Sunday, April 15, 2007

Commercial Pet Food - My Decision to Stop Buying It

I can't do it any more, I just can't buy another can or bag of food for my cats. And I can't make any more suggestion of foods that might be safe for any of you to feed your pets. I can't do it, and I won't do it, not any more. (The rest of this is a bit long, because I feel the need to explain how I got to this decision...)

I went to several retailers this weekend to make sure they'd pulled all the recalled foods, and I was somewhat relieved to see they had. However, in every store I felt myself getting more and more sick to my stomach, as I looked at the products on the shelf wondering which product would be recalled next.

Like so many people in the past 4 weeks I've learned more about pet food and pet food manufacturing than I ever wanted to know. I've been appalled and horrified, felt angry and deceived, and then felt overwhelming guilt for keeping my head in the sand for so long.

Just a few of the lowlights...

The unforgivably slow and poor response by most of the companies and retailers involved in the recall. Learning that many brands (low-end high-end and in between) do only their own Marketing - the rest is contracted out to the lowest bidder. Finding out aboutRendering Plants. Reading undercover reports of how dogs and cats are horribly treated by pet food manufacturers.

Learning that there is no control over ingredients, and that 90% of the canned pet food is made by one company with the words "Income Fund" in their company name. Discovering that there are no penalties if companies don't report/recall poisoned food in a timely manner, and tragically finding out that the deaths of thousands of beloved pets is meaningless to them. Specialty Pet Food Retailers that knew less about the food on their shelves than I did.

Yet even with all this, I just kept trying to find a 'good' brand. A 'safe' company. One with 'integrity'. I kept reading updates of companies that didn't have recalled products over at www.thepetfoodlist.com.

After switching from Wellness and Innova because their canned foods are made by Menu and I decided early on to boycott any company doing business with them, last week I bought a couple more cans of Natural Balance (barely touched), and tried both Merrick and Solid Gold (both of which my cats liked.)

After reading about the negative health benefits of dry food (links coming soon) I stopped giving it to them, but yesterday I did buy a tiny bag of Natural Balance dry food for them - to be given to them as occasional treats only. They loved it, and I gave them some yesterday and more today.

And yet, all day Friday I sat here and hit 'refresh' over and over, waiting for the next recall, waiting for the other shoes to drop. And I'm not the only one, many of us online were doing the same thing.

I spoke with my FDA Complaint Coordinator last week, and as many other people have previously reported being told by their FDA people, he indicated that they are conducting tests on other dry food because of the numerous reports of illness and death they have received. And he told me his personal recommendation to callers is to not feed any food - wet or dry - made by any company with food on the recall list. I've been recommending the same thing, but, this still hit me hard.

Going into Friday night I was a bit relieved that there were no new recalls, but then I found out some information about the Merrick company that disturbed me, the family apparently owns a rendering plant right next door to their pet food company. While there's really no indication /proof that one affects the other, it does in my mind. And it's enough for *me* to cross them off the list of companies I'll give even a penny to. (I'll edit this soon to include a link to this information, posted over at petsitusa.com)

And while I'd planned to create a list of 'Good' companies and 'Safe' pet food this weekend, I kept avoiding it. I put it off and put it off and put it off. And I couldn't sleep. Not Thursday night. Not Friday night. And not Saturday night. And then tonight I realized why.

After over 4 weeks now of recall after recall after recall, I've come to the inescapable conclusion that I just can't trust my cats health to anyone but myself. I've been researching both home-cooked and raw diets, and my cats and I will be making that transition this week. I cooked for one of them this week, and so far he's thrilled. And he'll take to raw food like a cat would take to a, well, mouse.


And while there's a list of things it's not safe to feed your pets- and a few other things you really need to know - I found that once you get past the conflicting information it's really pretty basic. And straightforward. And it makes sense. Common sense.


I'll do my best these next few weeks to share information on making this transition with you, in the simplest way possible. And I'll try to keep your choices and options simple. Because whether it's deception on the part of the pet food industry, ignorance on the part of our vets, or just the normal learning curve of doing something new, to many of us it seems overwhelming to contemplate taking full responsibility for our pets food.

