DETROIT -

American pet owners love to spoil their four-legged friends. One estimate says they'll spend $52 billion dollars in 2012 on pet care. A portion of that money is spent on snacks and toys, but picking the wrong treat can be hazardous to an animal's health.

One pet owner shared his story as a warning to others. Dr. Mark Shank owns two Great Danes, Jake and Molly. Late last year, Jake started to show signs he was sick.

"Jake had chronic vomiting and diarrhea. he had lost 10 pounds over a month period," remembers Dr. Kyle Kerstetter, Chief of Surgery at Michigan Veterinary Specialists.

It was a stressful time for Dr. Mark Shank, who got Jake to serve as a companion after his own father died.

"I hate to say it, but I was on the phone bawling to my fiancé. I'm like you know, Jake is so sick, I don't know what to do with him." Shank told Ruth to the Rescue.

 

Surprise Diagnosis

After months of vet visits, Shank was surprised to learn Jake had swallowed a 3 foot-long stuffed toy, and had to have surgery to remove it. "I would definitely tell the other pet owners to really be aware of what you're buying your dogs," Shank says now.

Experts tell Ruth to the Rescue it is important to match the right-sized toy with the right-sized dogs. For example, bigger dogs should never be given toys or treats that they might be able to swallow in one gulp, but that could get stuck somewhere inside their bodies.

Dr. Kyle Kerstetter offered this advice, "Make sure you don't give your pet anything that's small enough for them to swallow to play with" and he added, "Another piece of advice would be, keep track of your dog's toys- don't just assume if one goes missing that its lost behind the couch or something."

 

Be Careful With Doggie Treats Too!

Veterinarians tell Ruth to the Rescue toys aren't the only problem. You also need to be careful with the treats you pick for your pets. Again, the size of those treats is key. Dr. Jim Whitehead says he sees about one or two cases a month of pets that have swallowed treats they shouldn't have.

"In some extreme circumstances, major surgery has to take place to try to alleviate the obstruction," according to Dr. Jim Whitehead. He is also concerned about chicken jerky treats from China. the Food and Drug Administration has cautioned owners the treats may be associated with illnesses in dogs. And, there's a class action suit against some manufacturers and major retailers who sell the treats.

"We don't understand exactly what chemicals are making these dogs sick. There have been 900 to 1,000 specific cases of dogs that have been poisoned by these treats from China," said Dr. Jim Whitehead.

According to Whitehead, "Until we have more evidence that proves or disproves there is a link in the treats, I would avoid them." A spokesman for Waggin' Train which makes some of the most popular chicken jerky treats says there's no clear evidence that the treats made all those dogs sick.

Keith Schopp told Ruth to the Rescue, "Chicken jerky treats are safe to feed as directed" and "Millions of healthy and happy dogs enjoy the treats every year." If you want to hear more from the company about its jerky treats follow this link to its website: http://www.waggintrainbrand.com/

If you want to avoid them, how do you do it? Read the packaging very carefully. When a Ruth to the Rescue producer went looking for chicken jerky from China, he thought most brands were made in the U.S.A. until he looked much more closely at the package. Sometimes, the "Made In China" notation is hard to spot.

 

More Expert Advice For Pet Owners

The takeaway from all this: be thoughtful and cautious when buying toys and treats for your pets, if you're not already doing so.

* Talk to your vet about the best size and types of treats for your pet.

* For large dogs, have large treats or large toys that would be too big to swallow.

* The doctors say to be very careful with any rawhide treats as they can splinter, and there can be a risk of choking.

* Try to avoid leaving your dogs unattended with toys or treats. If you're monitoring they're use, you would know immediately if there's a problem.

* Don't leave your dog alone with a treat when you head to work.

* At the very least, monitor your pet the first time you introduce a new toy or treat to see how he/she handles it.

 

The doctors also offered advice on how to tell if you're dog may have swallowed something he should not have.

* One of the most common signs is the dog will look like he/she is trying to gulp something down.

* If your dog is salivating profusely, there could be a problem.

* Be on the lookout for dogs that seem very distressed, anxious, or uncomfortable.