It's been six years, and the FDA is now so thoroughly vexed by the mysterious Case of the Junky Jerky, it's asking the public to help finger the perp. But solved or not, this hairy whodunit has already put a troubling truth about pet food on trial.
Since 2007, the FDA has been receiving reports of pets sickened by jerky treats. Some 3,600 dogs (and 10 cats with horrible luck) have suffered debilitating gastrointestinal and kidney symptoms, and 580 have died. The problem has been traced to various jerkies made in China and sold by a number of brands, but that's about as much as investigators know. The exact culprit remains unknown, and without a direct cause to point to, the agency can't issue any recalls.
That's not the only area where the FDA hasn't been able to act. Currently there are no agency rules governing the production of pet foods. This may help explain the 31 pet food recalls so far this year, which themselves constitute an excellent argument for change. That change may be coming if the agency adopts newly proposed pet food production rules made possible by 2010's Food Safety and Modernization Act, which revamped food safety laws for the first time in 80 non-dog years.
It's a good start but it remains largely up to us to protect our pooches and coddle our kitties. Here are some steps we can take:
- Check FDA recall page frequently. There's nearly a new recall every week! Make sure any food or treats you're using aren't on the list.
- Consider making your own pet edibles. Lots of resources explain how to do it, and the benefits are many.
- If you choose commercial foods, always buy products free of packaging damage like dents and tears.
- Dry food should be stored in dry conditions under 80° F. Store it in its original bag inside a clean, dedicated plastic container with a lid, and keep the bag closed.
- Don't use your pet's bowl as a scoop. Dedicate an old cup or other tool for the purpose and wash it regularly.
- Wash pet food bowls in hot soapy water after every meal.
- Wash your hands for before and after handling pet foods and treats.
- If possible, feed your pet outside your kitchen.
- Refrigerate leftover wet pet food immediately.
- Buy individually packaged treats rather than those from bulk bins. They're less likely to have issues.
- Use people food for treats. Cored unskinned apple slices, baby carrots, frozen green beans, unsalted natural peanut butter stuffed onto rubber chew toys, and dehydrated sweet potato slices are all okay for dogs. Cats can have steamed broccoli, canned fish, bananas, or lean deli meats.
- Go American-made. Imported pet edibles have been at the center of too many problems lately!
Until the FDA is able to put some bite in pet food regulations, these common sense steps are the best options for our furry friends .