FDA proposes strict new safety standards for pet food producers

KIRKLAND, Wash. -- After jerky treats from China killed 600 dogs and sickened thousands more, the FDA proposed strict new safety standards Friday for pet food producers.

There's no new recall on imported pet treats, but some local pet stores aren't taking any chances.

"It causes alarm in everybody and our customers show a lot of concern for that," said pet store manager Laura Hook.

The FDA first reported the problem with mostly chicken jerky strips and tenders back in 2007. Maria Higginbotham says her dog nearly died.

"By his elevated liver toxins they could tell that he'd ingested some type of toxin," Higginbotham said.

The FDA proposed strict new sanitation rules for companies that make animal and pet food, domestic and imported. Producers of treats from China would have to meet safety standards before their products could be sold here.

The people at Denny's Pet World and Mud Bay say for years they've been trying to replace their products from China with chicken jerky made in the US, but they say it was tougher to to find than they thought.

"Price is a little bit more but it's safer for our pets," Hook said.

Veterinarian Matthew Kleven says it's frustrating not understanding exactly what is causing the elusive illnesses, so he offers pet owners a blanket warning.

"You hate to throw the baby out with the bath water -- I'm sure there's some good companies and some good treats out there," Kleven said. "But if we're just trying to protect our own pets, which is the most important part, I'd just stay away until we know more."

Even though some customers fed their pets jerky for a decade without problems, stores aren't taking chances.

"Regardless of recall or not, better safe than sorry," Hook said.

Until now, the FDA hasn't made companies analyze potential food safety hazards of pet treats. Pet owners say that's not just important for animals but for owners who handle the food first.