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Opinion: Beware pet treats made in China

More than 3,600 dogs  (and 10 cats) have been sickened in the U.S. since 2007, and 580 of those pets have died, after eating jerky pet treats made in China — and the cases continue to pile up.

Dogs of all breeds, ages and sizes have gotten sick or died after eating chicken, duck and sweet potato jerky treats.

The Food and Drug Ad-ministration has been trying to track down the source of the problem without success, even sending investigators to China to inspect pet jerky plants there — and is now asking the public,  and veterinarians across the country, for help.

“This is one of the most elusive and mysterious outbreaks we’ve encountered,” says Bernadette Dunham, director of the FDA’s center for veterinary Medicine.

“Our beloved four-legged companions deserve our best effort, and we are giving it.”

In some cases, veterinarians will be asked to provide blood, urine and tissue samples from their patients for further analysis.

FDA will request written permission from pet owners and will cover the costs, including shipping, of any tests it requests.

Within hours of eating treats sold as jerky tenders or strips made of chicken, duck, sweet potatoes or dried fruit, some pets have exhibited decreased appetite, decreased activity, vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes with blood or mucus), increased water consumption, and increased urination.

Severe cases have involved kidney failure, gastrointestinal bleeding, and a rare kidney disorder.

About 60 percent of cases involved gastrointestinal illness, and about 30 percent involved kidney and urinary systems.

The remaining cases reported various symptoms, such as sudden collapse, convulsions or skin issues.

Most of the jerky treats implicated have been made in China.

Manufacturers of pet foods are not required by U.S. law to state the country of origin for each ingredient in their products.

A number of jerky pet treat products were removed from the market in January 2013 after a New York State lab reported finding evidence of up to six drugs in certain jerky pet treats made in China.

While the levels of these drugs were very low and it’s unlikely that they caused the illnesses, FDA noted a decrease in reports of jerky-suspected illnesses after the products were removed from the market.

FDA believes that the number of reports may have declined simply because fewer jerky treats were available.

Meanwhile, the agency urges pet owners to be cautious about providing jerky treats.

If you do provide them and your pet becomes sick, stop the treats immediately, consider seeing your veterinarian, and save any remaining treats and the packaging for possible testing.

More than 1,200 jerky pet treat samples have been tested since 2011 for a variety of chemical and microbiological contaminants, from antibiotics to metals, pesticides and Salmonella.

DNA testing has also been conducted, along with tests for nutritional composition.

Pets don’t need jerky treats for a balanced diet, so why risk it?

Make your own pet treats, or buy local products — there’s a good manufacturer just down the road in Perham.