A Montrose couple is breathing a sigh of relief now that their two beloved greyhounds are on the road to recovery after both pets became violently ill after eating Vitalife brand dog treats.
Shari Stoddart purchased a bag of Vitalife duck jerky wrapped sweet potato snacks for the two dogs from the Trail Walmart on June 4.
Within days of eating the Asian-produced treats, the gentle and affectionate greyhound brindles became lethargic followed by bouts of gastrointestinal symptoms that progressed to loose stool tinged with mucous and blood.
“Their behaviour was changing and becoming lethargic,” said Shari. “I knew when they didn’t want to play anymore or go out for a walk, something was terribly wrong.”
The morning of June 10, Shari’s husband Tom was reading a news article while eating breakfast when he happened to come across a recently posted story about dog treats and the harm these particular snacks were causing to pets in North America.
The information “clicked” said Shari, adding that he immediately opened up their pantry and on the shelf was the exact bag of Vitalife treats that was reported to have caused 86 dog deaths in Canada and over 1,000 deaths of pets south of the border.
“I couldn’t wait for the vet’s office to open,” she explained. “When I called and told them the symptoms of my dogs and the only change in their diet was this Vitalife, she knew and said to get them in.”
Doctor Elaine Klemmensen met the Stoddart’s in her West Kootenay Animal Clinic office shortly after the telephone conversation.
“She had such a distraught look on her face,” said Shari. “The first recorded instances were from 2007 but reports didn’t hit the media until 2011 and by that time over 1,000 deaths had occurred in the US and the link is Vitalife.”
In the case of the Stoddart’s two purebreeds, named Quinn and Syra, both dogs had been fed three treats per day for six days, although after three days both dogs started to show symptoms, noted the veterinarian.
“We ran blood work and urinalysis to screen for any damage to internal organs,” said Klemmensen. “And rule out Fanconi’s syndrome, a rare disease which has been associated with the consumption of these treats in some of the affected pets.”
Fortunately, both dogs were found to have normal test results but were treated for gastrointestinal upset with a bland diet and probiotics.
“Quinn and Syra are large breed dogs, the problem was detected early and the suspected treats discontinued,” Klemmensen said. “At this time both dogs are showing improved energy and are expected to recover with no long term effects.”
The local story serves as a cautionary note for West Kootenay pet owners and adds to a growing list of North American media reports about the dangers of feeding pets jerky treats that are produced in China or Thailand and sold under the Vitalife brand.
“It is important to note that manufacturers do not need to list the country of origin for each ingredient,” explained Klemmensen. “So even products made in the USA may have ingredients imported from China or other countries that export to the USA.”
Since 2007, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has become aware of an increasing number of illnesses in pets associated with the consumption of jerky treats, she continued.
Although a toxic principle has not yet been identified, the regulating body is working closely with the Centres for Disease Control to better understand what is making pets sick.
“It is hoped in the next six months the results of this study will be available to veterinarians and pet owners,” she added.
Usually, the first signs are similar to food poisoning, with symptoms progressing to kidney or urinary disease and in some cases, convulsions, tremors, hives and skin irritation.
“These symptoms may occur within hours to days of feeding the products,” said Klemmensen. “Pet owners who feed jerky treats should watch their pet closely for signs of illness..if your dog shows any of the signs and you suspect it may be related to a specific product, stop feeding the treat and consider contacting your veterinarian.”
Additionally, she recommends pet owners save any remaining treats by placing the jerky product, including its original packaging, in a larger re-sealable bag in case it is need for future testing.
With quiet dignity, both Stoddart dogs were lapping up the attention from their owners Tuesday evening.
Syra, a female with delicate features, was rescued from a race track just over one year ago, and Quinn, the larger male and former racing dog, has only been in the Stoddart’s care for about a month following rescue from a Seattle shelter.
“The Vitalife company’s motto is ‘Made with Love,’” said Shari. “But we need to get the word out there to people who haven’t heard about this product. Don’t buy it or feed it to your pets.”
Store pulls treats from shelves
Trail Walmart has pulled all Vitalife jerky treats from its shelves, the store’s assistant manager told the Trail Times Wednesday morning.
“Walmart does carry them but we have pulled them off our shelves,” said Denise Smith. “We haven’t gotten official word from the company yet but we are not putting them on the shelves when they come in.”
Smith is aware of the media stories surrounding the jerky treats and said before the Trail Walmart can officially dispose of the product, word must come from head office.
“We are holding them in our claims area but we need an official recall before we can actually destroy what we have.”