Nelsonite Crissa MacKay’s nine-year-old chihuahua Zoey is dying of kidney failure, and it looks like the jerky treats she’s been eating are responsible. And she’s not the only one going through this.
“Last October, Zoey had to come in for dental surgery. At that time I was giving her bacon treats, but then she had to have some teeth pulled and I decided to switch to a new brand,” MacKay told the Star.
The brand she switched to was Vitalife, one that’s available in Costcos, Walmarts and pet food stores across the country — and one that comes with a logo that reads “Approved by Canada.” Though some chains have started removing them from shelves, as of this week they were still available to be ordered online.
Once MacKay switched to Vitalife, Zoey began acting depressed and lethargic, dropping from five to three pounds, something MacKay originally associated with a family move. But as she continued to investigate, making multiple trips to the vet, what she discovered horrified her.
“If this was just Zoey’s case, obviously there wouldn’t be a lot of evidence,” said Selkirk Veterinary Hospital’s Dr. Chris Chart. “But this is a situation that has been going on for at least the last eight years that we know of.”
And the effects are long-term.
“Zoey’s in pretty severe kidney failure and it’s going to shorten her life, no doubt about it,” said Chart. “We’re able to maintain her at the condition she’s in at the moment, but she’s struggling.”
There have been 100 documented Canadian cases of dogs going into kidney failure after being fed chicken, duck or sweet potato treats originating in China. At least eight have died.
“It’s not just Vitalife, the brand Crissa is using, it’s jerky treats in general,” Chart said, noting that their overseas origin is his primary cause for concern.
“We all know what the record in China is for food testing. They had infants and toddlers dying in 2008 because there was melamine in their formula, so that tells you something about their food regulation industry — now imagine what it’s like for pet food products.”
And there’s nothing on the packaging indicating the treats’ origins, which incenses MacKay.
“In Canada, unfortunately, there’s no real oversight for the pet food industry. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has oversight on human food, but they ignore pet food. They will have nothing to do with inspecting or monitoring it,” Chart said.
Under the current system in Canada, the veterinarian association is considered responsible for pet food, but they have no power to enforce decisions or ask for unsafe foods to be removed from consumer shelves.
“These treats are very likely the cause of multiple cases of kidney failure. The manufacturers, of course, are denying they have anything to do with it. But these are in Costcos and Walmarts across Canada,” said Chart.
And the stakes are huge, according to MacKay.
“This makes me cry. She’s my baby and she’s born on my birthday, June 6. I bought these treats with the intention of doing something better for her, not killing her.”
Chart encouraged concerned pet owners to lobby for “some teeth” to be put into the regulation of pet food “so this kind of thing can be stopped.”
According to media reports, 1,000 deaths related to these treats have been reported in the US. And though owners and vets have campaigned for them to be removed from shelves, in many cases that has yet to happen.
In 2014 the Trail Times reported that two greyhounds became violently ill after eating Vitalife treats. At that time the Trail Walmart pulled the item from their shelves. MacKay said Vitalife products were on Nelson Walmart’s shelves until recently, where she bought them.
Nelson pet stores Central Bark, Total Pet and Pet Valu all confirmed they do not carry these products. But that doesn’t mean they’re not out there.
Messages to Walmart’s corporate office and Vitalife were not immediately returned, but according to Vitalife’s website they now source their treats exclusively from Thailand. In the past they’ve denied responsibility for any pet deaths related to its treats.
Normerica, which packages the treats, told media in 2014 that “our manufacturing facilities are certified with the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI). As such they are audited annually and certified to the same calibre as any human food manufacturing facility. Additionally, we are subject to random audits by our retail customers as well as inspections by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.”
But MacKay won’t be satisfied until everyone’s thrown out any Vitalife treats they might have.
“Since I’ve been posting this on Facebook, cautioning people and putting pictures of the bag, I’ve had multiple friends realize they’ve been feeding these treats to their dogs,” MacKay said.
While chatting at the vet, another woman overhead the conversation and said “Oh God! I give those to my dog all the time.”
“People are unaware,” MacKay said. “I just don’t want this to happen to anyone else.”