand reasons why my pug could have died," Thaxton said.

Since then, Thaxton has been on a crusade to publicize the problem and hold the FDA and the treat makers accountable. She told her story to local television stations and called Senator Sherrod Brown, her representative in Ohio. Brown has since taken up the cause in Congress.

It was the television appearance that help Terry Safranek make the connection.

"Oh my gosh, that's exactly when and where my dog started getting sick," Safranek said.

The Brooklyn Heights, Ohio resident had a 9-year-old fox terrier named Sampson. Sampson also died from kidney failure.

"He was lethargic, he seemed sad, he seemed depressed, and he was drinking and urinating a lot," Safranek recalled.

Dog owners who are making the connection between chicken jerky treats made in China and illness in their dogs report these symptoms:

-- Decreased appetite

-- Decreased activity

-- Vomiting

-- Diarrhea – sometimes with blood

-- Increased water consumption

-- Increased urination

-- Kidney problems, including Fanconi-like syndrome

"I'm devastated because, I know, it came from my hand. I fed him the treat that killed him," Safranek said.

The FDA issued its first warning about the treats in 2007, another warning was issued in 2008, and then again in 2011 after the FDA saw the number of complaints rise. The agency reports doing extensive testing of the treats and finding nothing in them that would cause illness. In its latest update in March of 2012, the FDA states, "no specific products have been recalled because a definitive cause has not been determined". The FDA confirms that there are investigators in China inspecting the manufacturing plants and trying to find the cause of the problem.

RELATED: FDA Questions and Answers Regarding Chicken Jerky Treats from China

The makers of these products all say the safety of pets is their highest priority and there is no link between the illnesses and their treats.

"We have an extensive quality assurance process in place. We have looked at this and we continue to look at this, said Keith Schopp, a spokesperson for Nestle Purina.

RELATED: Chicken Jerky Treat Safety Information from Nestle Purina.

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RELATED: Safety and Quality Assurance from Del Monte Foods maker of Milo's Kitchen Chicken Jerky Dog Treats

Because there is no recall, these treats are still on store shelves. CBS4 found chicken jerky treats made in China for sale at Petco, PetSmart, and Walmart. Whole Foods and Costco carry treats made in the U.S.A. Petco, PetSmart and Walmart all say they are aware of the situation and are monitoring it. Each of the retailers sites the lack of a direct connection between the treats and the illnesses as the reason they haven't stopped selling the treats.

RELATED: Statement from Petco

RELATED: Statement from PetSmart

RELATED: Statement from Walmart

Despite the lack of a recall, many veterinarians are warning dog owners away from the chicken jerky treats made in China.

"If you have a bag in your cupboard?" asked 4 On Your Side Consumer Investigator Jodi Brooks.

"Throw it out," replied Dr. Shannon Jordan a veterinarian with Wheat Ridge Animal Hospital.

Jordan says she's treated one case that may have been related to chicken jerky treats made in China, but she can't be sure. CBS4 checked with about a dozen other local animal hospitals and clinics, most have not had any cases and several said they hadn't heard about the FDA warning. Dr. Jordan warns dog owners that kidney problems are nothing to play around with.

"It's progressive, typically. So you may start off with simple signs of not eating and vomiting, and it may progress to the point where we can't… those kidneys can't repair themselves," Jordan told CBS4.

There is an alternative to chicken jerky treats made in China. There are chicken jerky treats made in the U.S.A. In fact, there is a plant in Denver that makes chicken jerky treats. Kasel Industries makes Nature's Deli which is sold by major retailers like Costco, Target, Petco, and Sam's Club.

"We use fresh, human grade ingredients, fresh, human grade products. Everything we buy we bring in fresh from the slaughter houses or processing plants," said Raymond Kasel, president of Kasel Industries.

Doggie Treats Packaging
Chicken jerky treats for dogs being packaged in Denver, Colorado. (credit: CBS)

Nature's Deli offers a wide variety of dog treats all processed in the U.S.A. Kasel says his plants are inspected not only by the FDA but also by the Colorado Department of Agriculture.

"We are always scored as a human, food grade plant even though it's for pets, it's no difference," Kasel told CBS4.

Bold American flags stand out on Nature's Deli packaging. Most dog treats made in the U.S.A. are making their labels more prominent. Pet owners should know that if the label says "Manufactured for" or "Distributed by" an American company the product could still be made in China. You need to check the entire bag carefully to find the "Made in China" label.

"I fed my dogs poison," Thaxton said.

Knowledge came too late for Candace Thaxton and Terry Safranek. Now they are both working hard to make sure that other pet owners are educated on this issue.

"We don't want another dog to die from chicken jerky," Safranek said.

Safranek started an online petition urging Nestle Purina to pull it's treats made in China. So far the petition has gotten more than 60,000 signatures. She's also joined a facebook group called "Animal Parents Against Pet Treats Made in China!". The group has some 4,000 members and created a flyer to get the message out. Both women urge any pet owner who thinks their dog got sick from chicken jerky treats made in China to file a complaint with the FDA.

RELATED: More Reports By 4 On Your Side Consumer Investigator Jodi Brooks

- Written for the Web by CBS4 Special Projects Producer Libby Smith

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