Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Pet food safety

Bill's thoughts on pet food safety have been on my heart, and although I don't currently have a furkid, it's a topic near and dear to my heart. Most of you know that we lost our dear companion of 18 years to melamine-tainted cat food (what is worse, it was a "desperation purchase" to fill in for ONE feeding on a Sunday, when Farm Supply -- our purveyor of high-quality food -- was closed and we had to make do with supermarket pet food).

Please, if you have pets, make this site a frequently visited link: the AVMA's pet food safety page. It links articles on pet food safety issues, and updates frequently. This is hugely important to your pets: Pepe beat recurring breast cancer with multiple mastectomies, hyperthyroidism, dental abscesses, and other normal complaints of old age, but poisoned food, given to her by loving hands, killed her. Loving hands need informed minds.

Also, Bill reminded me that I have some information to share. I did a lot of research back when I was having a argument with vegan friends about what it meant to veganize an obligate carnivore like a cat, which temporally coincided with our trying to tempt Pepe's fickle appetite whilst her weight was in freefall. (We baked chicken or fish for her, even though we were vegetarian/vegan at that time -- and it worked! She insisted that we pepper the chicken so it smelled like "human food," though.)

I'm cutting/pasting from Bill's comments forum because I'm basically lazy. If you search diligently and use reliable sources (i.e. humane society, ASPCA, etc.), you will find more complete lists of food sensitivities for cats AND dogs. And for goodness sakes, if you have exotic birds, be very careful with their food and air.

Here comes the quotes:

I made cat food for about 6 months, until Pepe was over her weight loss crisis, then returned her to high-quality tinned food. There are things that cats really can't eat -- onions, which can provoke anemia, for instance. They don't digest grain at all ... it's just a filler in their canned food ... so don't be surprised if they eat a lot LESS of their homemade food. If you make some for them, they'll probably enjoy it more and will remain healthy eating it, so long as you are alert to allergens and things their species can't tolerate. There are lists somewhere...

I know cow's milk causes diarrhea, that cats are obligate carnivores (must have animal protein), and that they can't have onions. But there are useful nutrients in some fruits & veggies: high-quality foods often include a little greens, beets, sweet potatoes, cranberries, or other fruit & veg.

I found the following to be helpful with my elderly, finicky, sick cat:
-food not served at room temp may be rejected: cold food was unequivocally turned down by my cat.
-serve very small portions as if feeding a treat from the resident humans' table scraps. Just a few bites at a time.
-keep main protein flavors relatively separate... my cat found mixtures unpalatable even if all components were previously found acceptable. Also, once a mixture was rejected, she tended to avoid the separate components when served alone. (We were feeding her "kitten glop", a kitten formula replacement made of evaporated milk, gelatin & mayo -- I know, gross -- and "improved" it with clams. Spectacular failure, though she had been consuming both items before. Subsequently neither clams nor "glop" was okay with her.)

Oh! And counterintuitive as it sounds, dry kibble is more prone to bacterial contamination than is "wet food." Processing, storage, and serving techniques just don't sterilize the dry stuff as well, and the kids get it sloppy when picking up and dropping bits into the food dish. I got to where I had to wash the dish between each feeding and feed a FEW kibbles at a time... she thought I was starving her to death if I didn't offer it at all, no matter how little she wanted to eat it when presented gooshy alternatives.

Finally, good news for the holidays that surprised me when I ran into it last holiday season. Poinsettias aren't really that dangerous to cats... they just can't eat enough of them to make themselves ill. They'll barf, but that doesn't distinguish poinsettias from, say, cat grass, or lettuce, or that fuzzy thing they found in the carpeting. So feel free to decorate your home with them. Of course, they ARE mildly toxic... if your cat finds it particularly attractive to chew them, you might want to put them up high where they are not a temptation.

And more good holiday news: many cats really, really like sweet potato. :)

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