The Problem With Jerky Treats & Tenders

Updated November 29, 2020

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. Despite this, the treats are still sold today and dogs keep getting sick. Later I will tell you about one of our patients, Millie.

Why Jerky and Tenders Are Dangerous

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

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 seen in foods made elsewhere. Regardless, the jerky treat that caused Millie’s issues was of generic origin. It may be true that branded products made here are safer.

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 that it’s slow, creeping and insidious. 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 tests and ask you to collect urine 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?

what size treat
Is it a treat or a meal?

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:

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. In the same year, we had another series of dog deaths, this time suspected to be caused by a major dog food. Ask your local politicians what they are doing for animal safety. It would be nice if “Made in Australia” meant something.

Update: 1/3/18. This blog was posted on our Facebook and within 2 hours we had a call from a major Australian supplier asking for their details to be removed. They had been notified by a large pet supplies company of the post. It’s a hot topic and it’s big business!

Have something to add? Comments (if open) will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here.

32 Replies to “The Problem With Jerky Treats & Tenders”

  1. This is shocking! I have questioned the quality of ingredients and processing of the popular VitaPet, as they have very fine print on the back that they are either made in China or Thailand. I even phoned customer service a few months ago and the person I spoke with was absolutely clueless with regards to the link between China jerky’s and kidney damage! We need to demand better for our fur babies. I would absolutely devastated if my precious rough collie was diagnosed with such a cruel disease as kidney disease from eating VitaPet duck jerky!

    We should be holding our government more accountable for quality control companion animal food. They are a valuable part of our family, and to some, their only family.

    1. Omg,I am shocked by this article.ive been giving my Chihuahua jerky treats for the last 5 years,and as of recently started giving duck jerky(made in China) to him as a treat after every walk 4-5 times daily.I feel so bad about doing this to my dog thru my ignorance, I just didn’t know about this.I have removed all jerky in the house and will now convert him to a much healthier treat.if by giving him this leads to kidney disease I will never forgive myself,thank you endlessly for this knowledge.

  2. I am so intrigued that I found this! I am in the US and have had 2 dogs in the last 3 years die from kidney failure. We fed them both store bought chicken and duck jerky also wrapped in sweet potato. They looked good, like normal food, no weird ingredients except glycerine and they were not made in China. Jerky is the only thing we ever did different from friends and family with dogs. This has to be what happened to my babies.

  3. Can you please advise whether this includes other types of meat jerky such as kangaroo? Our pup was diagnosed with CKD last year. He’s now 15 months old. I still have lots of jerky treat in the cupboard and had stopped giving them to him because of the protein content but I occasionally treat my younger pup and my older dog.

    Also – does this also include air dried dog food – high quality brands? Or is jerky something different? Really would like to know this as I use this for treats and in my other dogs’ diets.

    1. Hi Lyn. I can understand why your vets would like you to never use jerky treats again as we simply don’t understand the mechanism by which poisoning occurs. Using any commercially manufactured jerky treats in your case would be extremely unwise. You could make your own in a dryer if you really want to, but that’s the only way.

      1. Thanks Andrew. We’ve not been made aware of this from any vet before and only stopped feeding jerky to our CKD dog as he’s on a strict diet designed by a vet nutritionist. Regarding the air dried food, we were told this brand is really good but not for him because of his CKD. For that reason we’ve been using it as treats and sometimes part of meals for the others. Is air dried dog food the same as jerky? The brand I use has meat, organ meat, green mussels and some fruit and veg to make up a complete meal. My dogs love it but I’ll stop it immediately if it’s also compromised. Meanwhile, I’m going to have a bit more space in my cupboards when I clear out our kangaroo jerky and other treats. Luckily the others haven’t had as much because it’s awkward when the CKD dog can’t have it.

