Pet/companion animal care in these times of growing environmental awareness, and of a global economy that has to become sustainable, is opening up new markets for conscientious consumers and concerned pet owners. There are more and more products and services for pets’ sake, essential for their health and overall well-being that belong under the banner of ‘Green.’ All pet products and services should meet the basic criteria of ‘Greenness’: Namely, they should be variously animal-safe, recyclable, biodegradable, not harmful to the environment, and be produced and delivered in more efficient and sustainable ways than many conventional products and services.
The trust of pet owners in the pet food industry has been shattered by one contaminated product recall after another, many cats and dogs, equines and other animals becoming ill and even dying in the process. The massive pet food recall of 2007 that resulted in the deaths of thousands of pets and a settlement of over $30 million to aggrieved pet owners was a wake-up call for all consumers.
While pet owners’ trust in the pet food industry has been sorely tested, their trust in the veterinary profession is being affirmed as more and more veterinarians prescribe less and less harmful drugs, and take a more holistic approach to disease prevention and treatment. Pesticides prescribed to kill pests on pets, especially fleas, for example, that have harmed many pets for life, and killed many millions over the years, are being phased out, even though similar chemicals are still being used by farmers and gardeners.
Companion animal care in these times of growing environmental awareness, and of a global economy that has to become sustainable, is opening up new markets for conscientious consumers and concerned pet owners. There are more and more products and services for pets’ sake, essential for their health and overall well-being which belong under the banner of ‘Green.’ But there are far fewer than I expected when I undertook a market product review, which means that we all must take more time and effort to support the Green concept and revolution.
From my perspective as a holistically and bioethically oriented veterinarian, all pet products and services should meet the basic criteria of ‘Greenness’: Namely, they should be variously pet-safe, recyclable, biodegradable, not harmful to the environment, and be produced and delivered in more efficient and sustainable ways than many conventional products and services.
A wonderful study by the Cornucopia Project of the Regenerative Agriculture Association, entitled Empty Breadbasket? The Coming Challenge to America’s Food Supply and What We Can Do About It, was published by Rodale Press in 1981. This scientific study impressed me with its prescience, because I too saw the energy/ oil crisis, catastrophic global warming, compounded by human overpopulation, and non-sustainable, over-consumption with out-sourcing of labor and manufacturing by U.S.-based multinational corporations (specifically pet foods and drug companies) importing products to the U.S. with dubious quality assurance and all too often in violation of human rights and environmental protection, looming on the horizon.
These and other related issues have been on the agenda of civil society for now over a quarter of a century. This agenda has expanded to include consumers’ rights: Our right to know about the products we purchase, such as their ingredients and where they were manufactured: And our right to be able to make informed decisions and to have freedom of choice in the market place. We can’t rely on our instincts, just like my dogs who lunge naturally for the low-shelf pet store chewables made from various animal ingredients including the inedible parts of pigs that could give my dogs and our family Salmonella poisoning in a heartbeat; unless, that is, these treats had been sterilized and mummified with radioactive isotope irradiation in off-shore manufacturing facilities.
We must all become kitchen and market-place anarchists, not following the drum-beat of mass-media advertising and consumerism, and enjoy taking responsibility for what we purchase and feed to our families, including our animal companions, and ultimately for their and our own health.
The spirituality, politics, and economics of compassion and respect for all life are part of the ‘Deep Green’ movement that faces the moral inversion of the Golden Rule, where those who have the gold, rule. Yet it is an inescapable fact that, just as when we harm the Earth, we harm ourselves, we do no less to ourselves when we harm animals, especially in the ways in which farm animals are raised for human consumption, and for processing into pet foods.
Caged Laying Hens: Extreme overcrowding, lack of movement induced osteoporosis, bone fractures, foot lesions from wire floor, feather-picking and cannibalism.
Broiler Chickens: Extreme overcrowding, lameness, breast blisters, feather picking and cannibalism, ‘keel-over’ heart-failure from rapid growth. Eye problems, including blindness, from poor ventilation.
Penned Piglets: Overcrowding, boredom, tail-biting, cannibalism, lameness and foot lesions from a life on concrete slatted floors. Circulation and joint problems from rapid growth and large body mass. Chronic respiratory problems from poor ventilation. Breeding Sows in crates: Extreme physical constraint, lameness, arthritis, boredom and stereotypic behaviors indicative of stress and distress.
Veal Calves in crates: Extreme physical constraint, social deprivation, iron-deficient diet causing anemia and weakness.
Feedlot Beef Cattle: Exposure-lack of shade and shelter, lameness and foot rot, liver disease from improper ‘fattening/finishing’ diets and lack of roughage. Giving drugs such as anabolic steroids and beta-adrenergic blocker Ractopamine to boost productivity create animal welfare problems and consumer risks.
Confined Dairy Cows: lack of exercise related lameness, metabolic, and liver diseases from high energy/concentrate diets and lack of roughage. Potentially harmful side-effects and consumer-risks from rBGH (genetically engineered growth hormone) injections to boost productivity.
All the above concentrated animal feeding operations cause stress, distress, and increased disease susceptibility especially to enteric and respiratory infections, and to udder/mammary gland infections in dairy cows.
The following procedures need to be addressed and where appropriate, either phased out, or only the most humane methods permitted: Castrating, branding, and dehorning cattle without anesthetic; hot-iron de-beaking of chickens; disposal of unwanted chickens & pre-slaughter collecting and handling of poultry; tail docking and castration of piglets and lambs; tail docking of dairy cows; treatment of unwanted ‘bobby’ calves and ‘downer cows;’ and of sick and injured poultry and piglets. Use of the ‘Stock-still’ electrical immobilization of cattle should be prohibited. Humane methods for the mass ‘depopulating/killing of diseased livestock and poultry also need to be implemented.
Livestock and poultry transportation, handling, and slaughter methods need significant improvements in most counties.
