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Mr. Norris, I know your C-Force health and fitness column is for humans. But have you heard about the rash of dog deaths and illnesses related to dog jerky treats from China? For our beloved canines, could you please address this issue and save some dogs? – “Dog’s Best Friend” in Delaware

I, too, am a huge dog lover and have several on my ranch, so I’d be honored to highlight this health issue for man’s best friend.

Yes, it’s true. The Food and Drug Administration just issued a warning to pet lovers that the agency has linked consumption of jerky pet treats to the illnesses of 3,600 dogs and 10 cats since 2007, with 580 of those beloved pets dying. These numbers have risen since January, and it should be noted that they are only those that the FDA has documented.

About 60 percent of the cases involved gastrointestinal bleeding, and about 30 percent involved kidney and urinary malfunction or failure. Other symptoms included skin issues, convulsions and collapsing.

To date, the FDA hasn’t issued a product recall, because it hasn’t been able to pinpoint the exact problem or label associated with the pet illnesses and deaths.The best the FDA can offer at this point is: “The products – also called chicken tenders, strips, or treats – are imported from China.” (The warning also includes imported duck, sweet potatoes and/or dried fruit used in these dog treats.)

The difficulty with the origin part of the warning is that most jerky treats don’t include where their product components come from. As the FDA noted, “manufacturers of pet foods are not required by U.S. law to state the country of origin for each ingredient in their products.”

The FDA explained that the agency’s “Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) has conducted more than 1,200 tests, visited jerky pet treat manufacturers in China and collaborated with colleagues in academia, industry, state labs and foreign governments. Yet the exact cause of the illnesses remains elusive.”

Bernadette Dunham, a veterinarian and head of the CVM, said: “This is one of the most elusive and mysterious outbreaks we’ve encountered. Our beloved four-legged companions deserve our best effort, and we are giving it.”

But this isn’t the first time the agency has reported a problem with pet jerky treats. It has known about the problem for seven years and issued a warning in 2011, too.

As the FDA itself also recently admitted, “a number of jerky pet treat products were removed from the market in January 2013 after a New York State lab reported finding evidence of up to six drugs in certain jerky pet treats made in China (five of which are banned in the U.S.). … FDA noted a decrease in reports of jerky-suspected illnesses after the products were removed from the market. FDA believes that the number of reports may have declined simply because fewer jerky treats were available.”

Moreover, the agency noted that Australian news organizations also have reported that an investigation by the University of Sydney linked illnesses in dogs with the consumption of chicken jerky. It led to one Australian company’s recalling its Chinese-manufactured chicken jerky product.

According to KGO-TV, in December, China’s government responded to the controversy by saying that “from the perspective of the Chinese side, there might be something wrong with the FDA’s investigation guidance.”

Nevertheless, the Chicago Tribune also reported that the FDA knew about one Chinese plant, which manufactures jerky treat ingredients, that was prohibited from exporting by Chinese officials after it was proved that it had falsified records about product ingredients.

According to the FDA, here are some signs to look for within hours of your pet’s eating jerky tenders or strips made of chicken, duck, sweet potatoes or dried fruit: decreased appetite and activity, diarrhea (possibly with blood or mucus), vomiting and increased water consumption and urination.

If you see these signs, immediately stop feeding jerky treats to your pet, and rush it to your veterinarian.

In addition, the FDA asks, “If you have a dog or cat that became ill after eating jerky pet treats, the (FDA) would like to hear from you or your veterinarian.”

(You can reach the agency by calling 888-INFO-FDA. And more information about these contaminated pet treats can be found on the FDA’s fact sheet.)

But the truth about all these recommendations is that they are after-the-fact actions, when our pets already have been placed in harm’s way. We should be preventing and protecting man’s best friend from getting sick in the first place.

As far as I’m concerned (and I bet you, too), for now, the only real safe bet when it comes to any jerky snacks is: Don’t trick-or-treat with your pets. It’s best simply to follow this warning: Let the buyer and bowwow beware! Maybe it’s time pet foods listed where their ingredients originate, too.

And what’s good and true for humans is also good and true for our pets: Buy local, and buy organic.

Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.

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