ATLANTA -- "You're such a good girl," Dr. Duffy Jones croons to a red-eyed hound at the Peachtree Hills Animal hospital. Her diagnosis is allergies. "It's that time of year," Jones explains.
But there's something happening with his patients harder to explain: a growing number of his patients have a harder-to-detect, much more serious illness.
"It's called the Fanconi syndrome," he said. "It's genetic, and it's rare. It's basically, when the kidneys get very, very leaky and start leaking glucose into the urine. We don't see that very often, and so we started seeing a rash of these. And we started asking ourselves, why are we seeing this Fanconi syndrome in dogs that shouldn't have it?" It's been a topic of discussion and concern within the Georgia veterinary community.
He says the likely culprit is jerky pet treats made in China.
I asked Dr. Jones if there was any doubt in his mind that the treats were to blame. "Not in my mind. We've had a couple of cases where they came in with the treats."
He reported the cases to the FDA. There were 600 cases of illness possibly tied to chicken jerky pets.
11Alive's partners at MSNBC obtained a list of the FDA's Priority One cases. Priority One cases are those in which the animal younger than 11 years, has medical records that document the illness, and often samples of the treat. Of 22 Priority One cases, 13 citied Waggin' Train or Canyon Creek Ranch jerky treats, both produced by Nestle Purina. Another three listed Milo's Kitchen, produced by Del Mont Corp. The rest listed single brands or no brand.
The jerky treats are popular, and are even on sale right now at a popular Atlanta grocery store chain. There's a good chance pet owners have them at home. I did. I was feeding them to my rescue dog, Yogi.
"I'll ask what so many pet owners are asking: Should I be concerned?" I asked Dr. Jones.
"Yes, you need to be concerned if the treats you're giving are on the list. We've been telling owners: if you're feeding these treats and you see your dog throw up, we want to see them early. An early diagnosis is key," he said.
Dr. Jones said all of his "jerky sickness" patients are doing OK today. "But they'll always have kidney issues. We treat them differently." He points out some of his colleagues have had less luck and lost patients with a mysterious Fanconi diagnosis.
The FDA warned pet owners about jerky treats back in November, it was the FDA's third warning since 2007.
So, how was I able to buy these treats just this week?
The FDA has not been able to find any definitive cause. It's something the spokesman for Nestle Purina points to, saying "Our chicken jerky treats are safe to feed as directed. The safety of our products -- and the pets who consumer them -- are our top priority."
Dr. Jones' top priority: his patients. His advice to me: don't let Yogi finish that bag of treats.
The spokesman for Nestle Purina said all of their factories have safety controls in place. Their website defends the Chinese production:
"These treats are made in China at facilities that meet U.S. Department of Agriculture standards for quality and safety. In China, dark meat chicken is more popular with consumers than white meat chicken, and so the supply of quality, white meat chicken used in our products is more readily available for dog treats. The factories are under stringent safety and sanitary guidelines and monitored by a dedicated team of quality control inspectors, who are in the plants where the products are being produced."
Still, Dr. Duffy and many other pet owners recommend completely avoiding any treats made in China. But, that's a lot harder than it sounds. Even though the Waggin' Train Jerky Tenders are made in China, in bold letters on the back of the bag, it lists the distribution local in South Carolina and that "Waggin' Train is an American owned company." Near the barcode, it also lists "Made in China."
"It is a very difficult thing for owners to wrap their arms around because they love their dog," Dr. Duffy said. "And they hate to think something that they did may have actually caused their disease."