A Morgan Hill woman’s beloved German shepherd/great Dane mix, Cali, became gravely ill this summer after eating dog treats imported from China that federal regulators have been warning consumers about for years, and now she’s on a mission to convince the manufacturer to recall the potentially hazardous products.
Earlier this month, two of Rachael Chambers’ other dogs became sick after eating the same treats, but they survived.
Chambers thinks the “mystery” culprit in all three cases is the Del Monte Milo’s Kitchen Chicken Jerky treats that she used to give to her four dogs.
Cali died about 5:45 a.m. May 30 at the age of 11.5, according to Chambers, a Morgan Hill resident. The dog was given the Milo’s Kitchen treats, which she had eaten before, and within hours she lost her appetite, became lethargic and started vomiting.
“If a dog could look green, she did,” Chambers said.
Cali’s veterinarian couldn’t find a cause for the illness and sent the dog home with Chambers. After the dog ate dinner that night, she threw up again. Chambers and her husband placed the pet on her bed, where she began dry heaving later that night.
The next morning the couple went downstairs and found that Cali had “collapsed and died,” Chambers said.
Morgan Hill pet supply store An-Jan Feed and Pet Supply does not carry the Milo’s Kitchen treats or any Chinese-made chicken jerky pet products, according to store employee Tyler Robison. The store only sells American-made pet treats.
“The ingredients are held to a higher standard” in the U.S., Robison said.
Store employees have heard about the Milo’s Kitchen complaints, and have heard from other consumers who have said they will not buy the chicken jerky treats.
She connected the dots and suspected the Milo’s Kitchen treats were the source of the sickness. After some research, she was prompted to write up and circulate an online petition to convince Del Monte and Purina who makes two similar products – all of which are made in China – to issue a “voluntary recall.” Specifically, the petition refers to the Milo’s Kitchen treats, as well as Purina’s Waggin’ Train and Canyon Creek Ranch chicken jerky dog treats.
Del Monte did not reply to a request for comment and answers to a list of questions.
While the federal Food and Drug Administration has not identified the products by brand name, it has issued consumer advisories about “chicken jerky products for dogs” that are imported from China, according to the FDA website. The first advisory was issued in September 2007, and the most recent advisory was released November 2011.
As of the first warning in 2007, the FDA received more than 70 complaints about the products, involving nearly 100 dogs that have suffered illness or death after eating the products. The agency reported a rising number of complaints in 2011.
The complainants have reported symptoms similar to those described by Chambers: loss of appetite, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, increased water consumption and kidney failure, according to the FDA.
Most of the dogs who have complained have survived, the advisory said.
However, even though the agency has “conducted extensive chemical and microbial testing,” it has not been able to pinpoint the cause of the illnesses or identify any possible toxins or contaminants, according to the FDA.
Chambers, who describes herself as “incredibly passionate” about animal health and her dogs, reported Cali’s death to the FDA herself, and the regulator agreed to pay for a $1,600 autopsy on her dog. The investigation determined that Cali’s stomach flipped, a condition caused by a bloated stomach, and she choked on her own vomit.
The autopsy also prompted a toxicology screen on her dog’s carcass, and that study is still under way, Chambers said.
Furthermore, a puppy owned by Chambers was sick for about two days after eating the Milo’s Kitchen treats, and another of her dogs who fell ill is “getting better” after taking antibiotics and pain medications for the last 14 days.
Chambers’ petition has so far been signed by 361 people from 23 states and eight countries. She hopes to convince Del Monte and Purina to stop distributing the chicken jerky treats until they are proven to be safe.
The petition letter, posted on change.org, says about Cali, “Her death was painful and violent. Her loss has been overwhelming. It’s left a void in our lives and many unanswered questions. After all the years of watching over, protecting our family, and being our loyal friend, she didn’t deserve what happened to her.”
At least two more petitions asking for a recall of one or more of the same products are found on the change.org website.
She said without a definitive cause of the reported illnesses and no identifiable contaminants, the FDA cannot issue a formal recall on the products. Plus, some dogs seem to be unaffected by the treats when eaten, though those who have fallen ill or dead have been of a variety of breeds, ages and sizes.
That’s why she’s pleading with the companies to voluntarily recall the treats.
“I recognize that I can’t bring Cali back, but what I can do is help save others by educating and giving them the information that I did not have when I made this purchase,” Chambers said. “The FDA and the distributors have known for five years that these dogs have been dying.”