Dairy and beef cattle fed rations high in cereal grains are prone to acidosis, digestive and metabolic problems, and lameness from laminitis. Such diets create ideal conditions for the proliferation of E. coli 0157, thus putting consumers at risk (also from crops contaminated with infected manure and slurry run-off). Feeding a more natural, grass or hay-based diet results in a drastic reduction in E.coli 0157 within a few days.
Cruel, intensive confinement systems of livestock and poultry production, called CAFOs—concentrated animal feeding operations, are a legacy of our inhumanity. The price of CAFOs include major public health problems associated with the wholesale use of antibiotics to help these animals grow and be productive and stay alive, leading to the rise of highly resistant strains of bacteria. They cause widespread air, surface and groundwater pollution. World- wide, the livestock industry is the leading human-created cause of climate change/global warming.
Produce from organically certified and free-range animals, are generally more humanely derived, and with less environmental harm and drug-dependence than similar produce from CAFOs.
Breaking the monopolistic and monolithic structures of commerce and industry that violate public trust and that control consumer choice through market monopolies have been a difficult challenge when there is government collusion and protection. We should never forget the US government’s opposition to the labeling of genetically engineered foods and manufactured food ingredients; to labeling as to country of origin, and even dragging its heels on establishing an effective and reliable national organic food standards and certification program.
Even the trust of pet owners in the pet food industry has been shattered by one contaminated product recall after another, many cats and dogs, equines and other animals becoming ill and even dying in the process. The massive pet food recall of 2007 that resulted in the deaths of thousands of pets and a settlement of over $ 30 million to aggrieved pet owners was a wake-up call for all consumers.
This recall, due to toxic ingredients in wheat flour imported from China, was soon followed by US companies recalling other imported products from China, notably children’s toys, because of lead paint contamination, and other consumables like toothpaste, that contained toxic ingredients. These events underscored the inability of the federal government to effectively inspect more than one percent of imported products, including pharmaceuticals, and to provide any guarantees to consumers, of product safety, including pet foods, treats and toys. Between May-September 2014 the FDA logged 1,800 complaints of dogs becoming ill after consuming jerky treats manufactured in China, a problem with an 8-year history which was only rectified in February 2015 when Petco and Petsmart took these products off their shelves.
Adding to this debacle were growing concerns about toxic ingredients in US manufactured goods and packaging. Bisphenol compounds in canned and bottled foods and beverages were suspect as being, like phtalates and dioxins, so called endocrine disruptors. They play havoc with our hormonal and related immune systems. Our pets are not immune either. The high incidence of thyroid diseases in dogs and cats may be, in part, related to these compounds being used to line pet food cans and leaching into the food.
While pet owners’ trust in the pet food industry has been sorely tested, their trust in the veterinary profession is being affirmed as more and more veterinarians prescribe less and less harmful drugs, and take a more holistic approach to disease prevention and treatment. Pesticides prescribed to kill pests on pets, especially fleas, for example, that have harmed many pets for life, and killed many millions over the years, are being phased out, even though similar chemicals are still being used by farmers and gardeners.
The drug and petrochemical-pharmaceutical industrial complex would like to see all veterinarians promoting and insisting on annual booster vaccinations to their dog and cat owner- client-victims; selling costly, broad-spectrum anti-parasite, anti-flea and tick drugs only too often when there is no need, making the risks outweigh the benefits to the animals and their clients.
Holistic veterinarians first advise their clients on proper nutrition and preventive health care maintenance, knowing that dogs and cats generally have fewer fleas when they are well nourished and healthy. They do not routinely prescribe special manufactured diets that are often nutritionally inadequate, for various canine and feline maladies such as obesity, diabetes, cystitis, and nephritis. Nor do they add insult to injury by routinely prescribing corticosteroid and other potentially fatal anti-inflammatory drugs when animals develop allergic reactions to food and fleas, further impairing their already compromised immune systems, and causing diseases like Cushing’s disease, Addison’s disease, diabetes, and chronic cystitis.
The Hippocratic oath that human doctors are expected to follow is to do no harm, and the same holds true for animal doctors. But the advice and administrations of the best of them is of little avail when their clients are not mindful, informed, and responsible care-givers to their animal companions. I appeal to all pet owners to resist the temptation to buy over-the- counter and mail-order anti-flea and tick, and worming medicines, and other animal drugs. You should not look for short-cuts and quick fixes in dealing with these and other pests, parasites and animal health problems.
The best medicine is prevention, and a holistic approach to companion animal health in this 21st century calls for a revision of vaccination protocols, of feeding highly processed commercial pet foods, and of over-medicating, especially with so-called preventive medications like those sold to keep fleas and ticks at bay, when there are effective, and much cheaper alternatives available that pose far less risk to animals’ health, and to the environment.
To find a holistic veterinary medical practitioner in your area, go to the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association’s list at www.ahvma.org
If your animal companion may have been poisoned, call 1-800-213-6680, or go to www.petpoisonhelpline.com.
For legal issues relating to animal cruelty, contact your local humane society/animal control/police, and for major issues on this topic, and to support the legal rights of animals, contact the Animal Legal Defense Fund, www.aldf.org
Becoming a Green consumer is to become responsible citizen, a gentle revolutionary, and even a kitchen anarchist. It is enlightened self-interest because of the cost-savings health-wise for you and your family, including your animal companions. Choosing greener products and services gives much needed market security and incentives for providers and manufacturers, a win-win situation for all.
In going Green we follow the dictum, “Think global, act local,’ because our consumer habits and choices have world-wide environmental consequences. And this is not simply because we are now part of a world market economy, but because all things are connected. The Green concept and movement entails caring for the Earth. This ethic of care includes caring for all who dwell therein.
