Monthly Archives: August 2007

The must-read for your (and your vet’s) fall reading list

There aren’t any excuses left for veterinarians that continue to advocate, sell, or look the other way about dry food for cats.

For years now, while a number of nutrition-savvy vets have ‘gotten it’ about the folly of feeding meat-flavored cereal to obligate carnivores, for the most part, the only easily accessible published information out there about why and how it is cats do infinitely better on a quality canned food or a balanced raw diet has been on websites like mine, Michelle Bernard’s, Feline Future’s, and the terrific site run by Dr. Lisa Pierson.

My gratitude for those people is immeasurable. Without them, and without early support from Lee Ellis and the wonderful crowd on the Yahoo Feline IBD e-group, I’d likely never have seen the light about what a ridiculous and dangerous idea making dry food the staple of a cat’s diet is. Without Michelle Bernard’s book–which I still consider an absolute ‘must-have’ for anyone with a cat–I’m not sure I would have had the courage to strike out on my own making cat food. Which means that without her book, my cat Duke would likely be gone by now. Or at least gravely ill. Instead, we just recently celebrated his 13th birthday. (True confession: he got whipped cream. Oh, c’mon, it was just one day.)

True, there have been scores of scientific papers and studies done by pet food industry researchers and veterinarians on cats as carnivores, but some of the pet food industry research seems to be held tight like some kind of state secret. And while there have been notable papers out there — such as Deborah Zoran’s groundbreaking 2002 JAVMA article and Dr. Deborah Greco’s comments on the ‘Catkins’ diet–it seems that even that work hadn’t really grabbed the attention of the mainstream veterinary community in a way to create the sea change we need.

It’s astonished me more and more each year, as the evidence mounts about how upside-down so many of the pet foods sold for cats are, that the aisles of the pet food superstores are packed to the rafters with dry food and nearly every veterinary clinic I walk in or hear about still carries incredibly low-grade, species-inappropriate dry food.

What’s it going to take? While more and more lay people have taken it on themselves to learn about nutrition — a task thankfully made easier by the Internet — it’s still hard to walk into a vet’s office and have The Conversation about diet with a kibble-peddling veterinarian. And if you say, “well, I read about it online . . . ” it’s not unusual to be met with blank stares, rolling eyes, and maybe even a stern lecture about being cautious about anything that comes from the Internet.

Well, maybe what it takes is the book published this summer by Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins, “Your Cat: Simple New Secrets to a Longer and Stronger Life.” Have you read this book?

I was lucky enough to see the book just before publication, and as good as I thought it was then, I’m even more impressed now that the book is out. It’s one of the most practical guides to living with cats out on the overcrowded “pet care” shelves at bookstores today. Not only does this highly-credentialed and compassionate veterinarian cover all the basics about dealing with all the issues that arise in living with a cat from kittenhood through the senior years, but it also gives the reader one-stop shopping for some long overdue, sane advice from a veterinarian about:

  • the myth that dry food cleans a cat’s teeth;
  • vaccinations, and the discovery that vaccinating annually may be dangerous and entirely unnecessary;
  • the latest treatment for chronic renal failure (hint: um, it’s not about protein starvation!) ;
  • and nutrition (hint: quit being so gosh darn scared about raw diets.)

And that’s just for starters.

Really, you gotta get this book. And if your vet hasn’t read it, ask why.

Catnutrition.org upgrade 4.7

Faithful regulars to catnutrition.org must be rolling their eyes. Within the past month, they’ll have seen yet another overhaul of the site.

I thought I was so very clever a few months back, opting to re-do the site on my own using iWeb, the web design program that comes with Apple’s iLife suite. I love my Apple. I love Apple programs. I live for iTunes. But let me tell you, using iWeb to re-do a site like mine? Baaaaad idea.

It backfired horribly, taking what was a more-or-less navigable site that loaded relatively quickly and inexplicably turning small photos into grotesquely oversized files, hence rendering the site virtually out of reach for anyone with less than a high-speed connection. The whole thing ground to a near complete halt.

Oh, and never mind that it became impossible to print the pages.I love you Apple, I do, but iWeb truly bites for anything but the simplest sites.

But still, Macs rule.

So along came Epiphanio Sanchez, a terrific human being I met last summer at a retreat. Epiphanio is an artist, musician, graphic designer, life coach, and yogi. And an awesome web guy. He runs Pearl Planet Design. I did what I said I’d never do — pay someone to professionally re-do the entiresite. And it’s paid off immensely, at least psychically. Not having to fight with iWeb or Dreamweaver or fill-in-the-blank web design program to update the site. And he very patiently, just today in fact, walked me through the ABCs of html so I can easily update the site myself. I don’t recall when I’ve worked with someone more patient, kind-hearted, reliable, and enjoyable.

