The Problem With Jerky Treats & Tenders

There’s a common, popular treat causing kidney failure in dogs. It’s right there in your local pet store. It drives vets crazy because there’s nothing we can do to stop it except warn you not to buy it.

I’ve written before about the failure of Australian governments to regulate the pet food industry so I won’t bore you with that again. The problem with the lack of food safety enforcement is that it harms and even kills our pets. The worst example is preserved meat treats.

Ever since 2007 we’ve known that treats called jerky or tenders can cause serious kidney problems. During the first recorded outbreak, many dogs died before vets were able to even warn their colleagues about what was happening. Since then the problem hasn’t gone away; you can read later about Millie from just last week.

Why Jerky and Tenders Are Dangerous

These preserved meat treats, despite the hazard, are very tasty. They contain an unknown toxin that in some cases causes kidney damage called proximal renal tubulopathy. The toxin seems to be dose-dependent, so smaller dogs fed higher quantities are at greater risk.

dog treat ingredients
My opinion on this? See later

It seems likely that the toxin is introduced during processing. In the beginning, we thought it only happened in foods of Chinese origin. However, since then cases have also been recognised in foods made elsewhere.

Signs of Poisoning From Jerky

Renal tubular damage causes a form of kidney failure we also call Fanconi Syndrome. Dogs may:

  • Drink more
  • Start wetting inside the house
  • Lose weight
  • Appear lethargic or off food

The problem with kidney damage is its slow, creeping, insidious nature. By the time you recognise it, much harm is already done.

Treatment of Fanconi Syndrome

If you suspect your dog has been poisoned, please see your vet. They will perform blood and urine tests to determine the severity of the problem. Some dogs will need to be hospitalised for fluid and electrolyte support. Most dogs showing early signs will recover if the treats are stopped.

Millie’s owners were clever enough to realise that wetting inside wasn’t just laziness but could be a sign of problems. Tests showed early kidney damage and the treats were stopped. Over the next month, her blood and urine tests returned to normal.

Which Treats Are Safer?

I bet if you surveyed vets across Australia, you’d find very few using preserved meats at all. If you want to use them, here are some guidelines:

what size treat
Is it a treat or a meal?

Millie’s owners asked about the Prime100 version pictured earlier. While I can’t guarantee it, I like the way they’ve actually declared what looks like a plausible ingredient list. I also like the realistic feeding guide. These are good signs.

The Future?

We can only look forward to a time when we can do more than uselessly yell into the wind each time this happens. Ask your local politicians what they are doing for animal safety. It would be nice if “Made in Australia” meant something.

Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.


By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.

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