But how can we not? Living in dread of the next recall is no way to live. Wondering if the food you buy today will be recalled tomorrow is no way to live. Having food from the brand you bought yesterday be recalled is no way to live.

Watching your pet obsessively for symptoms of poison is no way to live. Standing in front of pet food in stores with a sick feeling in your stomach is no way to live.

Wondering if your other cat will someday need to go on fluids for chronic kidney failure is no way to live. Watching your dog struggle through the night trying to recover from poison is no way to live.

And watching one more beloved pet die before their time is no way to live.

So, I'll keep up the Lists of Recalled foods, and I'll make them easier to use as I get suggestions from you all on how to do that. I'll let you know here about everything directly related to food being recalled, and I'll add new lists when and if necessary. And on my other blog I'll continue to let you know what you haven't been hearing about from the companies involved.

And I promise I won't 'preach' about home cooking or raw food diets, I know for many of you it would be more difficult to do than it will be for me.

But I won't be doing a list of "Safe foods from Good Companies' like I'd planned. Not because there aren't any out there, because I do believe there are, somewhere. But because I wouldn't be able to sleep at night if I did.

9 comments:

glenda said...

KIM you are leading the way for something that should have been done long ago ,being honest and concerned.Deeply concerned.Thank you .I begain to think I was going crazy for needing to find more solutions.
I trusted Natural Balance and have told all my friends about it.Now, what is happening there?It is late on Sunday now, but I am calling them first thing Monday.

cherbitrary said...

Kim,

I completely understand your decision. I look forward to reading how your transition goes, as I am considering the same thing for my girls. I've been cooking for my dog since the recall started, but have had a harder time with my cat. She wouldn't eat anything I put in front of her, so I have her on organic food, but she will only eat the dry, which is a problem. The dog loves her new diet, with her I just need to work on making sure she's getting the nutrients she needs. But, honestly, she seems happier and more energetic since we switched. She does the cutest little happy dance at meal time. And there is a peace of mind that comes with knowing exactly what is going into her food. Thanks for your continued efforts to keep us up-to-date on what isn't safe for our animals. And I think all of us can understand the reluctance to recommend anything.

Grace said...

Kim,
I want you to know how much I appreciate all the information and insight you've provided over the last weeks. I just read your article about why you won't recommend packaged foods and I felt as if your words were mine! We remained fairly calm about the whole thing until last week when we began feeling that nothing was safe. My entire family rescues many, many dogs and cats (I'm so very proud of them!) and my husband and I currently have 13 cats and 2 dogs. I'm a lifelong vegetarian but I can accept that they're carnivores and need meat. We've ordered organic food for now but I'm concerned about that as well. When we come to a reasonable solution for our furry family I'll post it. Maybe someone out there with a huge family like ours has ideas??? Blessings to you and your family.

carolroars said...

Kim,

Every word you wrote, I could have written myself. I just feel sick inside worrying about the foods. We'd been feeding two of our cats who already have chronic renal failure, EVO and Artemis, and just as the recall hit, we found out both those foods were too high in phosphorus for our cats, so we were switching them over to Precise, which we thought was a good choice as far as foods for CRF cats goes... then the recall hit, and I found out Precise was made by Menu Foods and even though they say their food isn't affected by the recall, every can I open makes me get a sick feeling in my stomach and I worry that it could be tainted. I had just bought a new batch of Precise about a week ago, and last Thursday one of our CRF cats started acting very sick... wouldn't eat, being lethargic.. so we took her to the emergency vet on Thursday night and the bloodwork they did came back that her kidney values have spiked up.... coincidence? I don't know, but now I'm wondering if the new cans of Precise food had something to do with it. I'm at my witt's end trying to deal with all this.

