Category Archives: cat health

Remembering Shelby Gomas

A little under two months ago, word reached me that Shelby Gomas – the founder of Feline’s Pride – passed away. I’ve wanted to write something, say something, for the longest time, but I’ve been without words.

The words came, clumsily, this morning, when my husband and I were making cat food and we ran out of enough glass jars to put the food in. We looked at each other and agreed, “Yup, we’re going to have to use the Shelby containers.”

The Shelby containers. Shorthand for the square plastic storage boxes we’d accumulated dozens of over the years from purchases of Feline’s Pride food – known affectionately in our house as “Uncle Shlebee’s food.” (Long story.)

When I went into the basement pantry to retrieve them, I spied the tall stack of plastic containers that had once protected pound after pound of frozen, healthy, magnificent raw food I’d gladly fed our critters. My heart sunk a little knowing I couldn’t email Shelby and share my goofy little story about how he’d come to mind this cold January day. He’d have laughed if I’d written, “Hey Shelby! When I see stacks of petroleum-based food storage units, I think of you!”

Shelby hatched the idea of Feline’s Pride a few years back after I ran into him on the Feline IBD Yahoo e-group. He’d seen firsthand how a carefully prepared, correctly served raw meat based diet was the healthiest thing for carnivores and launched his company, selling about the only pre-made raw cat food I ever felt comfortable buying. Shelby “got it” about what was truly appropriate for carnivores, and didn’t fall prey to the common folly that other raw cat food manufacturers did – which was to toss in all kinds of healthy-sounding – but entirely species-inappropriate – ingredients like blueberries and flax seed and potatoes.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m happy to see more companies elbowing their way into the business of making healthy, fresh, cat food. But I will always hold out immense respect for those that shy away from adding what amounts to filler – under the anthropomorphic fantasy that what’s very healthy for humans is appropriate for small cats – even though it’s tempting and easy to market such formulas.

Shelby was special. He was very funny. He adored his animals. And he saw every cat who ate the food he made as an adoptee.

Having been a homemade cat food advocate for a long time, I never felt comfortable serving any food I hadn’t made myself. But when Feline’s Pride came along, I started supplementing the food I made with orders from Shelby. Anyone who knows me – and what a fussbudget I am about what goes into my cat’s food and my innate suspicion about anything anyone else prepares – knows that I must have had a very high degree of trust to serve someone else’s food.

The cardboard boxes with the food inside almost invariably arrived with special gifts for the cats — homemade catnip toys and sometimes even a personal note of affection for Duke and Nettie. For about a year there, I found myself getting ‘lazy’ and just buying Feline’s Pride. I put my grinder away, and was frankly grateful as life and my job got more busy that I was able to buy and confidently serve cat food that was as good as anything I could make at home.

I went back to making my own food all of the time in the middle of 2010, in part because – frankly – I missed doing it. And because after losing Duke earlier in the year, I wanted to return to the labor of love that began because of Duke.

It’s staggering to think of how much love-charged water has passed under the bridge since a handful of us first started waking up to the the importance of reexamining the whole paradigm of feeding small cats. The founder and moderator of the Feline IBD e-group, Lee Ellis, started her own pet sitting service, and continues to share the word with her clients about the benefits and wisdom of a healthy diet. One of the godmothers of raw feeding, my first mentor, Michelle Bernard, has taken her knowledge and insight on healthy feeding for cats and become a vigorous advocate for healthy raw diets for her beloved dogs.

Natascha Wille of the Raw Meat Cat Food Company (formerly Feline Future) remains, after over 15 years, an articulate and insightful advocate for raw feeding. Then there’s wonderful Margaret Gates, who launched an amazing movement and site with the Feline Nutrition Education Society – and some of the best ‘educational commercials’ online sharing the important message about raw feeding – without ever getting preachy or so weird no one will watch. It’s an amazing site.

