The jerky treat mystery: What's killing our pets?

After almost 600 pets have died and another 3,600 more have fallen ill, animal health officials are no closer to what caused the sickness linked to China-made jerky treats.

The Federal Drug administration said pets - nearly all dogs along with 10 cats - became ill with violent gastrointestinal distress after eating various brands of duck, chicken and sweet potato jerky treats. Reports of illnesses being tracked since 2007 in most states, including Pennsylvania, have slowed since recalls were issued on certain brands.

But cases of illness linked to jerky treats continue, leaving federal officials with an unsolved pet health mystery.

“To date, testing for contaminants in jerky treats has not revealed a cause for the illnesses,” Martine Hartogensis, a deputy director for the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, said in the new report released Tuesday. “Despite these warnings, we have continued to receive reports of illnesses in both cats and dogs.”

The FDA is seeking help from the public and veterinarians to report all cases of jerky-related illness and provide blood samples and other medical data to federal health officials.

The best thing pet owners can do to keep their dogs and cats safe is read the fine print and avoid all treats made in China. In fact, since these treats are not part of a complete diet, veterinarians say there is no reason why they can't be eliminated.

If your dog or cat becomes ill seek treatment immediately and save the package to report to your vet and the FDA.

Symptoms include decreased appetite and activity, vomiting, diarrhea, increased water consumption and increased urination. Some pets suffer kidney failure, While pets have died, the FDA reminds pet owners that many more pets have recovered with proper treatment.

The FDA has extensive information about the jerky treat health crisis and its response on its website.