      2. HI Andrew, this is all very shocking! I have just completed the 5 week puppy training at your clinic and the puppy trainer advocated strongly for these type of ‘chewing straps’ eg beef straps, pigs ears, to keep our pups happy and not anxious, when alone or similar. I really am so disappointed and very unsure now about how to train and care for my pup! I appreciate knowing this, however.

      3. Hi Kirsty. The article really concerns, tenders and jerky, not so much products derived from skin such as straps, hide or pigs ears. However, on the subject of treats (and diet in general!), there are be differences of opinion whereever you look and yes, as our instructors are not employees, we can’t ask them to agree with us on everything. Just to be safe I will check that jerky treats and tenders are not being recommended and I thank you for the feedback.

    2. Hi Lynn. Any dried meats are potentially going to be harmful until we know the mechanism for kidney damage. As for the air-dried dogfood, it’s counter-productive in that it is not the appropriate renal diet. Have you ever considered that the jerky treats could in fact have caused the CKD? That’s certainly been the case for a few of my own patients.
      The bigger picture here is how owners are made to feel compelled to feed their dogs highly palatable treats. Some of this is marketing, and the rest is dogs playing games the same way kids would for lollies. I can promise you that your dogs love you unreservedly, regardless of the food they are given.

      1. Andrew I’m definitely considering it but I’ll never know whether it was that or something else that caused it. He also never gets the air dried treats or anything that isn’t sanctioned by the vet nutritionist and his wholistic vet we consult with in Queensland. We’ve had some substantial improvements in his blood results since we followed their advice. We know it’s not a cure but at least for now he is managed.

        I was more asking about the air dried food for my other dogs. Does it have the same issues as jerky. I’m trying to understand so I can keep them safe.

        Here’s my reply: if you do it yourself, air dried food should be reasonably safe, but even then, there are no guarantees. The problem is that there is no legislation requiring treat manufacturers to correctly state the drying methods. We know from other experiences that there can be undeclared methods or preservatives used. Manufactured pet treats are the real wild West, and the more you know, the less you use them.

  4. The problem with dodgy pet treats from China, is that they are sold in bulk. Unethical middlemen can then lie about the country of origin. The treats get repackaged and rebranded . Buy the time they get to the pet store in those little packages, most consumers have no idea. The customer often assumes that the name and and address of the distribution center is the place of manufacturing.

    My dog is perfectly happy with the occasional leftover, and whatever vegetables roll off of my cutting board.

  5. Hi there
    I have a cavoodle puppy that I just gave one Vitapet chicken tender treat to. Will one treat cause these problems?

    1. Hi Leanne. It’s good you read this before giving too many more but a single treat is very unlikely to cause problems. The dogs that died were receiving the treats on a daily basis for some time.

      1. Hi my dog is going through the same things that you talked about in the blog wetting inside where she never did before drinking excessive amounts of water very lethargic and she can’t go up and down the stairs I have to help her she has been consuming duck treats and chicken treats for some time other than stopping the treats what can I do for her

      2. Hi Jayme. No dog needs to eat these treats. Dog should be fed balanced complete foods. Please talk to your vet within 24 hours. Your dog otherwise might not survive.

  6. Hi Andrew
    I have been giving my 13 month dog Vitapet duck and chicken
    She is always scratching her body I’m just wondering if it’s because I give her 4 pieces in the morning every morning.
    I have just become aware that I should only give her half sometimes

  7. Hi Andrew,
    Does your advice only apply to commercially made meat jerky or is homemade meat jerky using human-grade meats in a food dehydrator equally as unsafe for our pets?
    Thank you,
    Jenny (very concerned dog mum)

    1. Hi Jenny. Although we don’t know the exact cause of the toxicity, it is very unlikely that well made products at home would be as dangerous.