And Dr. Lisa Pierson – who I am honored to count as a friend – has a recently revamped website on cat care that knocks it out of the ballpark when it comes to one-stop shopping for thoughtful, sound, advice on every aspect of cat health, including nutrition.

Then? Then there was Shelby. An upstart if there ever was one. His vision and passion – much more than his business sense (I’m guessing) – were what kept him going, but bless him for that. He always put cats first. And talk about someone with a heart always in the right place.

Thank you, Shelby, for making such a difference when you were here. Thank you for all the meals that my cats enjoyed because you made them when I was too busy. Thank you for sharing your deep passion and love for our animal companions. If I had a hat on just now, I’d “doff it” to you.

You’re missed.

You were appreciated.

And there are many cats thriving and well today because of your dedication.

For all that, we are ever grateful.

Please learn from my mistake

We nearly lost Nettie this week.

Now that I’ve calmed down sufficiently, I’m following through on the suggestion of a dear friend who suggested I share the lesson from our story in the hope that it might spare someone else from going through what we did.

While enjoying some pleasant early fall weather out on our screened-in porch with Nettie, who so covets her time out in the fresh air monitoring the bird and squirrel action, she suddenly started “mouth-breathing” and gasping for air. She’s had some slight asthmatic tendencies in recent years, but nothing alarming. And certainly she had never exhibited anything like this before. Within a minute, it was clear this wasn’t passing. She continued to mouth-breathe, interrupting that every 15 seconds or so with what sounded like a howl of agony. She appeared to be suffocating.

After rushing her in to the vet, she was whisked away immediately to get oxygen therapy, blood work, and x-rays.

I sat in stunned silence in the waiting room. Forty agonizing minutes later, the vet reported that while it was difficult to know with absolute certainty what had happened, the two most likely scenarios were either an acute asthma attack or a blood clot in her lung. Radiographs showed that the middle lobe of her right lung was collapsed, although there was no way of knowing with certainty if that was a new development or something she’d had for awhile that went undetected time. The collapsed lung was consistent with both scenarios.

Over the next hour, as we tried to sleuth our way through the mystery, I was asked repeatedly if there was any chance she’d “gotten into” anything. I was adamant that she had not. No, I said, there was nothing that she could have gotten into. I am a zealot about what I introduce into the environment in our house – everything from floor and window cleaners to what I use to clean the litter box is scrutinized to make sure that anything she might get on her paws or her fur is cat safe.

We faced two awful options: a) presume it’s a blood clot and euthanize her; b) presume that it’s a severe asthma attack that she might recover from but, given her suddenly deteriorated and precarious state, first subject her to a one- to two-day hospital stay where she would undergo extensive diagnostics to see if they could figure out what was happening.

Obviously, option A was awful. But I wasn’t crazy about option B either. It’s wrenching to think of leaving a beloved animal alone and frightened and confused in a strange place – but particularly wrenching when you think that this might well be the way your beloved, loyal, furry friend spends her last days.

We went to her. She was laying on her side, her head in the oxygen mask, a catheter in her leg, looking like she was most certainly dying. It was one of the saddest sights I’ve ever seen and my heart broke into a thousand pieces. We made the decision to euthanize and while the vet went to retrieve the paperwork, we stroked her, we told her how much she was cherished and loved, and tried mightily to come to grips with the idea that this amazing creature wouldn’t be coming home with us. How could it be that at 2 pm we were enjoying the shade of the porch with her and at 4 pm we were saying goodbye?

Just when it seemed things were at their lowest, about 30 seconds before the vet came back in the room? Nettie pulled her head out of the oxygen mask, opened her eyes, and began to look mighty fine.

Err, what?

She meowed at me. She began to lick her paws and groom her face. The look on her face said, “Hey! What’s going on here? This is new.

The vet came in and was pleasantly taken aback at what she saw. “This girl is really perking up!” she said, surprised as we were. My mind was racing and grasping for any explanation that made sense; I was trying to figure out if there was any possible cause for this very sudden and strange eruption of symptoms.