Hand-coded HTML. Wow. I get it. I might even be able to learn this.For those of you frustrated with the site’s slowness in loading and other bugs these past months, thanks for being so patient. And Epiphanio? You rock my world.The educational website on cat nutrition that I’ve run for coming up on five years now has always been a labor of love. And as the site got more popular and site visitors increased, I have remained true to my word to never accept advertising. Not to boast, but catnutrition.org has a high rank on Google, and more than a few folks told me I could recoup my costs pretty quickly if I just started letting ads on to my site. But eeew! After all those years and all those email answers explaining why most commercial pet food is dreadful I’m going to let ads for dry indoor-formula food appear on my site? Not so much.

Nettie ponders web design options.

And I never will. But this latest upgrade has been entirely an out-of-pocket expense. Worth it, mind you, but out of pocket nonetheless. And I’m not living off any trust fund here. So after much consideration, I created an option for people to donate some money to help begin to offset the cost of hiring a web designer, maintaining the site, and periodically paying for more bandwidth. If the site has helped you and you’re of a mind to pay it forward, I’m much obliged. It feels a little funny to me asking people for money.

Still . . . I’ve had nice offers over the years from people asking how they could say thanks.

The greatest and most meaningful payback I can get is knowing that more people are feeding their cats like the carnivores they are, and giving them the best shot at a life that isn’t plagued with the multiple diseases that far too many of our beloved housecats are enduring as a result of feeding a diet that has no relationship to what it is Mother Nature built them to eat. Knowing that along with the other noisy voices out there — Michelle Bernard, Dr. Lisa Pierson, Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins, and the wonderful folks at Feline Outreach — the site has had something small to do with the awakening on pet food? That’s a heckuva nice feeling. I’m very proud to be a little voice in their chorus for sanity.

So thanks for bearing with these website renovations. And an extra big thanks if you opt to financially help offset the cost.

But mostly? Please, feed well.

Why are vets still peddling junk food?

One of the most articulate and professionally credentialed veterinary voices today on the root causes of the latest pet food recall, Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins, made quite a splash in Canada in June when the California-based veterinarian spoke to a Toronto gathering.

Have a listen and a read. Dr. Hodgkins is speaking out a great deal on the folly of putting faith in labels that make claims about foods being 100 percent nutritionally complete, and gaining long overdue attention for the myth that the feeding trials used to determine minimum requirements are meaningful. Did you know, for example, that feeding trials test maybe eight animals–and a couple are allowed to drop out or die–and continue for perhaps between 10 weeks and six months. Can anyone keep a straight face and say that these kinds of tests really tell pet food companies what a food must contain to sustain the long-term health of an animal?

And you might pay special attention to her comments about the reason that so many vets are reflexively opposed to raw feeding. And why you may see so many rows and rows of bags of dry food for sale at your vet’s office. Sobering stuff.

My vote? Now is the perfect time to speak up and open a dialogue with your own vet about what you feed. As much as I despise what this latest recall has wrought, the silver lining in this cloud is that no vet who’s had his or her head in the sand on diet issues can seriously argue that commercial pet food (including the stuff sold from clinics) is safe and nutritionally complete.

Give your vet a copy of the 2002 article by Dr. Debra Zoran. Suggest s/he have a look at Dr. Hodgkins’s awesome new book. Gently ask for an explanation about why so much dry food is sold in the clinic.

More and more vets are getting on board and recognizing that abdicating nutritional decisionmaking to the pet food companies doesn’t offer their clients what they deserve and are, increasingly, demanding.

Make the demand.

We aren’t snowed any more

It probably goes without saying that I put very little (okay, absolutely no) stock in the notion that specific breeds of cats have unique nutritional needs. All cats are obligate carnivores, regardless of their breed or, for that matter, whether they spend their time indoors or outdoors. It strains the imagination to think that knowing what we know with certainty now about cats’ very specific nutritional needs that anyone could, with a straight face, try marketing cat food on the basis that where a cat spends its time or what breed it is has any serious bearing on its dietary requirements.

And yet? You don’t have to spend much time perusing the websites of some of the more popular pet food lines to learn that in spite of the overwhelming, common-sense evidence that cats are carnivores that suffer from eating moisture-deprived, carbohydrate-based meat-flavored cereal, many companies are latching on to increasingly absurd and deceitful methods to peddle exactly these diets.

Methinks they’re getting more desperate.

It used to be enough to make inaccurate claims about the nutritional ‘completeness’ of various diets, but in recent years, the marketing pitches get increasingly more absurd. Now, we are told, certain breeds of cats have special requirements requiring special formulas. Never mind that more than a couple of companies are now hawking foods that ostensibly meet the differing nutritional needs of outdoor cats and indoor cats.

