May 23, 2012 -- Just six months after issuing its latest warning about chicken jerky dog treats made in China, the Food and Drug Administration confirms it has logged more than 900 complaints from pet owners who say their dogs either were sickened or died after eating the treats.
The number of complaints has nearly doubled since the story was first reported by ABC News in March. The FDA says its investigation is ongoing and that it continues to test samples of the popular treats, which dog owners across the country say have caused kidney failure in their pets, resulting in severe illness or death.
Consumers have largely blamed two brands for the reported illnesses. Waggin' Train and Canyon Creek Ranch, both produced by Nestle Purina and made in China, are reportedly included in the samples being tested by the FDA. The agency told ABC News it has solicited samples of treats from the owners of the pets allegedly affected, but will not say whether it is tested those samples. To date, the FDA has not been able to determine a cause for the reported illnesses.
The FDA issued its first warning about chicken jerky treats from China in 2007 and again in 2008, both times based on consumer complaints. But it wasn't until a third warning -- in late 2011 -- that the momentum of complaints accelerated as an angry population of pet owners demanded to know what in the Chinese treats might be sickening their dogs.
"It's hard to believe that we're still fighting the same battle," said Terry Safranek, whose 9-year old Fox Terrier named Sampson died of kidney failure in January.
"The last thing that he ate and then threw up was the chicken jerky," said Safranek. "It kills me that the treats I fed him killed him."
Safranek is a member of a Facebook group called "Animal Parents Against Pet Treats Made In China," which has grown to 4,500 members and includes hundreds of photos of dogs whose owners claim were sickened or died from chicken jerky treats.
"We're just the ones who are online. There literally could be tens of thousands of people whose dogs were affected," said Safranek.
The group also keeps its own spreadsheet of victims, ranging from a 1-year old, five-pound Chihuahua named Kiarra to a 111-pound German Shepherd named Floyd.
"The problem with the issue is getting the word out," said Dr. Richard Goldstein, Chief of Medicine at The Animal Medical Center in New York City. Goldstein has been studying the connection between pet illnesses and chicken jerky treats made in China since 2007 and says although deaths have been rare in his experience, it's still crucial to seek veterinary care if a dog shows symptoms such as vomiting or lethargy.
"These are still on the shelves and cases are still popping up," said Goldstein, urging pet owners to be vigilant.
The issue has gained attention in Washington, and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D.-Ohio, who has been urging Congress to look closely at products coming from China, recently blasted the head of the FDA over the issue. At a Senate Appropriations hearing in April, Brown told Dr. Margaret Hamburg he was concerned that pet owners were still buying the treats, unaware they may possibly be tainted. "The FDA must be as aggressive as possible to find the source of this contamination," he said later in a press release.
A spokesperson for Nestle Purina told ABC News in March that the safety of pets is the company's utmost priority and that production of the treats in China is held to the highest quality and safety standards. Nestle Purina has not been named in any of the FDA warnings and the company points out that reported illnesses may be the result of eating things other than the chicken treats. "We've looked at this, and we continue to look at this," Keith Schopp told ABC News.