I recalled the question first asked when I brought her in: “Did you bring anything into the house that she could have gotten into?

No!” I’d insisted.

And then? Looking at Nettie, I suddenly remembered. Only the day before, we’d had brand new indoor/outdoor carpeting installed on the screened in porch.

The “new carpet smell” from that carpet was so strong that I remember thinking for a microsecond, “Wow, this is a mighty powerful new carpet smell coming off of something in a room surrounded on three sides by screens!” But I didn’t gave that passing observation so much as a second thought. I was busy. And hey, everyone knows “new carpet smell” is normal. It certainly didn’t occur to me that there might be a problem letting Nettie hang out there for nearly 24 hours sleeping on it, her nose half an inch away from it.

Well, I got new carpeting installed on our porch yesterday . . . and the off-gases seemed mighty strong.”

As soon as I said it out loud? I wanted to kick myself.

Nettie’s breathing relaxed. Her heartbeat returned to normal. And we asked the vet, “Do we HAVE to take her to a hospital now if we don’t euthanize her? Couldn’t we just take her home?

The vet said that seeing her now, she had no objections to us taking her home. We’d put her on a short course of steroids to make sure the inflammation triggered by the attack was calmed down, and then see if we needed to continue with those. If she went back into crisis, I knew I had the option of rushing her off again.

While it’s impossible to know with certainty, it would seem that Nettie had an acute, horrible reaction to the new carpet.

So? We brought her home. She ate dinner. She’s on corticosteroid therapy for the moment. But our girl is home.

In the meantime, I did a little digging. And here’s what I learned: new carpeting is full of volatile compounds. The fibers are laced with all manner of chemicals that ‘off-gas’ when the carpet is first unrolled and installed: benzene, flame retardants, and pesticides, just for starters. One of the most potent sources of ‘indoor air pollution syndrome’ is carpeting. The smaller the person/being, the more concentrated the chemical overload in their bodies – and among the top ensuing effects? Asthma. The closer to the carpet the nose is, the higher the concentration in the body of off-gas chemicals.

And I was letting her lay on that for a whole day.

One source I found online cited a claim that said that if you put a small bird in a room that’s just had brand new carpeting installed, the bird is dead in 24-48 hours.

There are steps you can take to mitigate the problem, I learned: expose the carpet to fresh, moving, air for at least 72 hours before spending any time in proximity to the new carpet; apply something called a “toxin sealant” made for carpets (the most promising one one I’ve found so far is called “Safe Choice“) which you use in a two step process. Step one is a nontoxic carpet cleaner. Then that’s followed up with a nontoxic sealant that seals off the toxins and prevents further ‘out-gas’ of the volatile compounds. I’m waiting for my order to arrive and will apply it as soon as it comes.

In the meantime, Nettie – who I’m delighted and relieved report is doing very well – currently gets no access to the porch.

If I had it to do over again? I would have researched safe options for a floor covering for the porch. Or if I’d decided to put that carpet out there, I would have kept Nettie away from it for at least a week and treated it with a toxin/off-gas sealant before anyone went near it.

So? Learn from my mistake. Please be very mindful of what you bring into your and your cat’s environment. It’s troubling that we can’t do something as seemingly simple as get some new carpeting or buy a new mattress without having to first get educated on the arsenal of toxic chemicals they’re potentially laced with. But we do.

We are counting our blessings that Nettie came through this and are cautiously optimistic that she will heal.

Don’t let one of your cat’s nine lives get gobbled up by something as stupid as new carpeting.

The growing chorus of voices for sane feeding

I’m obviously not much of a devoted blogger, given that it’s been well over a year since I last posted.  There are a few very good-new items, however, that I’ve had the best of intentions about sharing for months now, so here goes.

