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Dog treat may be linked to more than 1,000 dog deaths

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You may want to pay close attention to the type of treats you are feeding your dogs.

According to NBC News, federal health officials say pet jerky treats are now linked to more than 1,000 deaths in dogs, more than 4,800 complaints about animal illness, and sickness in three humans who ate the products.

Despite seven years of testing and investigation Food and Drug Administration officials say they cannot identify a specific cause for the reported illnesses or deaths.

“The agency continues to caution pet owners that jerky treats are not required for a balanced diet and encourage them to consult with their veterinarians, both prior to feeding treats and if they notice symptoms in their pets,” FDA said in a statement.

An FDA official said the humans who consumed the treats included two toddlers who ingested them accidentally and an adult who may have been snacking on the questionable products.

One of the children was diagnosed with a salmonella infection, which can be spread by touching contaminated pet food or treats.  The other child developed gastrointestinal illness and fever that mirrored the symptoms of dogs in the house that also ate the treats.  The adult reported nausea and headache.

NBC News says the agency has received about 1,800 new reports of deaths since its last update in October, some involving more than one pet.  The numbers now include 5,600 dogs and 24 cats.

The FDA says about 60 percent of the cases involve symptoms of gastrointestinal trouble and liver disease, 30 percent involve kidney disease and about 10 percent involve other complaints. About 15 percent of the kidney or urinary cases also tested positive for Fanconi syndrome, a rare disease that has been associated with the treats.

Agency officials said they were able to perform post-death examinations on 26 dogs across the country.  In half of those cases, the deaths did not appear to be associated with the treats. FDA officials said of the remaining 13 cases, an association with eating jerky treats “could not be ruled out,”

The FDA plans to join with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to launch a study to compare foods eaten by the sick dogs with foods eaten by the pets that did not get sick.

Officials said overall, the jerky treat illnesses and deaths have been associated with many different product brands.

The companies have consistently said that the treats are safe to feed as directed and they have emphasized no specific cause of illness has been linked to the products.

Many pet owners say they are sure that the products are dangerous and that the reported illnesses and deaths should be more than enough proof.

“It’s really hard to look at the number of cases that come in, correlate them with what they’re eating and then go away from that and say, no, it’s not related,” said Brett Levitzke, a Brooklyn, New York, veterinarian who has seen more than a dozen dogs since 2011 with Fanconi syndrome.

“It’s quite sad when you see it dawn on the people that they’re trying to reward their best buddy there and then now they’re the ones who have been making them ill,” he told NBC News.