Q: You’ve written about jerky treats being bad for pets, so what else should I give my dog as a treat? He’s accustomed to getting his jerky at night before bedtime. – C.J., Las Vegas
Q: I’m very angry and mistrusting of pet food companies now. What do I give my dog as a treat now that the FDA has said jerky treats have caused so many deaths? – C.C., Buffalo
A: I can’t stress this enough: Stop feeding jerky treats to your pets. End of story. There are countless safe manufactured treats, available in all shapes and sizes, not to mention healthy snacks from your own refrigerator, such as small slices of apple or banana, blueberries or mini carrots. Also safe (as far as we know) are jerky treats made in the U.S.
While it’s true that most pets scarf down jerky without any ill effects, according to a recent statement from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, since 2007 about 3,600 dogs and 10 cats have likely been sickened by tainted jerky treats, and nearly 600 pets have died. Why take that chance?
Some jerky products remain unavailable from a previous recall, however others continue to be sold, which is wrong; these products should be withdrawn until the FDA is confident that the problem, which apparently originates in China, is rectified.
I’ve received lots of email from pet owners insisting that their pets “need” jerky treats. That’s rubbish. Pets will look forward to anything that smells great (from their perspective). I suggest you toss any opened jerky treats made in China in the (pet-proof) trash, and if a package is unopened, return it to the retailer to exchange for a safer treat.
Q: Our Labrador Retriever spends a lot of time outside and now he’s itching a lot. We’ve tried several grain-free foods, plus the special duck and potato diet from Natural Balance (to check for food allergies). We also put fish capsules in the dog’s food. Nothing has helped. How can we stop the itching? – J.C.S., Cyberspace
A: First, rule out fleas. Even a few flea bites can cause a whopping allergic response, says Dr. Dunbar Gram, a veterinary dermatologist and associate professor dermatology at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, Gainesville.
“There is no one lab test to determine if a dog has a food allergy,” he says.
For some individual dogs, the types of special diets you’ve tried can make a big difference. The trick is that the dog must maintain the diet for two consecutive months without any additional treats. Most often, there’s more impressive success rate using a truly hypoallergenic novel protein or hydrolyzed protein diet; both are available only by prescription.
The bad news is, the change of diet could work and you’d never know it. That’s because about 75 percent of dogs with food allergies also have some airborne allergies. The good news is, a veterinarian with experience dealing with allergic pets, or a veterinary dermatologist, can figure all this out, and ultimately help your dog.
Q: My dog trainer says I should take Charlie to our local dog park as often as possible. The problem with that is, Charlie just doesn’t seem to have a good time. He loves to be with me, and sticks very close. “That’s the point,” says the trainer. “It’s a way for Charlie to be a dog with other dogs.” Is it worth forcing him? – T.J., San Diego, Calif.
A: I’m not sure how you force a dog to be happy, any more than you can force a person to be happy. Cheryl Smith, author of “Visiting the Dog Park: Having Fun, Staying Safe” (Dogwise Publishing, Wenatchee WA, 2007; $4.99) agrees.
“Dog parks aren’t for all dogs,” she notes. “We had a dog just like this dog. The dog was wonderful around other people, but just didn’t care much for other dogs. I suppose that’s like people who like dogs, but don’t care for other people. In any case, just because you take your dog to the dog park – and force the issue – it’s not likely to change how the dog feels.”