On the cat nutrition front?  It’s been a year of progress. A passionate and devoted advocate for healthy feeding, Margaret Gates, launched an absolutely amazing and comprehensive website that I strongly urge anyone with a cat to spend plenty of quality time surfing.  The Feline Nutrition Education Society (FNES) website represents one of the most user-friendly, information-packed, and impressive efforts to bring together the collective wisdom on raw feeding I’ve ever seen.  I’m honored that Margaret includes me as one of the many voices of FNES, as it’s a true privilege to be associated with the chorus of voices that are dedicated to educating cat caregivers about the wisdom of feeding cats as carnivores.

Meanwhile, my good friends at PetSage, a holistic pet supply store in Alexandria, Virginia, continue bravely at the forefront of educating anyone who will listen about healthy feeding of companion animals.  Earlier this month, they sponsored a booth at the two-day National Capital Cat Show in Chantilly, Virginia – the classiest booth at the show – to highlight the latest in feline nutrition and well-being. Dr. Andrea Tasi, an amazing veterinarian and one of the most articulate spokespersons for healthy feeding, spent one of the days with the great PetSage staff at the booth talking to scores of cat show attendees about why she uses and recommends a carnivore diet for her own cats and the patients she tends to as part of her feline-only house call practice.

You could have knocked me over with a feather when PetSage asked me to participate in the second day of this event, offering a lay person’s perspective on carnivore nutrition and explaining how easy it really is these days to prepare a homemade raw diet or use one of the growing number of premade options on the market today.  I was astonished at the level of interest in raw feeding at the show and realized that slowly but surely, more and more devoted cat caregivers are coming around to seeing the common sense that underpins feeding cats as carnivores.  Kudos and thanks to the pioneers at PetSage for sponsoring the booth and spreading the word in such a positive, upbeat, and sensibly persuasive way to more and more people.

If you ever find yourself in Alexandria, Virginia, do yourself a favor and stop by PetSage.  It’s a beautiful, large store run by a staff consisting of some of the smartest and kindest people I’ve ever met.  Plus which, the store is home to three of the coolest cats ever- Dempsey, Ripken, and Diva.

Finally? Speaking of cool cats, Duke – the mascot and inspiration for catnutrition.org – just celebrated his 15th birthday.  This handsome furry orange cat-man has eaten nothing but grain-free, vegetable-free raw food for a full decade and he’s going strong.  Attaboy Duke.  His adopted sister, Nettie the Wondercat, will turn 14 next month and I credit raw feeding, Dr. Tasi’s homepathy, and Nettie’s steadfast spirit to the health she enjoys.  She’s had her health challenges for the past 18 months, but the little upstart is sassy as ever and keeping all of us on our toes.

So? Hats off to FNES.  Buckets of praise and gratitude to the awesome founder and staff of PetSage.  Happy Birthday, Duke. Attagirl Nettie.

Happy birthday, Duke

Duke, the magnificent cat-beast who jump started my passion about feline nutrition, turned 14 years old this month. He’s eaten nothing but grain-free, vegetable-free raw food for a full eight years now. (Well, okay, he’s stolen some cooked chicken off our plates now and again.) His blooming good health is, to my mind, testimony to the ‘miracles’ that can happen when a carnivore eats like a carnivore. The first six years of his life were, for him, a struggle with cramping, diarrhea, and all of the misery that comes from inflammatory bowel disease. His story is discussed in more detail on my website, so I won’t belabor the details here. I’ll only say that seeing that happy, healthy, and energetic boy-cat running around our house and demanding and eating his meals with enthusiasm and gusto fills me with gratitude that I caught on when I did to feeding cats properly.

I get a lot of emails from people worried about taking the first steps toward raw feeding. I remember that same feeling of trepidation: “What am I doing? Am I going to kill my cat here?” Although I was lucky to have a handful of raw feeding mentors in my corner, it still felt like a risky proposition: to feed my beloved, already sick cat something that didn’t have a reassuring label indicating “nutritional completeness” on it.

Time, and results, shifted everything. My biggest concern now is running out of raw cat food and having to serve something that someone I don’t know has prepared. It’s been years since I’ve visited a pet supply store except to stock up on cat litter. And cringe as I walk by aisles of dry food.

