with chronic ailments waylay-
ing our pets and emptying our wallets, some animal lovers are taking a closer look at what's in Fifi's food dish.
Alt vets are adamant that bad munchies are one of the main reasons dogs and cats get sick. Artificial colour and flavour, indigestible straw and corn fillers and food preservatives BHT and ethoxyquin in commercial pet food are blamed for everything from allergies, eczema and digestive disorders to cancer, autoimmune diseases and kidney and liver failure. A 20-kilo dog, for example, can consume almost 12 kilos of preservatives in a year.
So what can we do to protect our furry housemates? Well, for one thing, read the labels and don't be fooled by that pretty pup in the picture. Look for premium brands like Iams, Flint River Ranch and Solid Gold, which pride themselves on using top-notch ingredients and no rancid fat or preservatives ($2.20 for a 384ml can, or $28.99 for 6.8 kilos of dry food).
Holistic vets agree they're a big step up from grocery-store brands ($2.60 for a kilo), but high-end foods are still concocted from heavily processed ingredients.
Instead, they say, let pets dine on human-grade foods minus the spices and cooking we prefer. Enter the bones and raw food diet (BARF), a delectable array of raw meats, fruits and veggies available in frozen bags from pet-food stores and clinics. This kind of nourishment ain't cheap, but neither is the average vet bill. Pets 4 Life in Owen Sound offers free-range chicken, carrots, broccoli, alfalfa, garlic, kelp, etc ($10.50 for a 1.36-kilo container -- good for three days for an 18-kilo dog). The T.O.-based Ultimate Diet dry food regime costs $25 a week for a 32-kilo dog.
Call your local pet store first. Only a few carry this gourmet fare.
But there's a better option. Instead of hunting down your pet's food, prepare the beast feast yourself and save big bucks. I've discovered I can save about $1,000 a year putting in two hours of labour every few weeks making a stash for my German shepherd and two cats. I buy free-range chicken, meat and fish cuts (no fish-farm stuff), grind them to a pulp with wheat germ, oats, lightly steamed fruits and veggies and cooked brown rice and pack it all into portion-sized freezer bags.
I add crushed multivitamins, essential oils (primrose and flax) and greens powder. Don't go raw immediately. Cook at first to ease domesticated companions into the wild way. A balanced diet is critical, so find recipes. Many alt pet owners swear by Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide To Natural Health For Dogs And Cats (about $25).
Remember, cooked bones are dangerous, so don't toss them any barbecue leftovers. They'll do fine chewing non-splintering raw bones.
"Commercial pet food uses rancid fat. That's why they use preservatives -- it's really a masking agent. Preservatives will pickle an animal's liver and kidneys. BHT and ethoxyquin aren't allowed near our building."
BOB PAYTON San Diego-based Solid Gold
"If the U.S. FDA, which we comply with, approves the use of ethoxyquin as a preservative, they must feel confident in its safety. We do not advocate the raw diet. There's a potential for transmission of disease (salmonella). Most of the calls I get are about a pet sick from food prepared in somebody's kitchen without preservatives.'
MARTY SMART-WILDER Pet Food Association of Canada
"We have hundreds of clients using the raw diet with no salmonella problems. When handling raw food, wash hands well and disinfect the work area with vinegar. Add acidophilus and digestive enzymes, and if you're worried about bacteria, add grapefruit-seed extract.'
PAUL McCUTCHEON Holistic vet, East York Animal Clinic
"For a small dog, our food is comparable to a premium natural food. For a larger dog, it's costlier. To cut costs, split our meals with a good premium natural brand.'
Vet homeopath, Home Made 4 Life
"It's amazing what health conditions diet will treat. Nutrition keeps the animal clean of toxins, byproducts and oxidizing agents."
IAN BUFFET Holistic veterinarian