We feed one of our other cats Natural Life, who ALSO use Menu Foods for their canned foods, so I'm stressing about those too! I had just bought a new case of Natural Life from PetFoodDirect.com, about a month ago, still had some of the old ones I had though, so didn't use it yet, and the new cans have a completely different label now, and I checked the ingredients, and they too have changed. The calories have changed... so I'm not wanting to use it now. So I'm trying to switch the cat who normally ate the Natural Life over to Nature's Variety, (I use Nature's Variety to hide one of my raw eater's supplements in), even though I'm concerned about that too, since Nature's Variety canned foods are ALSO made by Menu Foods... and she doesn't like it, so I'm torn about what to do.

I feel like I just don't want to buy one more can of cat food! I've totally lost all faith in the pet food companies, and these are supposed to be the more healthy food companies... the ones I THOUGHT cared about the animal they were feeding. I don't think that they care at all now.

When they came out with that they were recalling foods as far back as November, I got sick to my stomach. I lost my 18 yr old kitty, Muffy on November 16, 2006. She had cancer, but had been holding her own. The first week in November she was being fussy eating, so I decided to try some "new" foods... those ended up being some of the recalled ones... the Nutro cuts and gravy ones. Muffy's cancer was in her mouth, so we had to assist feed her, because her little tongue didn't work very well anymore, and I remember when I'd try to feed her the little cuts of that Nutro food, she would fight me like there was no tomorrow... I couldn't figure out why she was so resistant, so after a few pouches of that, I decided not to give it to her anymore. The only reason I did in the first place was that the little pieces of meat were easy to slide into her mouth...easier than syringing mush food. Well...shortly after that week of feeding her the Nutro, she got much, much worse, and I lost her on the 16th. I didn't think at the time that the acceleration in her condition could have been from the food... but looking back on it now, I'm just beside myself thinking that maybe some of that Nutro food was contaminated and could have been why she went downhill so fast. I guess I'll never know, but I just have this feeling in my gut that it did have something to do with it.

Bottom line now is that I've just had it with the pet food companies, and I know that the ONLY way that I can be sure my babies are safe with what they eat is if I make it from scratch.

So, I would be very, very interested in any recipes you or others are using. I do have raw recipes that I feed 3 of my kits that are on raw, but the other 3 only eat canned. I have the added concern that I need to find recipes for the 2 that are CRF that are low in phosphorus, so I'm researching that.

Kim, I so totally agree with you. As unfortunate as it is, it's comforting to know I'm not alone in feeling this way.

Nicole said...

Prey model raw feeding is the way to go. It's easy, YOU control what you feed, and it can be as cheap or as expensive as you want it to be. There are MANY of us doing it. Many of us are vegetarians... it's all about species-appropriate food.

Cats are obligate carnivores. They have NO requirement for dietary carbohydrates - they need MEAT! More specifically, they need CARCASSES!

Dogs are wolves. Canis lupus familiaris. All of them - even your little Toy Poodle, even your Mastiff. They do not need carbs, they do not need cooked food (ever see a wolf roasting his green beans over the campfire?). They don't need their food chewed up for them (in fact, they NEED to do their own chewing! Please don't grind their food!) They, too, need CARCASSES!

Don't shop for your pet food in the pet food aisle. You don't have to, you shouldn't, it's not safe there. Shop in the meat department. Don't even bother asking for chicken necks and backs and wings (too boney, not enough meat, too small for most dogs anyway). Go for the whole chickens, the game hens, the pork ribs & picnic roasts, the whole eggs, the lamb shanks, the beef bone-in roasts (hold the T-bones please - watch for unnaturally sharp, cut bones).

Better yet, ask one of the many raw wholefoods suppliers out there - there might be one right down the road from you, there might be a raw feeding co-op in your area, or you might have it shipped to your door.

It's not hard to do it yourself, either. I fed raw to 2 dogs and 3 cats for FREE by doing it myself, befriending butchers and hunters, and trading locally. And getting dirty.

