(RNN) - The FDA issued a warning on jerky pet treats in response to thousands of pet illnesses and 580 deaths it believes are related.
The illnesses have been linked to multiple brands of jerky treats. In a Tuesday news release, the government watchdog for food and drugs stated more than 3,600 illnesses had been reported in dogs, and an additional 10 in cats.
"This is one of the most elusive and mysterious outbreaks we've encountered," said FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine Director Bernadette Dunham. "Our beloved four-legged companions deserve our best effort, and we are giving it."
The FDA stated one common factor in the cases was consumption of a chicken or duck jerky treat or jerky-wrapped treat, mostly imported from China.
"Pet owners should be aware that manufacturers do not need to list the country of origin for each ingredient used in their products," the FDA stated, "so packages that do not state on the label that they are made in another country may still contain ingredients sourced from China or other countries that export to the U.S."
Some of the pets that got sick had decreased appetite, decreased activity, vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes with blood or mucus), increased water consumption or increased urination. These symptoms typically occurred within hours of eating the treats.
The majority of the complaints involved chicken jerky, including treats, tenders and strips. Another treat in question had chicken or duck jerky wrapped around dried fruits, sweet potatoes or yams.
The incidents have been counted since 2007. The FDA received reports for many sizes and ages of dogs and for multiple breeds.
"About 60 percent of the reports are for gastrointestinal illness (with or without elevated liver enzymes) and about 30 percent relate to kidney or urinary signs," it stated. "The remaining 10 percent of cases involve a variety of other signs, including convulsions, tremors, hives and skin irritation."
CVM reported it has conducted more than 1,200 tests, inspected jerky pet treat manufacturers in China and collaborated with colleagues in academia, industry and foreign governments.
The FDA reported some of the treats made in China were removed from the market in January when a lab reported evidence of as many as six drugs in them.
The agency urged pet owners to be cautious about providing the treats to their animals. If a pet becomes sick after eating a treat, they recommend discontinuing the item in question and going to a veterinarian.
Also, save any of the remaining food and the packaging for possible testing.
"Our fervent hope as animal lovers is that we will soon find the cause of - and put a stop to - these illnesses," Dunham said.
More information can be found at fda.gov.
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