We cannot care for the environment and not care for those who live in it. The health and integrity of the environment depends in large part, not simply on us reducing pollution and resource depletion, but on us assuring the well-being of those who share it with us. These include the trees and other plants that help clean and create the air we breathe; the insects who pollinate and recycle wastes, along with bacteria and other micro-organisms in the living soil that purify the rain, and provide essential nutrients for the health of plants, and for healthful plant-based foods.
The ethic of care in going Green extends to how animals raised for our consumption are treated. More humane systems like free-range, are linked with organic production methods, including giving the animals organic feed. Such feed is more nutritious and free of pesticides than conventionally produced livestock and poultry feed. As a consequence, the eggs, meat, and dairy products from organically certified animals contain more nutrients than similar produce from factory-farmed animals, and do not have pesticide, antibiotic and other potentially harmful drug residues. The availability of pet foods that contain organically certified ingredients is on the rise, in large part due to more and more people purchasing organic foods for themselves.
Most manufactured and highly processed human foods and pet foods, if not organically certified, most probably contain genetically engineered ingredients especially from such commodity crops as corn and soybean. There is increasing evidence from both environmental studies and laboratory animal tests that genetically engineered crops and foods derived there from are not safe. Yet in the absence of any sound, scientifically verifiable safety determinations, the US and other governments around the world have permitted the planting of millions of acres of genetically engineered crops. These have resulted in the genetic contamination of conventional and heirloom crop varieties, and now pose a serious threat to agricultural sustainability and food safety.
Dogs and cats, like the proverbial canaries down the mine shafts, have become our sentinels. They alert us to health hazards in the home-environments we share and in the products and by-products of the same agribusiness food industry that feeds most of us and them. In the mid 1990s I began to suspect diet may play a role in a “cluster” of health problems not seen nearly as often as when dogs and cats were being fed conventional corn and soy. Since that time I have formed the professional opinion that there is sufficient proof from evidence based medicine that dietary ingredients derived from GM crops are not safe for companion animals, and by extension, for human consumers either.
In the mid 90s, more and more genetically engineered corn and soy were being used in pet foods and fed to farmed animals. As a nationally syndicated veterinary newspaper columnist, I began to receive an increase in letters from cat and dog owners whose animals were suffering from this cluster of health problems. In the 40 years that I’ve been writing that column, I’ve benefited from a wide-angled and historical perspective that I would never have realized running a conventional veterinary clinic. The thousands of letters that I receive from across the U.S. keep me informed about new and emerging health problems and veterinarians’ responses to the same.
During this timeframe in the 90s, people often wrote to report of failed treatments and harmful side effects to prescribed remedies e.g. steroids, as well as problems with various manufactured prescription diets after their attending veterinarians diagnosed their animals with allergies, asthma, atopic dermatitis and other skin problems, irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, colitis, recurrent diarrhea, vomiting, indigestion, along with abnormalities in liver, pancreatic and immune system functions.
A similar picture was developing in human health. It is surely no coincidence that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported, in Oct. 2008, an 18% increase in allergies in children under the age of 18 years, between 1997-2007. This ties in with the time-frame of when GM ingredients were first introduced into the food chain and then subsequently in greater amounts. Some 3 million children now suffer from food and/or digestive allergies or intolerance. Their symptoms including vomiting, skin rashes, and breathing problems. They take longer to outgrow milk and egg allergies, and show a doubling of adverse reactions to peanuts.
In the creation of GM crops like corn and soy bean, novel proteins are created that can cause allergies and assault the immune system. This in turn creates illness, especially in the offspring of mothers fed such foods, and to their young fed diets containing GM ingredients. The genetic modification of such food crops can also lower their nutrient content, elevate potential toxins, and also create novel RNA variations. The latter are not destroyed by digestion, and so called micro RNA has been found in mammalian tissues where they can exert influences on gene expression and therefore affect health across generations, (Zhang et al, 2011). These kinds of problems are in part due to the inherent genetic instability of GM plants that can result in spontaneous and unpredictable mutations, (Wilson et al 2006).
In their detailed review of animal safety studies of GM foods, Dona & Arvanitoyannis (2009) conclude that “The results of most of the rather few studies conducted with GM foods indicate that they may cause hepatic, pancreatic, renal, and reproductive effects and may alter hematological, biochemical, and immunologic parameters the significance of which remains unknown.” Altered DNA from GM foods can be incorporated by gut bacteria and may alter their behavior and ecology in the digestive tract. Likewise the bacterial incorporation of genetic material from antibiotic resistance genes used to identify some varieties of GM food crops could have serious health implications, (see Smith 2007 and Traavik & Heinemann, 2007).
Three varieties of Monsanto’s GM corn, approved for consumption by US, European and several other national food safety authorities, caused liver, kidney and other internal organ damage when fed to rats, ( J.S.de Vendomois et al 2009). A subsequent 2-year feeding trial by Seralini et al (2012) reported that rats fed on a diet containing NK603 Roundup tolerant GM corn or given water containing Roundup, at levels permitted in drinking water and GM crops in the US, developed cancers faster and died earlier than rats fed on a standard diet. Females developed significant and numerous mammary tumors, pituitary and kidney problems. Males died mostly from severe liver and kidney chronic deficiencies.
The insecticide Bt (from the inserted genes of Bacillus thuringiensis) produced by several varieties of GM corn may create allergies and illness. Bt-toxin from genetically engineered corn sources has been found in the blood of pregnant women and their babies, as well as in non-pregnant women. Bt-toxins, which have been shown to damage human kidney cells, may cause leaky gut syndrome in newborns, the passage of undigested foods and toxins into the blood from the intestines leading to food allergies and autoimmune diseases. Also, since the blood-brain barrier is not developed in newborns, toxins may enter the brain and cause serious cognitive problems. Some health care practitioners and scientists are convinced that this is the apparent mechanism for autism.