Cats can be a challenge to switch to raw, because they imprint so heavily on food and if all they've ever eaten is kibble, they won't immediately recognize meat as "food". But it can be done. It took my Kurt about 4 months, with much patience on my part. I have video of his very first meal of whole game hen, I was so proud! My other 2 cats switched right away, and gratefully. Finally, some REAL FOOD. And Kurt will now eat just about anything I put in front of him (except raw fish). Remember NOT to coerce cats by starvation, they must eat every 24 hours!

Some excellent resources for learning: www.rawmeatybones.com - download Tom Lonsdale's "Work Wonders" and "Raw Meaty Bones" for free, or purchase the books. The yahoogroups "rawfeeding" and their sister lists ("rawcat", "rawpup", etc.); "NaturalRawDog"; "CarnivoreFeed-Supplier" to find local suppliers, co-ops, and internet suppliers.
www.rawfed.com/myths
www.rawlearning.com
www.rawfeddogs.net
www.usrmb.net
www.rawfedcats.org

That should get you started. Check out www.prey4pets.com and www.hare-today.com and www.rodentpro.com to see the kinds of things that are available for a raw wholefoods diet for dogs, cats, and ferrets (of course this is not an inclusive list! Just some of the more popular suppliers.)

There are many and great benefits to feeding a wholesome, species-appropriate raw diet - not just knowing that you're not poisoning your pets, which those of us who have been feeding raw knew already... all commercial, processed, industrial pet food is poison. ALL of it. All of it causes chronic health problems, many of which are now deemed "normal" because they are so prevalent. On raw, dogs don't stink, cats don't hurl hairballs everywhere, poop is good (!!!), itchies and stiffness melt away, cancer isn't fed its favorite food (carbs), teeth gleam, coats gleam and become soft... the list is endless really. Oh, and many of those chronic health problems your pets are suffering might well just disappear... IBS, CRF, arthritis, allergies. There's more to the story than food, but it's a major contributor to ill health in today's pets.

There is no comparison. Fresh organic apples to withered-up old oranges.

What did they eat before kibble, anyway? Ask your grandma. Can you feed yourself and your kids? Yeah? Then you can feed your cats and dogs too.

You don't need "recipes", you don't need equipment (except a freezer), you don't need to spend hours cooking or grinding or mixing your pets' food. You bring home a bag of chicken leg quarters, open it, and hand them out. It really is that easy. If you don't trust grocery-store meats (and perhaps you shouldn't, but it's heaps better than any kibble available!), go with local sources, known sources, DIY, use trusted wholefoods suppliers. You don't need balance every day, you need balance over time - and by feeding a variety of meats (chicken, turkey, beef, pork, duck, lamb, goat, rabbit, fish, etc.) and a variety of their parts (meat, bones, organs, approximating the percentages found in a whole prey animal: 80% meat, 10% bone, 10% organ), you will achieve nutritional superiority! Better yet, simply feed whole prey, then there's no guesswork. (NOT live prey, please! Insist on humanely euthanized meat animals.) Thaw out a whole chicken or rabbit or quail and hand it out - or whack it up and feed it through.

Feed 2-3% of your pet's ideal adult weight per day (that's about a pound per day for a 40-50# dog). Whole chickens are on sale at the store here today for $0.69/lb... and how much were you paying for that poisoned food, again? Plus all those vet bills for dental cleaning, kidney failure, and cancer treatment? Add it up and you'll find that not only is a raw diet healthier, but cheaper too (even if you go with the pastured/organic whole prey).

K9 Kids said...

Hi Nicole,

Thanks for your post. I have 3 large dogs and one cat and have been wanting to switch to raw but the cost and "balance" of nutrition has held me back. One of my GSDs has arthritis in his hips and allergies.

Fortunately none of the kibble I have been feeding has been recalled but I think it is time to take the plunge and you have inspired me to try!

Thanks!
K9 Kids


P.S. A great big thank you to you Kim for this great site!

K9 Kids said...

Nicole,

So, would a cornish game hen be an appropriate one day meal for an 11 pound cat?

K9 Kids

Anonymous said...

