KANSAS CITY, Mo. - A mysterious outbreak of sickness and death in pets across the United States is prompting the Food and Drug Administration to ask pet owners for help.
A new report issued by the FDA Tuesday shows 3600 dogs and 10 cats have been affected since 2007, including 580 deaths with symptoms of kidney failure, vomiting, and digestive problems.
"This is one of the most elusive and mysterious outbreaks we've encountered," Bernadette Dunham, a veterinarian and head of the FDA vet medicine center, said in the statement.
"People are worried, these pets are their children," Noreen Overeem, a veterinarian in Kansas City at Rainbow Pet Hospital, noted.
In an interview with NBC news Missouri native Shannon Black said her two Chihuahuas nearly died after eating the treats.
"Snooki got sick that her heart seemed to stop," Black said.
No one knows exactly what the ingredient is that is causing the problems but the FDA has linked the issue to jerky treats containing chicken, duck and sweet potatoes.
"This is pointing that the origin, at least of some of the ingredients in the jerky treats, are coming from China," Overeem explained.
The FDA has issued previous warnings. A number of jerky pet treat products were removed from the market in January after a New York state lab reported finding evidence of up to six drugs in certain jerky pet treats made in China, the FDA said.
The agency said that while the levels of the drugs were very low and it was unlikely that they caused the illnesses, there was 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.
The owner of Doggie Style Bowtique in Westport said she is very careful about what she sales in her stores.
"The treats that I have here are more expensive but they were made in America and you know when it says Beef, that's what you're getting," Gretchen Miller said.
We took our cameras into a major pet store and quickly found several products labeled "Made in China."
But Overeem said there is no good way to test for what's at the root of the problem. Until the FDA finds out more information, Overeem recommends buying well-known brands and reading labels.
"We are starting to see an increase in dogs with vague digestive issues so I don't know if those are related or not," she said.
The FDA sent a letter to veterinarians around the country to ask for urine and blood samples from sick pets who consumed jerky treats.
If your pet shows any signs, you are also asked to report it to the FDA through the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator. (http://1.usa.gov/17glKPc)