Investigation: Pet owners blame popular treats for dog deaths

Friday, May 8, 2015
VIDEO: Investigation: Pet owners blame treats for dog deaths
Pet owners across the country are blaming a popular pet treat for the death of their dogs.

A popular pet treat is being blamed for deaths of more than 1,000 dogs but an Action News Investigation has found that some of these treats were on still on the shelves in spite of an FDA warning about possible dangers.

Angela Popolizio was just 4 years old when her family rescued a half Shiatsu/half Pomeranian, they named Sammy. The two grew up together.

"Even at 12 years old, he played like a puppy. He was perfectly healthy," said Popolizio.

An annual exam in October confirmed Sammy was in good health. But just three months later, she says one small switch, one mistake changed everything.

"He had one on Saturday. We gave him another one of the treats on Sunday," said Popolizio.

Popolizio says she gave Sammy PetSmart's Authority brand chicken flavored teething rings made in China.

"Monday he wasn't going to the bathroom, he wasn't moving. He kept drinking and drinking, but he wasn't eating," said Popolizio.

Six days and multiple trips to the vet later, Sammy died.

"I was sitting there and holding him in my arms, watching him pass away," said Popolizio.

Then just a few miles down the road and one month later, Tammy Marshall says she fed her 10-year-old Chihuahua Gidget two Authority brand chicken jerky treats that were made in Thailand.

"She's in here and she's wagging her little tail and I opened the treats and I gave her one. She came running back around and I gave her that second treat and that was the last thing she ate," said Marshall.

Marshall noticed a similar response, Gidget wouldn't eat, but kept drinking more and more water.

"There wasn't a whole lot of time from the time I fed her that treat, to the time that she died," said Marshall.

"She was in kidney failure," said Darryl Francomacaro, veterinarian.

Marshall took Gidget to her vet, Darryl Francomacaro, and to the CARES Emergency Hospital.

"They took her back and she said, 'She's in complete organ failure and if you would like to put her down, you're doing her a favor,'" said Marshall.

And it wasn't just Sammy and Gidget. We were also contacted by other families.

Zena from San Diego passed away in January, just four days after her owner says she ate Authority chicken jerky treats.

The owner of a German Shepard named Maggie from Alberta, Canada also says her dog got seriously ill after eating Authority treats in December, but fortunately did not die.

"It says right here, on the bottom of the bag - 'Made in China,'" said Popolizio.

The treats, while they are packaged in Phoenix, were made in China and Thailand.

Marshall went on the FDA website and discovered a warning about their on-going investigation into chicken jerky treats from China.

The FDA identified 5,800 illnesses, and more than 1,000 canine deaths associated with various brands of Chinese made chicken treats.

"Why would you leave it on the market?" said Popolizio.

Both Marshall and Popolizio say they complained to PetSmart. However when we went undercover, we found that the chicken jerky treats from Thailand were still stocked on store shelves across our area - in Philadelphia, New Jersey and Delaware.

Marshall says they initially removed them at the store where she bought her bag, but then: "Five days later they were back on, on sale. You can kill your dog at a discount," she said.

The FDA took Marshall's dog in for a necropsy, to determine the cause of Gidget's death, which her vets says showed her kidneys were dying from the inside out.

"Normally when you see acute kidney failure, you think of poison, toxicities," said Francomacaro.

We asked the FDA for interviews multiple times over two months. They declined, and instead they provided us with a "consumer video" while failing to answer our questions about whether all treats from Asia should be recalled.

"We know that the illnesses and deaths reported are mostly linked to jerky pet treats with ingredients imported from China. Pet owners should be aware however the manufacturers do not need to list the country of origin for each ingredient used in their products," said Martine Hartogensis in an FDA video.

At this point, even after all the testing, experts can't confirm the PetSmart Authority brand treats were the direct cause of Sammy and Gidget's deaths.

PetSmart provided us with a statement saying:

"Nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of pets, and we strive to provide the best quality products for pets and pet parents. As of March of this year, we removed all dog and cat treats manufactured in China from our shelves and online and no longer sell China-made dog and cat treats, which includes chicken jerky products. This was something we had been working toward for some time and felt it was the right thing to do for pets and our customers."

"As far as the treats manufactured in Thailand, we follow all recommendations of the FDA and look to them for guidance. At this time, the FDA has not identified a direct cause of illness from chicken jerky pet treats, has not issued any kind of recall, and we have no reason to believe the Authority Chicken Jerky treats are unsafe. If this should change, we will take immediate action." -Erin Gray, PetSmart Spokesperson

The FDA has only issued a limited recall of Chinese chicken jerky treats as their investigation continues into what exactly is making dogs sick. Their recall does not include the PetSmart brand.

Symptoms may include vomiting, diarrhea, increased thirst, lethargy, and tremors. If your animal experiences any of these responses to chicken jerky treats, the FDA asks that you contact them directly.

The FDA also gave us the following statement:

"The FDA is continuing to investigate illnesses in pets associated with the consumption of chicken, duck, or sweet potato jerky pet treats. Treats are not required for a balanced diet, and pet owners should consult with their veterinarians prior to feeding treats to their pets. The FDA encourages pet owners and veterinarians to notify the agency about any pet illnesses through the agency's Safety Reporting Portal."

Veterinarian Darryl Francomacaro says he thinks the FDA should recall all of these treats and recommends if someone sees the treats they are buying are made in Asia, consider something else.