Published: Jul 17, 2012 4:06 PM EDT
Updated: Jul 17, 2012 8:17 PM EDT

LEE COUNTY, Fla.- A local veterinarian is warning pet owners to avoid chicken jerky treats, made in China. Dr. Michelle Patrick of SW Florida Veterinary Specialists of Bonita Springs says the treats are suspected in the illnesses and deaths of at least 900 dogs in the U.S. recently.

"I would not feed these treats to my pet," said Dr. Patrick. "We are seeing cases where animals develop kidney problems, severe problems, and some are dying. We believe there is something in that chicken product from China that is causing the problems. We don't know what it is, the Food and Drug Administration does not know what it is, but we recommend people avoid these products."

The chicken jerky treats can be found in most pet food stores, under a variety of brand names. The treats have become fairly popular with dog owners in recent years.

Dr. Patrick, a specialist in internal health of animals, treated a local dog, that had eaten the treats for a month. Dr. Patrick was able to save Sami, but the dog must take 10 pills every 12 hours, the rest of its life, to counteract the severe kidney damage.

"The dogs often are lethargic, they sometimes have nausea, and usually they drink a lot more water than normal, and they urinate a lot more than normal. I believe these chicken treats take away some chemicals from the kidneys, and cause permanent, life-long damage," Dr. Patrick told WINK News.

Sami's owner, Melissa Sigman of Lee County, told WINK: "We were very upset, very emotional about this. We bought these treats in good faith from a reputable pet store. Now we are trying to spread the word to owners: do not buy or feed these treats. We believe the FDA should pull the products off the shelves. There have been so many cases, there has got to be something going on."

The FDA has issued a warning about a potential threat from the Chinese-made products. But the agency has not been able to establish a firm, scientific link between the chicken products, and sick dogs.  A spokesperson for PetSmart issued a statement to WINK News Tuesday evening, saying the company monitors safety issues closely, and points out that the FDA has not requested or required the removal of the chicken jerky items.   The statement says PetSmart will follow what the agency instructs, if anything, in the future.