Like most moms, I take my job as a parent seriously. I strive to provide safe, healthy products for my beloved boy in order to ensure he is able to enjoy a long, happy life.
But because I have a furkid, not a human child, I have been disappointed to discover just how much harder that task is than it needs to be. The marketplace is saturated with products –– from toys to treats to food –– that are unhealthy, unsafe or even downright deadly.
To prevent those items from coming into my home, I have spent countless hours doing research. I know to be wary of products made in different countries and how to gauge how a given toy will fare with my 8-year-old golden retriever, Sosa — also known as “Iron Jaws” due to his ability to chew through any toy made of tennis-ball material, plastic or rubber (yes, even the so-called “indestructible” Kongs have proved to be no match for him).
I also learned to carefully read, and properly interpret, pet food labels. I was surprised to find out just how many supposedly top brands boast of healthy ingredients and then list a filler, such as corn, as the top ingredient, as opposed to a high-quality, lean protein source, such as deboned chicken (chicken or poultry by-product meals are not the same, by the way).
It turns out corn is also a known cause of allergies in some dogs, so I sought out a grain-free formula for my allergy-prone pup — a decision that has greatly helped ease some of his worst allergy symptoms.
I also discovered that some dog food companies — such as the brand I now buy, Blue Buffalo — list calorie counts per cup of food. Information like that allows veterinarians to calculate how many calories a dog should consume each day, based on factors including his activity level, age, metabolism and more.
Yet despite the effort I have devoted to protecting my pet, I recently learned that the pricey, 97-percent fat-free chicken jerky strips I have been feeding my somewhat-chunky monkey as a substitute for calorie-laden treats may be far more of a threat to his health than carrying a few extra pounds.
According to Food and Drug Administration records, nearly 1,000 dogs in the United States have become ill, or even died, after consuming chicken jerky pet treats in recent months.
Three top brands were frequently cited in complaints: Waggin’ Train and Canyon Creek Ranch — both produced by Nestle Purina PetCare Co. — and Milo’s Kitchen Home-style Dog Treats, produced by the Del Monte Corp.
However, despite the fact that Nestle Purina and Del Monte are American companies, and the labels often sport American flags and U.S. mailing addresses (as the brand I was buying did), reading the fine print shows the jerky was, in fact, manufactured in China.
Del Monte and Nestle Purina both insist the jerky is perfectly safe, and the illnesses are unrelated. So far, FDA tests have failed to find any conclusive cause for the illnesses in the jerky, but they are continuing to test samples for a variety of toxins.
Not yet knowing which toxin is responsible for the deaths, however, does not mean the jerky treats are in the clear. There have been far too many illnesses and deaths to chalk this up to mere coincidence. China’s spotty food-safety record is well-documented, and like most pet parents out there, I’m simply not willing to risk my dog’s health while waiting for proof positive that the jerky is unsafe.
Unfortunately, the several pet stores I visited still stock their shelves with the products and seem disinclined to remove them until a recall is issued. And government regulation of pet products is nowhere near as stringent as it is with items intended for humans. So until they all step up, pet parents need to take extra precautions to protect their furry family members. Please spread the word, and read labels — even the fine print — very carefully.
My family lost a dog — Sosa’s litter mate, Sammy — to bone cancer last December, and we still feel the loss caused by his premature passing. No amount of label-reading could have prevented his cancer, but the deaths caused by these treats could have been avoided — and countless families could have been spared that pain.
City editor Amy Gehrt may be reached email@example.com.