Just for kicks this not long ago, I spent a little quality time dissecting the claims made on some of the pet food company websites that are now aggressively marketing this way. Here are just a handful of the implicit and explicit conclusions one is led to draw from the ‘technical articles’ and explanations they offer:

All breeds are apparently quite fine eating nothing but dry food.

The shape of the kibble is paramount to ensuring that each cat gets what it needs. Maine Coons, for example, ostensibly benefit from especially large-sized kibble, according to one company, whereas Persian cats do best with kibble that’s shaped like an almond.

Corn gluten meal is a perfectly reasonable primary ingredient in the diet of an obligate carnivore.

Chicken meal is appropriate as the primary ingredient for all cats.

Outdoor cats, perhaps owing to the “greater stress they face,” have a greater need for corn gluten meal.

Need I go on? Really, if it weren’t for the fact that these dry, carbohydrate-heavy foods are overwhelmingly implicated in fueling illness in living, breathing, and deserving creatures, it would be funny. (One website boasts about “ergonomic kibble.”) Reading over a few of these company websites this morning, I was tempted to send several of them an email asking what I would do if, pray tell, I had a half-Persian, half-tabby cat that spends 20 percent of his time outdoors and has a history of digestive sensitivity to grains. Do I mix the various dry formulas in a certain ratio? Or in this case am I better off using a prescription dry food with plenty of rice protein concentrate and a bit of BHA-preserved soybean oil thrown in for good measure?

Puh-leez.

We’re not snowed any more. If we were before the pet food recalls and the attendant attention it’s brought to the laissez-faire attitude of many companies’ to the suppliers they use, we certainly have no excuse now.

The jig is up.

  • A Maine Coon cat does best on the diet Mother Nature intended. One that is grain-free and contains real meat, bone (or another good bioavailable calcium source), and organs.
  • A Persian cat does best on the diet Mother Nature intended. One that is grain-free and contains real meat, bone (or another good bioavailable calcium source), and organs.
  • A Siamese cat does best on the diet Mother Nature intended. One that is grain-free and contains real meat, bone (or another good bioavailable calcium source), and organs.
  • An indoor cat does best on the diet Mother Nature intended. One that is grain-free and contains real meat, bone (or another good bioavailable calcium source), and organs.

You get the idea.

Our cats don’t need a specially-shaped kibble and they never have. All they’ve needed is a diet that respects the fact that they’re carnivores.

The author of the groundbreaking book, “Food Pets Die For,” Ann Martin, has an article published just last week reminding readers that she personally traced euthanized pets from veterinary clinics in the city she lives to the rendering plants where they are processed and shipped to pet food companies. Thus, pentobarbital–the drug used to euthanize animals–ends up being fed to pets.

A senior official at the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, an organization charged with regulating the manufacture of food additives and drugs given to animals, told Martin that pentobarbital is not approved for use in pet food but that the CVM has no plans to undertake any special enforcement efforts to detect it in pet foods. We’re on our own, folks. Mostly.

This sounds like it’s all a Big Bad News Story, I know. But despite the rank absurdity that so many in the pet food industry tries to shove down our throats, I detect lots of Good News Stories these days: Unbiased information on how to safely and correctly feed our cats is readily available to anyone with the curiosity and an Internet connection. Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins’ remarkable book hit the streets in June and we have no excuses left. The nutritional consequences of the cat’s carnivorous nature is well-documented in the mainstream veterinary literature and remains undisputed. Michelle Bernard’s information-packed and oh-so-readable book on the hows and whys of species-appropriate feeding is available to anyone wanting to dive deep into the individual ingredients while steering clear of the baffling overuse of smoke-and-mirrors “science” that characterizes the pet food company nutritional information websites. There are responsible, passionate, and dedicate people in the blogosphere who can keep us current on the latest things we need to be on the lookout for in the world of commercial food. And more honest, small companies are appearing on the horizon that offer truly great alternatives to the junk food that we find in the pet food superstores or, sadly, lining the shelves of veterinary clinics.

We’re not buying what the pet food industry is selling any more These companies that have contributed so conspicuously to terrible conditions like diabetes, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, and urinary tract disorders? Whatever residue of benefit of the doubt was there once is fast slipping away.

We have informed choices to make now. And we have the information we need to defend those choices readily at our fingertips. We can share this information with our vets, demand straight answers, and confidently feed diets that are closer to what Mother Nature intended for these magnificent creatures — no matter the breed.

It’s about time.

There are two ways we can look at all this: through the prism of discouragement and anger over how dreadfully deceived so many of us have been for so many years; or through a welcome sense of hope over the shift that’s underway.

I vote we embrace the latter and move forward.