Pet Safety a concern for the FDA
Many of our readers don't realize that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concerns itself with the health and well being of our furry family members as well as the two-legged ones. Current issues of concern for the FDA and how Jerky Treats are causing Canine Illness and Heartworm issues in both Bogs and Cats. Pet Safety is a lot more than just having yur Dog and Cat First Aid Kits ready to go - learn more about these issues that may be affecting your pets even though you aren't aware of them. Why Are Jerky Treats Making Pets Sick? Thousands of dogs and some cats in the U.S. have gotten sick after eating jerky pet treats. Despite extensive investigations, the cause remains elusive. FDA scientists are broadening the search for the cause by soliciting samples and information from consumers and veterinarians. Herky Jerky? If you have a dog or cat that became ill after eating jerky pet treats, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would like to hear from you or your veterinarian. The agency has repeatedly issued alerts to consumers about reports it has received concerning jerky pet treat-related illnesses involving 3,600 dogs and 10 cats in the U.S. since 2007. Approximately 580 of those pets have died. To date, FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) has conducted more than 1,200 tests, visited jerky pet treat manufacturers in China and collaborated with colleagues in academia, industry, state labs and foreign governments. Yet the exact cause of the illnesses remains elusive. To gather even more information, FDA is reaching out to licensed veterinarians and pet owners across the country. "This is one of the most elusive and mysterious outbreaks we've encountered," says CVM Director Bernadette Dunham, DVM, Ph.D. "Our beloved four-legged companions deserve our best effort, and we are giving it." In a letter addressing U.S. licensed veterinarians, FDA lists what information is needed for labs testing treats and investigating illness and death associated with the treats. 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. Meanwhile, a consumer fact sheet will accompany the letter to veterinarians so they can alert consumers to the problem and remind them that treats are not essential to a balanced diet. The fact sheet also explains to consumers how they can help FDA's investigation by reporting potential jerky pet treat-related illnesses online or by calling the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator for their state. What to Look Out For Within hours of eating treats sold as jerky tenders or strips made of chicken, duck, sweet potatoes and/or dried fruit, some pets have exhibited decreased appetite, decreased activity, vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes with blood or mucus), increased water consumption, and/or 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 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. What FDA Is Doing 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. In addition to continuing to test jerky pet treat samples within FDA labs, the agency is working with the Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network (Vet-LIRN), an FDA-coordinated network of government and veterinary diagnostic laboratories across the U.S. and Canada. (A summary of the tests is available on Vet-LIRN's webpage.) Inspections of the facilities in China that manufacture jerky products associated with some of the highest numbers of pet illness reports did not identify the cause of illness. However, they did identify additional paths of investigation, such as the supply chain of some ingredients in the treats. Although FDA inspectors have found no evidence identifying the cause of the spate of illnesses, they did find that one firm used falsified receiving documents for glycerin, a jerky ingredient. Chinese authorities informed FDA that they had seized products at the firm and suspended its exports. To identify the root cause of this problem, FDA is meeting regularly with regulators in China to share findings. The agency also plans to host Chinese scientists at its veterinary research facility to increase scientific cooperation. FDA has also reached out to U.S. pet food firms seeking further collaboration on scientific issues and data sharing, and has contracted with diagnostic labs. "Our fervent hope as animal lovers," says Dunham, "is that we will soon find the cause of—and put a stop to—these illnesses." This article appears on FDA's Consumer Updates page, which features the latest on all FDA-regulated products.
Prevent Heartworms in Pets Year-Roundf you’ve been to a veterinarian’s office, chances are you’ve seen the photos on the wall of worms growing from the heart of a dog or cat. Although these images may be unsettling, the message is clear: Heartworm disease is fatal to pets. The good news: You can protect your pet from this disease. “It’s a preventable disease, which is why it’s so frustrating as a practitioner when you see a case. Heartworm disease is very serious and the treatment is not very easy on infected animals,” says Melanie McLean, D.V.M., a veterinarian at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). “It’s much easier and healthier for the pet to prevent the disease in the first place.” Heartworms are carried by infected mosquitoes that transmit parasitic worms that grow in the arteries of the lungs and heart of dogs, cats, and other species of mammals. The heartworm larvae enter the bite wound and move through the pet's body and can grow up to 12 inches long. The disease is not contagious from one pet to another and heartworms in humans are very rare. Putting Pets at Risk Veterinarians often prescribe heartworm prevention medicine for pets to take year round. Due to the link to mosquitoes, some owners opt out of treating their pets during the winter months, but veterinarians see this as an unnecessary risk to the pet’s health. “You never know when the first mosquito is going to come out, or when the last mosquito is going to die. Heartworms have been reported in dogs in all 50 states and just because you live in a colder climate state doesn’t mean that your dog is safe,” McLean warns. Animal owners who stop giving heartworm prevention medication during the winter run the risk of their dog or cat contracting heartworms. If the animal becomes infected and the heartworm preventative is later resumed without testing, the owner may be putting the pet in danger. The preventive medicine can kill so many microfilariae (the offspring of adult, female heartworms) at once that it could shock the animal’s system, with potentially fatal results. Also, preventatives will not kill adult heartworms and they will continue to reproduce. For this reason, testing your dog or cat prior to starting a heartworm preventive medication is essential, especially since pets that have heartworms may not show symptoms right away. If your pet tests positive for heartworms, it’s crucial to the success of treatment to follow the veterinarian’s directions. There is only one FDA-approved drug that is marketed in the U.S. for the treatment of heartworm disease in dogs. Immiticide (melarsomine hydrochloride), which contains arsenic, is given by injection into the back muscles to kill adult heartworms. Angela Clarke, D.V.M., team leader in FDA’s Office of New Animal Drug Evaluation, also emphasizes the importance of yearly testing for heartworms—even if you’ve kept your pet on a steady regimen of preventatives. Dogs are tested for heartworms using a simple blood test. “We recommend yearly checks because no drug is 100 percent effective and we want to make sure the drugs work,” McLean adds. Also, owners often forget to give the preventative for a month or longer. An Indoor Issue as Well Another major hurdle that veterinarians face is convincing owners of pets that rarely or never go outside to put those pets on a heartworm preventative. “When I was in practice, I had owners who balked at heartworm preventative for their cats because they were indoor cats,” says Clarke. The team leader adds that mosquitoes that transmit heartworms can easily access the indoor environment and pets through open doors and windows. Although cats are considered a resistant host to heartworms because the worms do not survive as well as in a dog’s body, they are still at risk for heartworm disease. McLean said diagnosing heartworms in cats is not as easy, and testing is not as simple, or accurate. In addition to blood work, testing on cats can include X-rays and ultrasounds. Unlike for heartworm disease in dogs, there is no FDA-approved treatment for killing adult heartworms in cats. Because of the additional complications associated with diagnosing and treating cats, prevention becomes the only weapon against heartworms in cats. It’s best to place both indoor and outdoor cats on a year-round FDA-approved heartworm preventative. FDA-Approved Heartworm Preventatives for Dogs and Cats A variety of products are available by prescription only:
- oral pill or tablet: ivermectin, milbemycin oxime
- topical liquid that the owner squeezes from a tube onto the pet's back: selamectin, moxidectin
- injectable (for dogs only): moxidectin