Genetically engineered foods, derived from GM crops, have never been proven safe for human consumption but have been on the market for the last two decades. You can find a list of hidden GMO ingredients, as well as tips for avoiding GMOs, visit www.NonGMOShoppingGuide.com
There are GM corn and soy-free, and organically certified pet foods now available on the market, and websites providing recipes for home-prepared diets for companion animals (www.drfoxvet.com , www.dogcathomeprepareddiet.com and www.feline-nutrition.org) which many informed cat and dog care givers are now providing for their animals. This enlightened consumer action is an integral part of the long overdue revolution in agriculture to promote more ecologically sound, sustainable and humane farming practices, a healthier environment, and more healthful, wholesome and affordable food for all.
Pet food manufacturers that have USDA Certified Organic ingredients, and especially those that use no corn, soy, canola, cotton by-products (oil & cake) or sugar beet, — which could be genetically engineered, or imported rice (which can be contaminated with GM rice) could legitimately claim “No GMO Ingredients” on their packaging. I feel very strongly that this is a pivotal issue in the health/ food revolution, where there is no place for GM food ingredients in what we consume and feed to companion, and also to farmed -food animals. I have communicated these concerns to several responsible pet food manufacturers who are not unaware of what Hippocrates advised, — to let our food be our medicine and our medicine our food.
Fox, M.W. Killer Foods: When Scientists Manipulate Genes, Better is Not Always Best. Blue Ridge Summit, PA, Rowman & Littlefield, 2015. Fox, M.W. Healing Animals and the Vision of One Health. Tallevast, FL One Health Vision Press/Amazon.com 2011 and Fox, M.W., Hodgkins E., and Smart M. Not Fit for a Dog: The Truth About Manufactured Dog and Cat Food Sanger CA Quill Driver Books 2012.
Smith, J.M. Genetic Roulette: The Documented Health Risks of Genetically Engineered Foods Fairfield. Iowa Yes! Books 2007.
For Supportive References: See detailed review on this topic at www.drfoxvet.com
Playing Devil’s advocate, one should ask if it’s not contrary to the entire ethos of “Green” to keep animals as pets. As Socrates said, “A life unexamined is a life unlived.” But I don’t believe he was very much opposed to human slavery and some critics of keeping animals as pets see it as a kind of enslavement.
Emotional enslavement and emotional exploitation are coins of the same currency, the Stockholm Syndrome notwithstanding. Is the slavish devotion of a dog toward his/her ‘master’ (like the co-dependence of many pet owners and their animals) a kind of sickness or the essence of agape–absolute and unconditional love?
Love is just another 4-letter-word when there is little understanding and respect. Many cat owners have castigated me for my opposition to de-clawing of cats, e.g. contending that they love their cats and would never do anything to deliberately harm them. Such surgical mutilation, like the cosmetic docking of dogs’ tails and ear-cropping, are outlawed in many other countries.
People love their pet birds (whom they keep in small cages and can never fly); and they love other deprived pets (like super-social guinea pigs, rabbits and rats) who live a solitary existence totally deprived of contact with their own species for their entire lives. That’s not in my definition of Green and we all need to examine as impartially as we can all of our relationships, especially those where we claim there is love. For me, ‘greener’ pet keeping lies in providing animals with as natural an environment as possible, including contact with their own kind.
There are grades and shades of Green and, as Vincent van Gogh observed in nature, many shades of Grey. The Grey area we should all avoid is the commerce of wild-caught animals by the pet trade–from turtles (often infected with Salmonella) and other reptiles to birds and small mammals. A lighter shade of Grey is when wild species have been bred in captivity but, because they are not domesticated (a process that includes genetic selection for adaptability, lack of fear and ease of handling), they really should be out in the wild or in a protected natural habitat.
Domesticated animals (from Easter bunnies and ducklings to pot-bellied pigs) belong in the low Green grade because of the large Grey area of people taking them as pets but not being prepared or able to provide them with proper environments for their behavioral needs, health and well- being.
Animals selected for generations for docility and adaptability,—the cage and aquarium-kept species like hamsters, rabbits, canaries and goldfish,— pass the Green pet grade conditionally. The Grey area lies in how well they are cared for. In terms of numbers, tropical fish and seawater fish top the list of species kept in homes (and offices, esp. dentists’). Because of the equipment needed to maintain these artificial environments and the often non-sustainable harvesting of various kinds, there is more Grey in fish-keeping than meets the eye. And, while they are fascinating and even relaxing to observe, the Greenest aspect of the virtual reality of decorative aquariums, and the flight cages for exotic small birds now popular in retirement homes, is the plastic vegetation therein.
Parrots are one of the least domesticated and often most demanding, noisy and deeply harmful of all birds kept as cage pets. They can outlive their owners and many are given up for adoption. Check out a parrot rescue and rehab facility if you are prepared for sharing your life with one of these wonderful creatures whose habitat is fast disappearing.
The Greenest pet grade for an animal’s adaptability to living with us in a sedentary, domestic environment goes to the dog (domesticated for 100,000 to 40.000 years) and who, as some anthropologists and others contend, helped make us Human; and a more distant second place to the cat, who has been domesticated for only a few thousand years and still prefers to walk on the wild side. Cats and dogs are now regarded as family members and companion animals. Collectively, from the perspective of Green consumer choices and services, cats and dogs represent the major market component of the pet industry complex. Reducing their environmental paw-prints through consumer support of Green pet industry products and services that are now coming into the market place.
Choosing a Recycled Pet
Rather than buying a puppy or kitten directly from a commercial breeder or pet store stocked with puppymill and kittenmill animals of dubious genetic integrity and viability, go to your local animal shelter or go online to find one to adopt.
Commerce in purebred and ‘designer’ (cross-breed) dogs, and purebred cats has expanded in many farming states since my first investigations of commercial dog breeding facilities, so called ‘puppy mills’ in the Midwest in the early 1970’s. Brood-bitches, stud dogs and litters of puppies were generally treated like commodities; no different from other livestock, such as pigs, chickens, and fur-ranch foxes and mink. Even then, inhumane breeding practices and conditions were widespread, and they have not been improved upon over the intervening years in spite of government (USDA/APHIS) inspections and licensing schemes and purported AKC (American Kennel Club) inspections. Most state authorities see nothing wrong with applying the same standards, if any, for how producers should treat their livestock and poultry, to puppy and kitten mill commercial breeding facilities.