And speaking of that, I made a recent, wonderful excursion with a friend to a local holistic pet supply store. It’s called Pet Sage. I’ve heard great things about this store for years, but since I’ve generally had little need for visiting places like that, I postponed a visit. Besides, I know myself, and I know how cranky I get walking around stores and seeing all kinds of ridiculous things for sale. I was, however, intrigued about a visit there given that the store had, courageously, opted to stop offering many of the dry foods it previously sold.

That’s huge! Honestly, my heart swelled to the size of South Dakota hearing that. And you should see the selection of amazing, truly healthy cat (and dog) foods they sell. What a relief to be able to walk into a store and see fresh food for cats and dogs in freezers rather than aisle after aisle of species-inappropriate meat-flavored cereal.

I left a retail store, for the first time in eight years, buying some food for my own cats. I picked up some Bravo ground rabbit and used it to make up a batch of food at home. To my surprise, since my cats have been distinctly disinterested in rabbit for some time, they dug in.

So? Happy birthday, Duke.

And eight paws up to Pet Sage. May you be the leading edge of a new trend.

Birthday Boy

Birthday Boy

Dry food and vets

It gets a little easy sometimes to feel like those of us who have been preaching from our bully pulpits all these years on the dangers of dry food as a staple of a cat’s diet can finally kick back and relax and shut up for awhile. I’d like to think that with all the overwhelming evidence, including in mainstream veterinary scientific journals, that dry food exacerbates or causes disease in cats, the number of people and vets implying that dry food is still an ‘acceptable’ choice for the long-term health of a cat would dissipate.It’s striking to me that despite all these efforts by so many determined and smart people, it’s still the rule–not the exception–to visit a veterinary clinic and see dry food for sale. It’s like visiting a cardiologist and finding that the doctor is selling bags of “prescription Big Macs With Extra Cheese (sensitive heart formula)” from the waiting room reception area.

I cannot get my brain around this one.

I realize that the sale of prescription food brings in needed revenue to vet clinics, but really, is there no other way to raise cash in a vet clinic? We cat people are a little crazy, after all: we spend $20 on a $1 feather toy for our cats. How about we get vet clinics to start selling overpriced pet toys to make up for the revenue they’d lose if they gave up selling dry food? Our animals would sure be a lot healthier.

I’m not against vets getting paid for what they do. I’m very much in favor of good health care providers earning the living they deserve. It’s hard and very demanding work.

But bankrolling financial success by selling products that make animals ill is over the line. And yet that’s what’s happening every day. And when vets sell these products, it sends the message that it must be okay. And soon e-groups around the globe are repeating bad advice. And the cycle continues.

After all the years I’ve been running my website on cat nutrition, reading and answering emails, and poring over whatever books or articles I can get my hands on related to cat nutrition, there are times that I sense a definite shift in the “collective consciousness” on the issue. But that sense starts to fade when I visit a veterinary office and still see rows and rows of dry food, or visit some informational websites or online e-groups on cat health and read that there is still ‘debate’ on the possible value of dry food.

I get exceptionally discouraged to see well-meaning ‘advisers’ on online egroups, under the guise of staying ‘open-minded,’ implying that dry food is safe for cats. I can’t judge these people too harshly, though, since that view is validated by the very purported expert class–veterinarians–that they understandably look to for guidance.

Getting the word out broadly on why dry food is a bad idea is what’s required if we’re going to break the endless cycle of cats becoming ill from diabetes, obesity, IBD, and urinary tract infections that are all at least somewhat strongly related to diet. (On that, by the way, have a look at Lynette’s recent wonderful blog entry listing reasons on why not to feed dry food.)

It’s a delicate and tricky position that I’m in–trying as a lay person to inform and educate caregivers on at LEAST why it’s critical to stop feeding an exclusive diet of dry food while sensitively trying to explain that their vet might just possibly be wrong on this aspect of their animal’s health. It’s tricky terrain to navigate.

