Yet few choices have such an important impact on a pet’s health. The wrong food becomes a daily misstep that can cause tragic – and expensive – medical complications later on.
If you’re like me, you blithely dole out dry food to your little fuzzball, never suspecting that beneath the smiling cartoon tabbies lays a dark secret: much of that food is terrible for your pet. When you flip around that fifty-pound orange sack and read the ingredients, you’re likely to find some vague term referring to “meat meal” and “meat byproducts.” This refers to the stuff that meat producers wouldn’t dare put in our food. Stuff like heads, feet, entrails, brains… I’ll spare you the complete list, but needless to say it isn’t anything you would voluntarily shovel into your cat’s bowl.
Sadly, these meat byproducts weren’t necessarily taken from the A-list animals. It includes the boiled down flesh of zoo animals, road kill, and animals otherwise found dead, diseased, disabled, or dying. Not only do major pet food makers use the least edible parts of animals, they use the least edible parts of the least edible animals.
“You are what you eat.” This common phrase about dietary health takes a macabre turn when it comes to commercial pet food. Cats and dogs euthanized at pounds are sometimes sold to food makers who promptly mix them in with the other “meat”. This distasteful practice is perfectly legal, but hardly safe. Those same chemicals used to euthanize pets can survive the food processing and end up, in small amounts, in your pet’s food.
So what is the solution? Steer away from the cheapest food where manufacturers are likely to cut the most corners, but just because food is more expensive does not guarantee its safety no matter how many wholesome-looking pictures they slap on the bag. Consulting with a veterinarian might help, but most vets do not have much experience in pet nutrition – they’re more about treatment, not prevention. If you absolutely must have the best, look for human-grade food – that is, pet food that could pass all of the health requirements that human food goes through.
While any animal owner should take heed of these dangers, cats (especially neutered males) face a special threat from dry cat food. Dry food, for reasons not completely understood, promotes the growth of crystals in the lower urinary tract. This syndrome can completely block off their ability to excrete liquid waste. Scientists say the likely culprit is the high alkalinity of the mostly non-meat ingredients and the fact that dry food is well, dry. A wet food diet solves both of these concerns because of its higher acidity and moisture content.