(with apologies to readers without pets. I swear the next blog will be entirely pet-free)
Who knew feeding your in-house animals could be so complicated? Or guilt-inducing. I was floored when pet food industry critic and vet Elizabeth Hodgkins berated me for giving my cat dry food while researching my article last week. Of course, I tried to squirm out of any culpability. "But the bag says it's all natural. Organic even. How could it be bad?"
Looking back at that conversation, it's as though everything I ever preached about greenwashing and the flagrant abuse of the word natural in food labels and beauty products went out the window when it came to my cat (even though he's treated like a first born child). Clearly marketers are cashing in on the crunchy granola "I want the purest for my pet" trend just by slapping on the word "natural" and "premium" on a bag. But brands like Natural Choice, Natural Life, Natural Balance were all affected by the recall so they clearly shared low grade ingredient sources with every other pet food giant with melamine-tainted food. Even revered natural pet food maker Wysong actually loads its dry foods with wheat gluten, even if their's wasn't tainted.
I always reached for the bag that advertised spinach and sweet potatoes thinking that was the better choice without doing much research and without really wondering why cats might need potatoes in their diet anyway. Turning cats into vegetarians just because I don't eat meat always seemed selfish, but what could be wrong about feeding them brown rice? I wasn't spooning out the crap that comes with cheap corn and wheat fillers and low grade by-products. Well, except for those late night runs to the corner store when all supplies had been depleted and I'd snag a box of Cat Crack to stop the meowing.
Of course after all this research, a trip to the local store or pet aisle of the health store is ridiculously complicated. The lowest carb dry food at one store (by Wellness) is still 15 per cent grains (too high, according to Hodgkins) and glancing at the "natural" canned foods just leads me back to the high-sugar, high starch sweet potato problem. So what should you get? Hodgkins told me when all else fails, get Fancy Feast. I nearly choked. I always scoffed at people who served their cats this stuff thinking it was the dregs of the industry, and it probably is freakishly low grade meat bits, but hey some are as high as 80 per cent protein when you factor out the water/moisture content. Still, I feel like a schmuck when I bring the cans to the cash and swear I've got to hit a store that serves up locally prepared frozen raw diets (I'm just not ready to splice up raw chicken or rabbit myself). It's gotta be the better way and no matter how much vets slam raw diets as "nutritionally inadequate" it's hard to hear them out without thinking about how very few of them had any nutritional training in school that wasn't funded by a pet food conglomerate. I'll never look at my cat's bowl the same way again.