Are there plenty of good reasons why vets might be wrong? Yes, but that doesn’t make them less wrong on the nutrition score.

Hundreds if not thousands of communications I’ve seen over the years, through my own website and from years of co-moderating a Yahoo group dedicated to help people with IBD cats leaves me with the very clear impression that the bulk of vets remain strongly resistant to taking a fresh look at the way we’re feeding these obligate carnivores.

Cereal-packed dry food makes absolutely no sense as a staple of a diet for carnivores, and while my site has a lot of information about raw feeding (because it’s what I do and what has worked for me), I make it as clear as I can on my page on diabetes, obesity, and FAQs that if people can’t or don’t want to feed raw, then at least feed canned food with as few grains as possible.

And the good news is that there are a handful of good companies out there now selling premade raw food that’s well suited to cats. I’m a big believer in a safe, balanced, raw meat based diet for cats, and my site is full of information on how one might proceed with that kind of a diet. Best of all, my site is not the only one out there. I’m in very good company these days with people much smarter than I am who are getting the word out on cat nutrition.

Nettie the Wondercat

I view vets as a powerful potential ally in this David versus Goliath-esque effort to shift the status quo on how we feed our cats. But for that shift to happen means many vets are going to have to start asking questions and seeking out informed and unbiased information on nutrition. The information they need to become savvy guides for their clients is not readily available or conspicuous in veterinary education, near as I can conclude. If it were, then there would be many fewer bags of dry food in vet clinics.  The shift also requires demand from the ground up — from the consumers of information those paying for cat food who can encourage, if not demand, sane choices.

I understand and am extremely sympathetic to how much harder a vet has it than a human physician–a veterinarian is expected to know how to treat all kinds of species and handle clients who can barely be bothered filling up a gravity feeder with Crappy Meat Flavored Cereal Mix much less pay attention to why canned is better than dry. But the fact is that vets are on the front line: they are the first line of defense against the dominant paradigm that currently implies, “Dry food is fine, it’s nutritionally complete, and it’s a perfectly fine diet for cats.” It may be a lot of work and very overwhelming to make education on nutrition a part of a short veterinary appointment, but being overwhelmed doesn’t justify, in my mind, practicing substandard medicine.

Diet is a very big thing to get wrong, after all.

Vets are who people turn to first when they’re looking for guidance on how to feed their animals. And it’s exasperating for me and so many others to see that despite the overwhelming data to the contrary about dry food, most vet clinics are still selling and therefore implicitly endorsing dry food. That’s an awfully strong message that’s being sent and, I’d argue, one that harms cats.

There is a spectrum out there and indeed, I talk about that same spectrum on my site. But dry food is clearly at the lowest end of the spectrum and I cannot and won’t ever say it’s okay to exclusively feed dry food to cats. There is at least one grain-free dry food out there now, but that still doesn’t take care of the other key issue for these carnivores, which is that they need to get their moisture with their food since their low thirst drive means that even with supplemental water drinking, a dry-fed cat has about half the moisture intake overall as a cat on canned (or raw) food. The downstream consequences for that in a cat are well known.

Until dry food stops being an acceptable choice to endorse in a vet clinic, the people who look to the veterinary community won’t start getting the message and making healthier choices.

I think that caring vets really want to do what’s best. I also think the odds are stacked against them right now. So my “job,” as I see it, is to join the chorus of voices that can give their clients as much information as possible so that they can ask the hard questions and press the outer edges of the envelope.

Until vets disentangle the knot between financial health of their practice from dependence on the sale of dry food, this problem will remain with us.

And I’ll stay politely noisy as long as I need to.

Eight strikes against fishy feeding

In the last few months, my email inbox has been full of inquiries from people asking about feeding fish to cats. To my mind, there are just too many arguments against feeding fish regularly to make it a safe, healthy choice as a staple of a cat’s diet.

As a treat once in a great while? Maybe. If you must. But know a few things first.