But there is one huge difference between conventionally raise farm animals and cats and dogs… Dogs and cats are so much more domesticated in terms of their need for human contact during their first formative weeks (called the critical period for socialization), and throughout their entire lives. On most large commercial breeding facilities there is inadequate human contact and socialization of mass-produced puppies and kittens, leading potentially to emotionally unstable, unreliable, even unsafe animals. Their parent ‘breeding stock’ can suffer their entire lives from lack of consistent and caring human contact. This is compounded by living in a literal prison cage or wire run, often in extremely noisy and crowded conditions where sanitation, clean water, and adequate food and shelter may all be deficient to varying degrees. All this means animal stress and distress, which impairs their immune systems. This leads to increased susceptibility to infections and allergies that can last the pup’s or kitten’s entire lifetime.
Pups and kittens whose mothers were chronically stressed during pregnancy, and environmental influences, especially the quality of food and quality of human contact provided during pregnancy, can cause changes in the ‘wiring’ of their nervous, endocrine and other body systems. This is called epigenetics, a recent branch of human and veterinary medicine and that was an integral aspect of my first doctoral dissertation .( Published in 1971 by the University of Chicago Press, entitled Integrative Development of Brain and Behavior in the Dog.). This in part accounts for the high veterinary bills people find themselves paying because of the chronic health problems that result in the offspring.
Another reason for the plethora of health problems in pure-bred animals is because of the low ‘hybrid vigor’ and higher incidence of genetic and developmental abnormalities, hereditary diseases, and behavioral problems ranging from extreme shyness to unpredictable aggression and hyperactivity syndrome. Large scale commercial breeders—anyone with say more than six breeding animals—cannot follow up through the marketing matrix to determine the quality of their produce. They have no system of progeny testing, which means keeping records of all the health and behavioral problems of the puppies and kittens that they are marketing that could be traced to a ‘defective’ bitch or stud dog. It is inexcusable that the AKC, that opposes any legislation like this Bill, should actually profit from selling pedigree registration papers to the unwitting purchasers of puppy mill puppies. Pedigree registration papers are no Good Housekeeping seal of quality—almost the opposite.
Additional stress is placed on the offspring when they are shipped out, shortly after the stress of being weaned that is coupled additional stress on their immune systems of being wormed and given a cocktail of vaccinations. Such treatments can lead to life-long sickness and suffering. Kittens and puppies should not be shipped any distance more than a two-four-hour journey in a climate-controlled vehicle and then only after they have passed the sensitive period of development that in the dog is around 8 weeks of age, and possibly one or two weeks later in kittens. ‘Locally bred and locally purchased’ animals could be sold at an earlier age, around 6-7 weeks of age for puppies, and 7-8 weeks for kittens, provided the distances they must travel are within the two-four hour range.
The ‘breeding stock’ not only suffer a life of extreme confinement on the typical puppy and kitten mill facility: They also suffer the stress of repeated pregnancies one heat cycle after another with no rest and recovery after raising a litter, many being bred, for cost-saving, on their first heat, at an age when they are not yet even fully grown and physiologically ready to bear offspring.
No conscientious hobby breeder would ever consider adopting such a stressful practice. Nor would anyone who respects the nature and beauty of cats, or appreciates how dogs have contributed to the well-being of humanity since before the beginning of recorded history, give nothing less than unequivocal support for boycotting pet stores, on-line pet sales, and large commercial breeders.
Anyone looking for a particular purebred, cat or dog, should call the local animal shelter where there may be one waiting to be adopted; or go on-line and locate the particular breed’s rescue and adoption; or find a small, local breeder and go and see both parents and see how well the animals are being cared for before you decide to buy. And, if you do, ask for a money-back guarantee, and vet bill payments in full, if the kitten or puppy you purchase has any developmental or hereditary disease that could possibly appear later in life. Responsible breeders will not sell to just anyone, and will vouch as best they can, even with DNA data, for the genetic soundness of their animals’ lineages.
Going to the local shelter and adopting a cat or dog, kitten or puppy, pure breed or mixed, is one way to go green and feel good, taking in the living discards of an inhumane, disposable society. Recycled animals waiting for adoption, and all too often being euthanized after 7-10 days if they not adopted in order to make room for more incoming animals, is a sad reflection of these times. We can all help change for the better by supporting our local humane society and advocating humane education in the schools.
Going to your local animal shelter when you are looking for an adult or young dog or cat to adopt can be a heart-breaking experience, seeing so many in need of good homes—and a rewarding one. You may find the best dog that you ever expected to meet, a pure-breed or mixed, who gives you one look and you know that’s it: A soul-mate for life.
You could well find the purrfect feline companion in terms of color and disposition, and if that cat is with a littermate or housed with one or more other sociable cats or kittens, you should seriously consider taking two home instead of one. Two cats living together are generally happier and healthier than solitary cats with only human company for their entire lives.
Don’t be surprised if the animal shelter or refuge adoption policy insists on a follow-up home visit, or even a pre-adoption check-up to determine if your home is suitable for one of their animals. You may be interrogated as to your personal finances and life-style in order to determine if you have the resources and are a responsible person who would take proper care of the animal or animals you would like to adopt.
Every shelter should have complete records for most of the animals’ histories–why they were given up for adoption, their health status, if they are housebroken, good with kids, etc. You may prefer to adopt an adult or elderly animal, know what it looks like full-grown (with many mixed-breed pups, you can never be too sure) and knowing a pup will take time to housebreak. You may be charged for vaccinations, and to have to bring a young animal back to be surgically neutered (if it hasn’t already been spayed or castrated).
