BLOOMINGTON - Greenies, a popular dog treat, are being blamed for dog deaths across the country, but area veterinarians warn any treat can block an airway or get lodged in an intestine.
"It's certainly not just Greenies," said veterinarian Tim Anderson, who has fished out gooey rawhide chews and nylon bones at Bloomington's Hawthorne Park Animal Care Center.
At least 13 dogs have died after being fed the top-selling pet treat in the country, owners and veterinarians have told CNN. A New York couple has filed a $5 million lawsuit against the manufacturer, S&M NuTec, in one dog's death, CNN reported.
The maker says Greenies are safe if directions are followed, and the treats have not been recalled. However, area pet stores will provide refunds if customers want to return the treats.
Greenies, a toothbrush-shaped treat made of compressed vegetable protein and fiber, is more of a danger if it's gulped instead of chewed, said Marcella Ridgway, an internal medicine specialist at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana.
Only two patients there in the last five years have had a problem with Greenies, she said. An equal number were brought in with rawhide chews blocking the esophagus.
The reason why Greenies block digestive tracts isn't clear, she said, but it may be because the vegetable material is sticky, conforms to tubular organs or expands when it binds to liquids.
"Certainly a lot of dogs have been given Greenies that haven't had a problem but the concern is, when you have a few dogs that have had a problem, it's hard to feel comfortable that it's safe."
While no treat is 100 percent safe, she said, treats made for pets don't cause as many problems as bones and fishhooks.
Some of the more unusual items Anderson has retrieved include rocks, socks, underwear and a doll-sized ceramic tea set, intact.
Cats are less likely to choke on treats and more likely to swallow threaded sewing needles, Ridgway said.
"We did just see a cat with the zip top from a bag of cheese," she said.
Petco store manager Lori Wenzelman, who feeds her two dogs and a cat Greenies, offers advice from a Petco-issued statement that says the treats are safe if used as directed and chewed thoroughly.
Mike Harpest, owner of Premium Pet Supply in Bloomington, also will give refunds, but hasn't heard of any problems locally.
"If we thought for a second that Greenies represented a problem, we'd pull them off the shelf," he said.
The treat is effective at cleaning teeth and alleviating bad breath, Harpest said, and it outsells every other chew toy in stock.
The Greenies Web site offers six sizes of treats, with feeding guidelines based on a dog's weight. Lil'Bits, the smallest, are recommended for dogs weighing 5 pounds or less, puppies younger than 6 months and "dogs that gulp."
The site also says "gulping any item can be harmful or even fatal to a dog."
Small dogs are more likely to have a problem with chews, the veterinarians said, because of the size of their airways.
They advise tearing treats into smaller pieces and watching closely.
"Certainly the large majority of dogs have no problem," Anderson said.