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The Truth Behind Pet Food PDF Print E-mail

A couple of week's ago, I had the opportunity to phone through to 702 on a Saturday morning when they had the Hills' pet nutritionist in the studio giving his 'unbiased' opinion on the feeding of domestic pets.

I own two Jack Russells (or they own me depending on who you ask) who are now eight and a half years old. My bitch has always had bad skin from when she was a puppy. She used to scratch and bite herself to destraction, and the only thing that helped at times like that was cortisone. I knew that using corticosteroids would not be a sustainable option in the long run due to all the negative side effects. I switched the dogs to the Hill's Sensitive Skin pellets at the time and managed Milo's condition the best that I could. Every now and then she would still have to be shaved bald and treated intensively with antibiotics.

One day, I saw a programme on Free Spirit about Vondi's natural pet food. I was intrigued and decided that I had nothing to lose by getting my dog's to try it. And so began Milo's slow but steady recovery! I was absolutely amazed and inspired and pledged to share this wonderful story with people - hence my call to 702.

And boy was I shut down - the Hill's nutitionist even went as far as to say that there was a British study that proved that organic food had less nutrition than commercially produced food!! Now I am no scientist but I think even the most ignorant amongst us would find that statement to be intuitively flawed!! Leigh Benny, the talk show host, said an even dumber thing. She said that although she strives to eat as healthily as possible, she would never try feed her beloved pets organic, natural food because she doesn't want to take the risk that in a few years down the line her pets might develop some disease related to the food?!?

Two years ago as a Vet-shop owner, I phoned my customers to tell them to stop feeding Vet's Choice because it was contaminated by melamine. It was a horrific time - a lot of people lost their pets as a result, and many pets' health was irreversibly damaged. At around the same time, Hills also recalled a batch of their cat food due to confirmed melamine contamination. And in the USA on the 30th July this year, Proctor and Gamble who own the Eukanuba franchise, recalled veterinary and some specialized dry pet food as a precautionary measure because it had the 'potential' to be contaminated with salmonella.

A few years ago, the very same Hills Pet Nutritionist had the audacity to say that with home cooking there is the risk of food poisoning and parasites for both owner and pet, especially with a raw meat diet, if the meat is not stored properly (or) left out too long and bowls not washed properly. He went on to say that an inappropriate diet can have devastating consequences and while there are a number of published homemade recipes for dogs and cats, few, if any, have been properly tested for nutritional adequacy.

If I was him I would shrink with abject embarrassment at the things I have said. But I suppose, he is paid a fat salary by a corporate and I guess that people sell their soul and lose their common sense in the process. This is not to say that all home-cooked foods are good for pets - obviously feeding mielie-pap and old bones will not provide adequate nutrition, but there most certainly are some excellent alternatives out there. But to say that commercially-produced pet food is safe is absolutely untrue! My argument is that besides all the contaminants - the dry pet food is extruded at extremely high heat which kills all the heat-sensitive vitamins and 'good' bowel flora. And just like in the movie "Supersize" me, how is it possible that these kibbles can last years without perishing? Either they contain artificial preservatives - or are they so devoid of nutrition that nothing will grow on them? Either answer is scary to contemplate!

Across the globe, there are voices of dissent

The processed pet food industry is accused of adversely affecting our pets' health and it's argued that grain-based, heavily processed, meat-poor pellets are not the ideal diet for either cats or dogs, both of which are essentially carnivores.
The most vociferous of these is Australian-based veterinarian Dr Tom Lonsdale, author of Work Wonders: Feed your dog raw meaty bones (see sidebar)
Lonsdale is also extremely outspoken about what he terms "the cosy relationship" be-tween vets and pet food manufacturers.
"We as a profession have been led by the nose by vested interests into the current situation, where younger vets actually recommend commercial pet foods as the best available way of feeding domestic pets," he says.
Ironically, for the first 15 years of his working life as a graduate of the Royal Veterinary College, University of London, Lonsdale warned pet owners against home cooked meals "because they were unlikely to get the balance of nutrients right".
"Raw meat posed a risk due to bacteria and lack of calcium, I told them.
"As for bones, they posed a hazard for breaking teeth and causing obstruction.
"Oh, how I cringe (now)!"

In South Africa, most vets have packets of pellets piled high in the reception area of the practice. The receptionists are treated to lavish lunches and other "spoils" by the pet food companies and vets routinely attend training seminars at luxury locations, also hosted by the industry.
The (human) medical profession has a name for such perks: perverse incentives.
Medical reps used to give doctors expensive gifts; doctors were invited to lavish "speaker functions" with their spouses, as well as fully paid medical conferences, often overseas.
But thanks to the Perverse Incentives Policy - implemented as part of the Medicines Control Act's Marketing Code in 2004 - the drug company freebies are now extremely limited.
Apparently no such limitations hamper the pet food companies in their quest to sell as much of their product from veterinary practices as possible.
"It's not frowned upon for pet or animal feed companies to host their clients at seminars and dinners," says Hundley. "It's regarded as part of marketing."

The anti-packaged camp

Vondis Holistic Pet Nutrition, makers of freshly cooked pet meals, distributed in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
Owner Paul Jacobson: "After 10 years in the pet nutrition business, we are absolutely convinced that the poor condition of our pets today is directly related to the poor processed nutrition they are eating.
Most of our pets are suffering from a skin condition, dental disease, obesity, irritable bowels, cancer, colic, epilepsy, renal failure, hip dysplasia or behavioural problems.
Clients come to us after losing confidence with vets' recommendations of cortisone, and switching from one commercial pellet to the next, and when we put them on a natural diet of real food, the ailment goes away in a matter of weeks.
A high carbohydrate and calorie diet, using inferior ingredients, cooked at extreme temperatures, laden with preservatives and colourants, is bound to have a disastrous impact on our animals."

Australian-based veterinarian Dr Tom Lonsdale: "Canned soft foods and grain-based kibble (pellets) do not clean teeth. Food sludge sticks to the teeth and feeds the bacteria in dental plaque. The body's second line of defence, the immune system, mobilises against the bacterial invaders. The result? Inflamed gums, bad breath, circulating bacteria and bacterial infections that affect the rest of the body.
Also dogs and cats don't have the digestive enzymes in the right quality or quantity to deal with the nutrients in grains and other plant material, whether raw or cooked."

Durban-based homeopathic veterinarian, Dr Jane Fraser: "Vets qualifying in recent years have no concept of how dogs and cats should be fed, other than what they've been told by the pet food industry.
Cats, particularly, are true carnivores - they are simply not designed to eat cereal-based foods. That's why we're seeing so much feline diabetes and obesity. One doesn't need to obsess about providing a totally balanced meal at every feed; the diet balances out over time, as with humans. All it requires is a bit of common sense. To tell people that bags of processed stuff is all a carnivore needs, is just ludicrous. But the psychology is very clever: people think: 'If it's expensive, it must be really good'."

Dog trainer and "pet shrink" Glynne Anderson, of the Canine Academy, Durban: "Our dogs are primarily carnivores by choice and omnivores by necessity. And cats are true carnivores, which means they are pure meat eaters and most packaged pet food is at odds with this reality."
There are many ways of feeding fresh food. One way to is feed a wide variety of raw red meat, white meat, offal, eggs, fat and raw bones over a period of a week or so to provide a balanced diet. In the old days, before pellets, vets recommended a third grain/pasta cooked with a third vegetables and a third meat/ chicken/ organ meat/offal, with raw, juicy bones once a day.
•  For more information on non-commercial pet feeding, see www.vondis.co.za or  www.rawmeatybones.com

Article written by Laura McDermid, excerpts from www.vondis.co.za