  8. I’m absolutely staggered to be reading this – I’ve been feeding my cavoodle Vitapet chicken tenders and milky sticks from New Zealand for a few weeks as she’s had a heart murmur and also has mammary cancer but she has been whining snd pulling her tummy in for days. Took her back to the vet as she started urinating everywhere and has all the symptoms as above – vet gave me tramadol but didn’t warn me about the treats, which I told her I was giving her but she gave me a recipe for her food as she’s not eating. She said neither the kidney failure nor the heart etc would be painful for her but she’s definitely in pain. Tramadol helps. Just threw out all the Vitapet treats and hoping that she will be more comfortable. How are they allowed to sell these things?

    1. Hi Heather. The reason they are allowed to sell them is because the authorities choose not to regulate pet foods adequately. Your vets have not done a bad job either – the problem is not widely known. If I were you I would get a urine sample checked for glucose and if it’s present, go back to your vets straight away for blood tests. And once it’s all over, pressure your local member of Parliament about this.

      1. Hi Andrew, her blood tests show she’s already in advanced kidney failure – an 8 out of 10 and we have been told there’s nothing that can be done but keep her comfortable. She has definitely improved pain wise and her bowels have improved since I stopped all treats and she’s on a special very low protein home made diet. I definitely will bring this up to Andy Meddick MP of the Animal Justice Party and see what I can do. Thank you.

  9. Hi Andrew
    We recently purchased locally made dried chicken breast “nibbles” and dried beef liver “straps”. We were advised that there are no additives or preservatives in these products – simply 100% dried meat.
    Can you please tell me whether the toxin mentioned in this article is produced during the drying process or is from additives/ preservatives found in common jerky products.
    Our 15 week old mini schnauzer loves these treats but we selected them thinking they were healthy not harmful. Should we continue to give them to our puppy?

    1. Hi Emma – the problem is that we don’t know what the toxin is. There have been cases of poisoning in products made outside of China (I’m not sure about Australia but certainly the United States), so we think it’s prudent not to feed these types of treats at all, even though the dogs certainly love them. Sorry for the bad news for your puppy.

      1. Hi Andrew,

        Does this mean it could be the drying process that is resulting in the toxicity? If so, what would the implications for air-dried food such as Ziwipeak and K9 naturals be?

      2. Hi Laura – it’s unlikely to be as simple as the drying process on its own, but it could be that plus an unusual ingredient or preservative working in combination. We really just don’t know.

  10. Hi,

    It’s a shame that it has to take a multitude of dogs to die before something changes but on a positive note, any change brought by way of regulation to the pet food industry is welcomed and long overdue.

    As a pet owner, I used to purchase only the very best dry dog foods and was frustrated when they would present with all sorts of issues in their mid to late years, they all died of one cancer or another before their time and it wasn’t until I educated myself on how to properly feed a dog that I am now seeing longevity, disease resistance and good health. (16, 14 and 9, current ages of my three Staffordshire BT’s). The claims made by pet food makers shouldn’t be allowed unless proven. For example denta chews and dry foods ‘clean’ dogs teeth as they chew them, this would be like saying potato chips clean our teeth when eaten, garbage!

    Pet food makers should have to publish proof to back up their claims and meet industry standards of some kind. I hope this changes with the senate enquiry.

    Regards,
    Ann Maree Bonica

    1. Hi Annmaree,

      I just came across your comment, and Thank you Walkerville vet for all your helpful information. My partner and I have had quite a tough few months ever since adopting our staffy girl who ended up being pregnant with previous owners dog…

      Nevertheless in the meantime, we have ended up with three amazing staffys, one being mum, two puppies from the litter. One of which has sever skin allergies. We’ve tried all sorts of creams, supplements and anti inflammatories but nothing seems to have worked. Our last option now before getting into anything more serious is a completely raw diet and trying to control any allergens he may be exposed and strengthening his immune system as much as possible. This raw diet you speak of AnneMarree if you don’t mind me asking, what kind of foods do you feed your staffys? You wouldn’t mind sharing a recipe or giving some pointers? We love our dogs very much and only want the best for them. Willing to put in the time and money to give them the best possible life and diet they can get.
      Thanks
      Elle

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