If you already have a dog or cat, why not consider adopting another from the shelter? It is often remarkable how a shy animal will develop more trust and self- confidence when paired with a more stable outgoing one.
If you are set on getting a particular breed, you may well find one at the shelter; or check the Internet for breed-rescue networks. Many individuals who have a particular affection for Rottweiler dogs or Abyssinian cats, for example, find foster homes with such animals who have been given up for adoption for various reasons. Greyhounds, raced too young and abused and rejected by a money-driven industry, also make the most gentle and intelligent canine companions one could ever ask for (go to www.greyhoundrescue.org). Owners affectionately call them “40-mile-an-hour couch potatoes”. Foster homes that may be caring for several animals can be reached via the Internet. Similarly, local animal shelters may have a network of foster homes for dogs and cats; and, in some circumstances where there is no shelter or dog pound, a network of caring people provide foster care for homeless pets. You may wish to volunteer and do the same, taking in pets for ‘recycling’. You will learn not to get too attached, knowing that the animal receiving your love and care may eventually be adopted into good homes that you will evaluate prior to and visit after each animal is taken.
It is a common misconception that an adult or older cat or dog will not form as strong a bond of attachment as an adopted kitten or puppy. On the contrary, adopted adult animals seem to know and appreciate that they have a secure and loving relationship with a new owner and family. They complete the circle where love begins and ends. The need to love and to be loved become one as they display affection while soliciting it.
Visit any pet store and check out the toy section and you will probably be overwhelmed. The burgeoning racks and shelves of innumerable items speak one truth: dogs and cats enjoy toys just like our own children.
Some cats and dogs have the spirit of the hunter–they especially like toys that they can chase, catch, ‘kill’, cache or bury and even parade with. Various toys stimulate animals both physically and psychologically. They trigger various instincts (not only predatory but also parental), including carrying fluffy or soft, stuffed toys around like they would one of their own offspring, even protectively coveting and guarding such toys. Possessiveness of some toys is best ignored. Other instincts can be stimulated by toys: some dogs and cats, especially those weaned too young, may knead soft toys with their front paws and suck the material as though they were with their mothers. Others may instead straddle and mount the toy as though it were a mate.
Dogs naturally use sticks (green sticks are safer–they don’t splinter) as social tools. One example is how a dog will grab a stick and get another dog to chase him; or they will invite another dog to grab the other end and have a wrestling match or tug-of-war. This kind of behavior can be mimicked by us to get dogs to play with us. Dogs quickly learn to drop a stick or other toy (like a ball or Frisbee) for the owner to throw for the dog to chase and, in many instances, retrieve for more throwing or hold onto for a tug-of-war.
Another example of social tool use is to offer a toy to a person as a gift. The dog or cat drops the toy at your feet or in your lap, not to be thrown but to receive praise. Many dogs do this when they greet their owners coming home, or visitors. Cats engaging in this behavior may be acting like the outdoor/indoor cat who brings a dead mouse to the doorstep as if bringing food home for the kittens.
Toys, therefore, can evoke highly ritualized behaviors that out of their natural context may seem strange but, in the confines of the home environment, help animals adapt to a relatively bland, unchanging and unstimulating environment. So we see some cats stuffing their owner’s beds with toys under covers and pillows. Most cats (and some dogs) enjoy pouncing on and ‘killing’ waggling toes and fingers under the sheets. Cats may have a fixation with water and will dunk toys in their water bowls and in sinks and toilets. Cats prowling and yowling at night with a toy in their jaws may be off, in their minds, on a night hunt; or showing early signs of dementia.
Both dogs and cats may horde toys in certain locations and bring them out to play as they choose, while others never show any interest in toys at all. This is unusual and may indicate a lack of human bonding or socialization, or be associated with a timid or stoic temperament. Encouraging animals to play can be therapeutic for those with timidity and fear issues, helping them become more outgoing and self-confident.
Cats often ‘go wild’ at night (the ‘evening crazies’) and this is the best time to engage in play with your cat. Some enjoy toyless play such as hide-and-seek or ambush. Cats who ambush their owners (attacking legs, e.g.) can be redirected to attack easy-to-make toys: the Feline Fishing Pole–take a 3-4 foot long cane and tie about 6 feet of sisal or hemp twine on one end and an old sock stuffed with catnip on the other. Dangle the lure over the cat, then drag it jerkily across the floor. Many cats love this game and for those who attack ankles out of sheer boredom, it is an almost guaranteed cure. Having another cat as a playmate can, of course, be the best cure of all.
You can make other cat toys, too: bent spirals of pipe cleaners that roll on the floor; crinkly balls of recyclable tin foil or brown paper wrapped in twine and cat ‘mobiles’–hang a cluster of various items like feathers and shells from strings within reach of the cat when rearing up on its hind legs. Many cats enjoy playing with fir cones and, at night, chasing a laser light directed onto the wall beside them.
For dogs, outdoors and in, a green stick is fun to chew and retrieve. A three-inch piece of beef soup bone (shank or marrow) will give hours of pleasurable chewing, hiding and even burying outdoors (if you don’t mind your dog digging in part of your yard). Digging is another canine play activity related to digging out live prey, burying food and making a den or cool bed in the dirt. The bone should be raw, since cooked bones splinter easily and could cause internal damage. Some dogs are obsessive chewers and can even damage their teeth, so restrict their chew-time, provide softer safe chew- toys, and more physical activity outdoors.
A very safe toy you can make for your dog is out of the thickest cotton rope you can find, or a twisted old cotton sheet or towel. Tie a knot at both ends so it’s like a soft bone that the dog can gnaw or grab in the middle and shake as though killing prey. Make another toy out of similar material, but tie both ends together to make a circle. This is a good toy with which to have a tug-of-war with your dog.
Playing regularly with your pet and encouraging pets to play with each other helps affirm and strengthen the emotional bond–those who play together, stay together.