KIM

Why don't you buy EAGLE PACK Dog & cat dry food it's all HOLISTIC & made in thier OWN plant none of thier foods WET OR DRY is on the Recall List.
Look it up
EAGLE PACK.COM

Nicole said...

K9kids,

Sorry, I haven't been back here in a while! A cornish game hen is about a pound (16oz, tho I think they go more toward 20oz). Your 11# cat should get between 3.5 and 5.25 oz a day of raw food, depending on his activity level, current condition, and a host of other variables... but let's say 4oz as a starting point. 2% to 3% of his ideal adult bodyweight per day is the rule of thumb for raw feeding - more or less depending on the individual.

So you'd take your game hen and whack it into quarters, more or less, and feed one of those quarters a day. Game hens generally don't include giblets (organs), so you'd want to make sure he's getting some organ meat also - chicken livers or whatever to start with.

Cats can be difficult to switch to a raw diet, because they imprint on food - if he's only ever had kibble, he may not recognize a chicken as food, and will need some education and coercing. Dogs, by comparison, are a breeze! Some cats are good about switching too - I had two that took to it right away and one very stubborn boy who took 6 months. NEVER, EVER starve a cat! Check out the yahoogroup "rawcat" for excellent advice, tips & tricks.

Cats enjoy and should have variety right from the start, lest they "imprint" on chicken and then don't recognize, say, pork as food!

Make sure you include edible bone - whack yer chicken quarter with a hammer to smash the bone inside, until he gets his jaw strength going - or you can use crushed eggshells or a calcium supplement until he gets going on whole raw food. Canned fish (Jack mack, sardines, etc.) is good for bone too, and I haven't met a cat yet that didn't like canned fish!

Make sure you include organs - about 10% of the volume of the diet, with liver being about half of that. That's where you get the vits & mins. And a fish body oil supplement if you're not using pastured meats, so they get the O3's that are missing in grain-fed meat.

Do check out the various rawfeeding email lists, read Tom Lonsdale's "Work Wonders", and find yourself a good raw wholefoods supplier (such as myself, LOL). www.prey4pets.com

My cats are quite enamored of the pastured feeder chicks, and they're just their size!

Hope this helps.

Nicole in KY

Volunteers Needed! Get food off shelves...

howl911.com, itchmo.com, thepetfoodlist.com, petconnection.com, petfoodtracker.com and spockosbrain.com have joined together to ask for your help.
Update 6-10: Recalled food was purchased from a
California store on 5-29th – this stuff is still out there!
We need Volunteers to help get recalled food off store shelves. Read this post at Spocko’s Brain for instructions. Print a list (or two) on this site. Visit stores, then report safe stores here at Itchmo.com.

Printing Information:
1. Print the main FDA Pet Food Recall page http://www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/petfood.html – this will be handy to show retailers who haven’t heard anything about the recall. (3 pages)

2. Print the list of 14 Major National Brands - it includes flavors and date information where applicable so you can tell if specific products for these brands have been recalled. The brands are: Alpo Prime Cuts, Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover’s Soul, Doctors Foster and Smith, Eukanuba, Gravy Train, Hill’s Science Diet, Iams, Jerky Treats, Lick Your Chops, Mighty Dog Pouches, Natural Balance, Nutro, Pounce, Royal Canin. (It’s 7 pages and includes FDA contact information.)

3. Print the List of All Brands – it will remind you what products have been recalled - but it does not give you date and flavor information, there is just too much to put in one document. (7 pages, but the 7th page is links to more detailed information so you don’t need to print it)

If you want, and are going to a store that you know has store brands that have been recalled (such as Walmart), go to that recall information at the links on the summary or at the FDA site and print it out. Some of the information is formatted in ways that make it difficult to read (one of the main reasons for this site), but it’s better than nothing.

Note: The FDA is the official source for all recall information and recalled products. This is an unofficial volunteer effort to help get the word out and get recalled foods off of shelves. We’re doing the best we can but can’t guarantee these lists are completely accurate. Again, here is the official recall site: http://www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/petfood.html