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UGA to Help Test Companion Animals Suspected of Ingesting Contaminated Food or Drugs

The UGA Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratories in Athens and Tifton will team up with the FDA to do the testing.

The labs are in Athens and Tifton.
The labs are in Athens and Tifton.
By Kat Gilmore

The University of Georgia Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratories, located in Athens and Tifton, are collaborating with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Veterinary Laboratory Investigation and Response Network to evaluate diagnostic samples from companion animals in suspect cases of exposure to contaminated foods or drugs to help protect human and animal health.

On Oct. 22, the FDA released an update to its ongoing investigation into pet illnesses and deaths associated with jerky pet treats from China. Since 2007, the administration has investigated more than 3,000 reports of pet illnesses related to consumption of jerky treats. 

According to the FDA, as of Sept. 24 more than 3,600 dog cases, 10 cat cases and more than 580 deaths have been reported. The treats are sold as jerky tenders or strips and are made with chicken, duck, sweet potato and dried fruit and in combinations of these ingredients. So far, no specific cause has been determined for these illnesses. For more information, click here

The UGA Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratories, part of the College of Veterinary Medicine, will test sick animal samples as well as suspect jerky treats for potential bacterial pathogens. The laboratories also will conduct autopsies on any dogs or cats that die after consumption of a jerky treat. The tests and autopsies will be performed at no cost as long as the criteria outlined below are met.

Pets that have consumed potentially contaminated food or drugs may exhibit the following symptoms within hours to several days following consumption: decreased appetite, decreased activity, vomiting, diarrhea (sometimes with blood or mucus), increased water consumption and increased urination. 

The following criteria must be met to qualify for the free tests:
• Animal species: Dogs and cats.
• Timeline: Must have consumed jerky treats 7-21 days ago.
• Type of treat: Treats made from chicken, duck, sweet potato and dried fruit or combinations of these ingredients.
• Clinical signs: In about 60 percent of cases, gastrointestinal signs such as anorexia, vomiting and diarrhea; in about 30 percent of cases, urinary distress including polydipsia, polyuria and Fanconi syndrome; and in about 10 percent of cases, other signs such as convulsions, tremors, hives and skin irritation.

Information to be collected by clinicians, in addition to general case history, should include:
• Lot number(s) of the specific suspect jerky treat(s).
• How long the owner had been feeding the treat.
• How did the owner give the treat or food to their pet? Was it an entire piece or broken?
• What else the pet has been eating—all treats, human food and pet food—including how much is given daily of all items?

Cases meeting the above criteria can be tested by the UGA Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratories at no expense to the client. Samples to submit include:
• Feces: For pathogenic bacteria culture.
• Urine: For conducting routine urine analysis and to freeze one sub-sample—to be used in case of follow-up.
• Blood: For routine blood work for liver and kidney injury.
• Jerky treat sample: Sample of the treat consumed by the patient—both opened and unopened samples, if possible.
• Entire carcass: For autopsy if the patient is dead.

Pet owners with suspect cases should contact their veterinarian about submitting samples to the laboratories. Pet owners living in the greater Athens area may visit the college’s Community Practice Clinic for consultation or contact the clinic at 706-542-1984.

Veterinarians or pet owners with testing questions should call the Athens Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory at 706-542-5568 or the Tifton Veterinary Diagnostic and Investigational Laboratory at 229-386-3340. 

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