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Pet treats’ link to deaths remains a mystery

The Food and Drug Administration has released an update on pet treats from China that appear to be killing and sickening dogs and cats, and the news is disturbing in more ways than one.

The number of illnesses now totals “5,600 dogs, 24 cats and three people, according to an FDA bulletin issued late last week. There is no word on how humans – or felines, for that matter – came to consume chicken, duck and sweet potato treats intended for dogs.

In March of 2013, the FDA told The Washington Post that it was still stumped, despite seven years of study, over what in the treats might be killing dogs. The agency put out a call in October for more information from vets and pet owners, and it received more than 1,800 new reports of gastrointestinal, liver, kidney and urinary disease. More than 1,000 dogs have died. The FDA has tested for salmonella, mold, pesticides, toxic metals, outlawed antibiotics, nephrotoxins and other contaminants, and it has inspected factories in China that make chicken jerky products for U.S. companies.

The long-running investigation has paralleled a big increase in the amount of pet food imported from China to the United States, from barely 1 million pounds in 2003 to an estimated 86 million pounds in 2011, according to the FDA.

In the meantime, two major pet-product retailers said they will stop selling the treats. Petco said it will do so by the end of the year, switching to items from the United States, New Zealand, Australia and South America.

“We know the FDA hasn’t yet identified a direct cause for the reported illnesses,” Petco chief executive Jim Myers said in a statement, “but we decided the uncertainty of the situation outweighs the lack of actual proof.”

The Associated Press said PetSmart will stop selling the treats by March 2015. The company also said the vast majority of the treats it stocks are not from China.

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