The FDA has sent an open letter to U.S. veterinarians requesting samples and information relating to a troubling string of illnesses and deaths in dogs and cats. The pet illnesses have been linked to tainted “jerky treats” made in China as far back as 2007. The agency is requesting that vets submit information to the FDA’s Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network to help assist with the ongoing investigation.

They have also requested that vets distribute jerky treat fact sheets to pet owners.

“This is one of the most elusive and mysterious outbreaks we’ve encountered,” said Dr. Bernadette Dunham, director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, in a news release. “Our beloved four-legged companions deserve our best effort, and we are giving it.”

The incident started in 2007 when the agency began receiving a higher than normal volume of complaints of dogs and some cats exhibiting decreased appetite, lethargy, vomiting and diarrhea after eating a variety of brand name jerky-style treats, all of which were manufactured in China. Food Safety News reports that approximately 580 dogs have died in connection with the treats and 3,600 have gotten sick since then.

In some cases, dogs fell ill within hours of eating the treats, while other dog owners report their pets eating the treats for years with no ill effects. In extreme cases, some dogs have suffered from kidney failure, intestinal bleeding, and a rare kidney disorder called Fanconi syndrome.

The FDA has conducted 1,200 tests on various brands of treats, but has so far not discovered any clear cause of the illnesses.  Even several in-person inspections of Chinese plants did not turn up a culprit.

The agency is urging pet owners who observe any symptoms of illness in their animals to stop serving the treats immediately, consider contacting a veterinarian, and most importantly for the investigation, to save any remaining treats and packaging, especially lot numbers, to help investigators track down this elusive contamination.

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