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TODAY   |  October 23, 2013

Rossen: How to keep pets safe from tainted jerky

A new safety alert has been issued for pet owners to avoid popular pet jerky treats that could sicken or even kill your animals. TODAY’s Jeff Rossen reports.

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>>> rossen reports safety alert and this one involves your pets. jeff rossen has the story. good morning to you.

>> good morning. what's scary here is that the numbers are so staggering. thousands of pets have already gotten sick from this. nearly 600 dogs have died. we're talking about the popular jerky treats that dogs seem to love. is there some ingredient in them causing pets to collapse? this morning the fda is calling it a mystery and issuing a new warning.

>> reporter: complaints are pouring in from all over the country. in california, rachel chambers gave her dogs jerky treats. within hours, she says, two of them got seriously sick and her third dog, callie died. her stomach had ruptured.

>> it was violent and she did not deserve the way that she died.

>> reporter: in missouri, shannon fed her chihuahua mixes chicken jerky. she says they nearly died.

>> she got so sick her heart even seemed to stop.

>> reporter: in pennsylvania, kristen fed her dog jerky treats too saying his kidneys shutdown.

>> they suggested i put him down. i held him in my arms until his body relaxed.

>> reporter: now the fda is issuing this new alert. why are jerky treats making pets sick? researchers can't figure it out but they are investigating chicken, duck made in china. and so far 3600 dogs and 10 cats affected including deaths. stomach issues, kidney failure , convulsions, tremors and hives.

>> by the time they get into the vets office it's too late. they go downhill.

>> happens that fast?

>> happens that fast.

>> reporter: he said we need more government oversite of imported pet food .

>> there's sporadic inspection so it's making its way into our treats.

>> reporter: earlier this year several top brands were recalled and complaints have gone down. but we called jerky treats from other brands imported from china still on store shelves. the group representing manufacturers told us the fda has been investigating for years and has found no definitive link that would explain a potential health problem. but these pet owners are convinced the treats are dangerous.

>> had we been informed, we wouldn't be sitting here today having this conversation. halle would be with us. absolutely.

>> so the big question, how do you protect your pet at home. here's the takeaway. many vets say you don't need to give the dogs the treat. they're not essential for a pet's diet but if you do feed them these watch them for stomach issue and a loss of appetite and if your pet does get sick, save the treat packaging and report it to the fda . it will help them figure out the mystery. we have a link on today.com to walk you through it and give you the tips you need so this doesn't happen to you. these stories are sad to watch.

>> yeah, breaks your heart. coming