Giving your dog or cat a daily grooming has many benefits other than helping reduce the amount of fur all over the house or the amount of fur that cats swallow when grooming themselves (which can result in the accumulation of hard balls of fur in their digestive systems that can become life-threatening).
When we groom, pet, massage or gently play with our animals, they (and we) relax. Their heart rates (and ours) go down, as well as our blood pressure and cortisol (stress hormone) levels. Physical, feel-good contact such as grooming has been shown to elevate ‘feel-good’ neurochemicals like serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins and phenylethylamine (an ingredient in chocolate that we humans like but is bad for dogs because chocolate contains other substances harmful to dogs). The increase in these feel-good neurochemicals was documented not just in dogs, but also in the people handling their dogs–a 2-way natural high!
Grooming your pet (like giving a gentle massage with a good brush or comb) will not only help improve the look and health of the animal’s skin and coat, but can also help calm a nervous animal, strengthen and affirm your emotional bond (just like a mother dog or cat grooming her offspring) and, in particular, help strengthen the immune system–enhancing the animal’s ability to cope with stress, fight off infections and simply feel good.
Some cats (and dogs, too) will actually get used to a gentle vacuuming over the back, sides and tummy. This is an easy way of removing loose hair and cat dander but is no substitute for hands-on grooming and brisk body massage that allows one to loosen under-fur and check for abnormal growths, swellings and painful areas.
Dog breeds like poodles and Bedlington terriers who don’t shed need to have their coats trimmed, various styles being offered by professional groomers–some of whom do home visits that can be more convenient, if not more expensive. Good groomers are good dog handlers, helping young dogs get used to the sound of electric clippers and learning to stand still while they are clipped. Good groomers avoid clipper burn–clipping too close and injuring the dog’s skin. Check what kinds of shampoo they use and if they are not organic or contain natural ingredients (rather than a host of synthetic chemicals that could harm your dog and certainly contaminate the environment), then bring your own. Those that I have selected provide a useful guide to what is available and they are also good for bathing your dog or cat at home. (Yes, cats can get used to an occasional bathing; and some even love it.) This is especially worthwhile doing when a family member is allergic to cat ‘dander’–at least wiping the cat all over with a moist shampoo and water-soaked sponge every few days. Dander is protein in cat saliva that dries on cats’ coats after they have licked/groomed themselves.
Aspiring to be Green with one’s animal companions includes an important and often neglected area, especially for cats, namely: their environment. Most dogs get out for regular walks and romps in safe, off-leash areas with other dogs, but cats generally live a more confined existence indoors.
With few exceptions, animals enjoy being in natural surroundings–not simply getting physical activity and being able to relieve themselves, but also stimulating all their senses with the scents, sounds, sights and tactile sensations that the great outdoors can provide.
Dogs like regular, scheduled outings–a reflection of their sense of time. Many become agitated, sometimes even bringing the leash when it’s walk-time (always time outdoor activity before rather than after meals–this will pique a dog’s appetite and help reduce digestive problems, even potentially fatal bloat).
Cats can also be habituated to going outdoors on a leash and harness (they can slip out of most collars). Unlike walking a dog who follows your directions, most cats prefer to have their owners follow them on the other end of the leash. Choose a quiet area to cat-walk since a cat spooked by a dog or sudden loud noise could try to use you as a tree-refuge and cause significant claw damage. Cats can slip out of harnesses so I advise taking cats out using both a harness on a leash and a collar on a leash, with an ID tag on the collar and ideally every cat (and dog) should be microchipped with an electronic ID under the skin.
There are safe alternatives for cats who love to look down from high places and sun themselves. (Since cats love to window-gaze, be sure your window screens are very secure. More than one cat has fallen out, sometimes from several stories in apartment complexes; and if they survive, may get lost in the neighborhood.) These include:
Because free-roaming house cats and feral cats area a major reason why the numbers of song birds are declining and because other cats could infect yours with various diseases against which vaccinations (that are not without risk) may not give full protection,the back yard must be made other-cat-proof. There are cat fences that can be easily erected along the top of an existing fence that will stop cats in the neighborhood from getting into your yard and prevent your cats from getting out.
The indoor environment can also be enriched for cats. If you have a screened-in or season porch, set up a decorative tree branch for your cats to climb, claw and perch on; adding carpeted platforms on one or more branches and within leaping distance along the walls. An alternative to a well-secured tree branch is a carpeted cat ‘condo’, ideally made of wood and burlap or recycled carpet. The carpet should not have loops that could snag cats’ claws. Placing the cat condo in a room close to a window will give cats extra enjoyment.
Cats need scratch posts to sharpen and clean their claws, exercise, mark with scent glands in their pads and to display their excitement–as when you come home or are ready to play. Scratch posts or boards should be sturdy, not prone to topple over. Vertical posts should be long enough so cats can stretch out and up. They need the height to display (for, in the wild, the height of the claw mark and scent indicate to other cats the size of the territorial marker).
Cats also enjoy hide-holes. A couple of paper grocery bags or cardboard boxes and wide tubes laid open on the floor delight many cats as they facilitate hide-and-seek and ambush games.
Creating a dog-friendly indoor environment that affords some enrichment (especially for dogs who are alone all day) is a challenge and a responsibility, especially to allay boredom, separation anxiety and lonesome howls that may disturb neighbors. Toys help; and a pet-for-the-pet, like another dog or easy-going cat that is not afraid of dogs and whom your dog accepts–kittens often being the best choice.
Leaving a TV or radio on, tuned to a talk show or news channel, can help both dogs and cats cope better with being alone since the sound of human voices can have a calming effect. Stimulating video programs are available for both cats and dogs that can provide stimulation for lonely and bored animals.