There are a number of problems–some well established facts and others that are somewhat open to question–that make feeding fish regularly, whether raw or cooked, pretty gosh darn inadvisable. At least from the digging I’ve done. The problems stem both from what’s in fish and what’s not in fish.

So far, I count eight distinct ‘strikes’ against the idea of feeding fish, raw or cooked, to cats.

Strike One: Low calcium levels.

Whole fish, even with bone, is far too low in calcium for a cat. Remember: if you’re making homemade cat food, one of the most important things to get right is the ratio of calcium to phosphorus. You have some wiggle room here, but not much. A whole ground fish would be low in calcium. And while the high phosphorus is not good for any cat, elevated phosphorus levels are something you most definitely wouldn’t want to feed a cat that is suffering from any kind of kidney problem.

Strike Two: Thiamin destruction.

Raw fish contains high amounts of an enzyme called thiaminase–an enzyme that destroys Vitamin B-1 (thiamin). A thiamin-deficient diet can lead to neurological problems and seizures in cats. No good.

Strike Three: Urinary tract problems.

Fish, with its high magnesium content, can contribute to a type of urinary tract problem in cats.

(While I’m on urinary troubles, let me interject something here. Curiously, the discovery some time back of magnesium as a culprit in feline urinary tract disorders was accompanied by the development of specialized ‘urinary tract’ formula foods. The idea with these foods was to add acid to the food, reasoning that magnesium crystals develop in alkaline, not acid urine. The problem is, cats whose urinary tract acid is too high are prone to another type of crystal–calcium oxylate. Just another reason it’s best to feed a cat a diet that nature intended. As Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins points out in her book, the rise of urinary tract diseases in the cat coincided exactly with the increasing use of dry kibble to feed cats. But I digress.)

Strike Four: Addiction.

Heaven knows, cats absolutely adore the taste of fish. Anyone who’s ever opened up a can of fish within a 12-city-block radius of any hungry feline knows that. But you can quickly end up with a ‘fish addict’ on your hands. And the last thing you need is a cat on a hunger strike refusing to eat anything but an inferior fish diet.

Strike Five: Heavy metals.

There is a great deal of persuasive research suggesting that predatory fish (those at the very top of the food chain and the same ones often found in pet food or used as ‘treats’ for cats) have extremely high levels of heavy metals such as mercury–in addition to pesticides and other toxins. A 2004 study published in Acta Neuropatholgica discovered neurological disturbances in young kittens fed tuna daily that contained the US FDA-approved level of mercury (0.5 ppm).

Strike Six: Possible link to hyperthyroidism.

A US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study in 2007 revealed a disturbing link between feline hyperthyroidism and the chemicals in fire retardants–that mimic thyroid hormones–and cats’ consumption of fish. In the study, cats eating canned fish were exposed to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) that were five times higher than cats eating poultry or beef canned foods.

Strike Seven: Vitamin E depletion.

Felines love tuna, but eating it long term can deplete a cat’s stores of vitamin E and create conditions that lead to an extraordinarily painful condition called steatitis, with symptoms such as hypersensitivity to touch and loss of appetite. Huuuuuge bummer for the cat and for you. You’ll find tuna in lots of cat foods for the very reason that it’s tasty to cats and draws them to the food. But it has nothing to do with healthy, safe, or necessary nutrition for cats.

Strike Eight? Allergenic.

Fish are allergenic. To my mind, it just makes little sense to feed something that is more likely to create a allergic reaction than something that isn’t.

Dr. Jean Hofve wisely advises against feeding fish and suggests that it be reserved as a very occasional and special treat–certainly no more than once a week.

If you’re really anxious to give your cat a treat once in awhile, go for something like small bits of dehydrated chicken liver or freeze-dried chicken hearts. But skip the fish. Feed something with fur or feathers, not fins. It’s kinder to–and safer for–your carnivore.

Parade passes by (an opportunity)

“These meals may also have contaminants and food-borne bacteria or toxins.”

