The Food and Drug Administration is asking dog and cat owners to report any problems their pets have had after eating jerky pet treats.
Click here to see Andrew Pereira's report.
In a notice to consumers and veterinarians, the agency says it has linked illnesses from jerky treats to 3,600 dogs and 10 cats since 2007 and of those, approximately 580 animals have died. The only common denominator appears to be jerky treats manufactured in China.
Since 2011, the FDA says its Center for Veterinary Medicine has run more than 1,200 tests, visited pet treat manufacturing plants in China and worked with researchers, state labs and foreign governments, but still hasn't determined the root cause of the mystery illness. DNA testing has also been conducted, along with tests for nutritional composition.
"This is one of the most elusive and mysterious outbreaks we've encountered," said 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."
Dr. Richard Fujie of King Street Pet Hospital in Honolulu hasn't heard of any recent cases in Hawaii associated with jerky treats. However, he treated a sick dog a couple of years ago after the animal ate jerky treats from a big box store.
"It was hospitalized for about a week, and came in for another couple of weeks for care," said Fujie. "It was reversible, luckily."
The FDA says symptoms can begin hours after a dog consumes a jerky treat. They include decreased appetite and activity, vomiting, diarrhea, increased water consumption and possibly an increase in urination.
"If the dog's not eating, that's always a good sign that something is going on," said Fujie. "If the dog does it again, they should give us a call or come in."
Local dog trainer Nancy Tapia has been leery of pet products manufactured in China since March 2007, when dog food tainted with melamine caused hundreds, if not thousands, of dogs and cats to die.
"Most of my clients, they're pretty smart about giving their dogs good food, but lots of times people give gifts and you don't want to throw something away," said Tapia. "You just have to be extra-careful."
Under U.S. law, pet food manufacturers are not required to list the country of origin for each ingredient they use. Fujie says it's important to remember that snacks are not a required part of a pet's diet. But if you are going to reward your four-legged friend, he recommends using only natural ingredients.
"Beef or chicken," he says. "Boil it, chop it up (and) freeze it. It's a lot safer and you know what's in there."
The FDA has also issued a consumer fact sheet for veterinarians and pet owners on what to look for. A link to the fact sheet can be found by clicking here.