This comes from an article that appeared in this weekend’s Parade magazine by a veterinarian titled, “The Right Food for Your Pet.”

For a brief moment when I first scanned the article, my heart skipped a beat. How terrific, I thought, that an article by a veterinarian in a mainstream, widely read publication was drawing attention to the problem with so many commercial pet foods and the contaminants and toxins found far too often in them.

That’s what I get for scanning an article before I permit my heart to leap. No, sadly, the author was instead referring to the ostensible disadvantages and dangers of homemade pet food in a pretty unfortunate article ostensibly designed to dole out sound advice on what to feed “Fido and Fluffy.”

Say what? With all the pet food recalls over the years for aflatoxin–never mind the latest appalling situation with the record recall this year–we’re being warned off of making our own food? Isn’t it about time to teach us how to do it safely?

“Cooking for a pet requires knowledge beyond boiling chicken and rice.” Well, um, yeah, but not much more knowledge. Come on. This isn’t rocket science. Reverse engineer a mouse and serve it. Lots of people have been doing it with great success for a long time. During that same long time, tens of thousands of cats and dogs have succumbed to needless diseases from eating steady diets of inferior commercial food.

What a shame that the author didn’t use her bully pulpit to speak out on the folly of feeding dry food to cats and dogs. The article begins with an admonition to steer clear of homemade diets (“Stick With Store-Bought” reads the subheading) and then goes on to “weigh” the pros and cons of wet vs. dry. Dry food’s advantages are explained: it’s economical, convenient, and requires no refrigeration. The only thing going against it, apparently, is that it has “less palatability.”

No mention of the overwhelming evidence that dry food contributes to inflammatory bowel disease, urinary tract disorders, diabetes, and obesity. None.

  • Dry food is a completely upside-down diet for a cat. A cat needs high (animal-based) protein, low or no carbohydrate, and plenty of moisture. Dry food is low in animal-based protein, extraordinarily high in carbohydrates, and is moisture-depleted.

The other warning about making homemade food — “few have been tested for performance over long periods of time.” Really? As opposed to the obscenely short (and often inhumane) feeding trials that allow a manufacturer to slap an AAFCO label on a can or bag and imply that the food is nutritionally complete? If you dig around on my website, you’ll find that I take no comfort in AAFCO. (That’s the Association of American Feed Control Officials).

It’s important to understand what AAFCO is and what it isn’t. A pet food can carry the AAFCO claim if it, or a member of its related family of products, has been tested on a small population of animals for six months and has been shown to provide adequate nutrition. We ought not to confuse this with the notion that it means the food is truly health-building and health-sustaining for life. If a can or bag is labeled as meeting AAFCO standards, all that means is that animals don’t DIE when fed only that food for six months and don’t lose more than 15 percent of body weight. So as long as the animal is alive, hasn’t lost 15 percent of their body weight, and a minimal blood test reveals that a handful of values are in an acceptable range, the food gets the AAFCO seal. Moreover, only eight animals need to participate in the feeding trial, and only six need to complete the 26-week trial.

The diet being tested fails if any animal shows clinical or pathological signs of nutritional deficiency or excess. Specific minimum values for the blood tests are given, and applied to the average result of all participating animals that finished the trial.

Remember, the rules for AAFCO are that if one particular product in a manufacturer’s line was tested and found to meet the AAFCO standard, the company can include this same statement on other products in the same family. So when you see an AAFCO statement on a pet food label, you have no way of knowing if that specific product was actually tested in a food trial. Moreover, the AAFCO protocols include blood tests that screen only four different blood values at the beginning and end of the food trial: RBC, hemoglobin, packed cell volume, and serum albumin. Even the basic veterinary blood profile screens for at least 25 values.

So please, Parade, don’t worry that the homemade diet that I serve and that tens of thousands of others serve “hasn’t been tested for performance for long periods of time” by the pet food companies or AAFCO.

Mother Nature did that for us.