There is also a new generation of products called pheromones that can help dogs and cats cope better with being alone. Another open area of environmental enrichment in the realm of the scent remains to be explored for its effectiveness and market potential. Cats and dogs enjoy novel scents and materials like organic cotton fabric or soft toys impregnated with the scents of various wild animals (as from the zoo or wildlife park) could be both stimulating and entertaining as occasional offerings. Some dogs may roll in such scents and, if they’re not too obnoxious, that’s OK. But, if they (cats, especially) start to urinate scent marks in the home or try to consume the scent carrier, then it’s time to back off or select another wild perfume scent.
When we use too many bug sprays and antibiotics for example, we disrupt the natural balance of organisms that keeps our fields, gardens, homes, digestive tracts and skin surfaces healthy. Imbalance leads to dis-ease. This is often compounded by the presence of other chemicals, many long thought to be relatively safe, in our food, water and in and around our homes that can harm us and our pets. Many are now recognized as endocrine disruptors, harming our hormonal and immune systems, as well as causing cell mutations, cancer and birth defects.
Some of these chemicals are pollutants from industrial wastes contaminating our air, food, and water. They are virtually impossible to avoid, especially mercury, dioxins, PCBs, and arsenical compounds. Various petrochemical pesticides and even human pharmaceutical drugs have been found in rain water that we and our family members, including our pets, eventually drink. But we can do much to clean up our own nests.
We all need to liberate our lawns from the suburban monoculture blight of grass and pesticides, letting healing an nutritious plants like dandelion, horsetail, sting nettle, burdock, purslane, clover and milk thistle return. Tell your neighbors (and municipal authorities, if need be) of the many health benefits of these and other ‘weeds’ that you eat yourself and feed to your animal companions. Lawns, especially chemically-treated ones, are an abomination and should be turned into meadows, rain- and kitchen-gardens and even re-forested. Their maintenance wastes gas and petrochemicals, ultimately contaminating our drinking water and even causing lymphatic cancer in dogs. Cut lawns can cause acute dermatitis in pets and kids coming in contact with the hard filaments on the ends of sharp, severed blades. Dogs (and cats, too) enjoy eating fresh sprouting fescue (or ‘dog grass’) that a liberated, uncut lawn will provide in abundance. A liberated lawn with healthy organic soil will satisfy dogs’ craving to eat dirt (so-called ‘pica’ that can contain beneficial nutrients)–but, all thing is moderation; and check with your veterinarian if eating either grass or soil or both become obsessive.
Dogs do burn grass with their urine and that can be problematic, especially for people with dogs using communal cut grass areas around condos and apartment complexes. Applying gypsum (available from most garden centers) will help neutralize the urine and give the grass a chance.
Living and staying healthy on a not so green, and increasingly poisoned, toxic planet, is a survival challenge. The first thing to do is to take an inventory of all the chemicals in one’s immediate home environment that could be harmful, and should be removed. Pets are like permanent toddlers, always on the floor, licking and chewing things, inhaling or absorbing through their paws whatever is on the ground, and ingesting materials that get on their fur when they lick and groom themselves. They, therefore, are especially at risk from potential toxic chemicals in the home environment from those that are left on the kitchen floor every day that it is cleaned, to the chemicals in the dust on carpets and upholstery, independent of their often allergic reactions to dust mites, and to tobacco smoke (that can cause cancer in pets).
Thyroid cancer in cats has also been linked with a widely used fire-retardant chemical, a bromide compound that interferes with iodine uptake. This compound, present in upholstery, carpets, drapes and even some items of clothing, coupled with stain-repelling chemicals, create a toxic dust of micro-particles that we and our pets absorb. When pets who never go outdoors get sick, they may be telling us that there could be something wrong with the indoor environment that we share with them.
Our dogs and cats are like the proverbial canary down the mine shaft, alerting us to poisons in the environment that we share. Being informed about these sources of mutual sickness—and it is no coincidence that pets and people in the same household often have similar diseases, from cancer to allergies and autoimmune disorders—is part of the Greening process.
For some people this may all seem like doom and gloom. But none of us can afford to live in denial. We can all do something to help clean up the environment, beginning in our own homes, and what we bring in to eat, drink, to give to our pets, and to keep our homes clean and free of pests.
All members of the lily family; flowering plants with bulbs; azaleas, amaryllis, autumn crocus, black walnuts, blue bonnet, castor bean, cherry laurel, cyclamen, dumbcane, foxglove, holly, hollyhock, Jerusalem cherry, lupines, laurel, mistletoe, mother-in law’s tongue (sanseveria), oak acorns, oleander, onions, philodendron, poinsettia, privet, rhododendron, nightshade. Blue-green algae in standing water.
Dogs at risk from onions, green potato skins, raisins, chocolate, macadamia nuts, xylitol sweetener in candy and diet cookies, yellow-red natural food dye (Annatto from achiote tree) in cheeses.
Cats also at risk from garlic, and some dogs.
Parrots at risk from avocado.
All animals at risk from moldy foods—aflatoxin poisoning most common.
All home and garden pesticides, cocoa garden mulch, many cleaning products, lead fishing weights, copper pennies (contain toxic zinc), anti-freeze, Tylenol and other over-the counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Toads and venomous snakes. All cage birds from fumes from Teflon coated cookware.
The 2007 report by Alexandra Gorman for Women’s Voice for the Earth (www.womenandenvironment.org) entitled Household Hazards: Potential Hazards of Home Cleaning Products is one of the best documented wake-up calls for a chemically addicted and ignorant consumer community. Not even my Lysol, Chlorox, and antibiotic hand-wash and wipes addicted mother-in-law can continue to live in denial after reading such a report. But old habits and beliefs die hard. I have a full-page advertisement from Time magazine from 1950 that proclaims “DDT is good for you,” and shows a mother and her baby in the very center of the advertisement that promotes the use of DDT everywhere inside and outside the home.
It is astounding that so many people continue to bring hazardous chemical cleaning and disinfecting products into their home environments, and various ‘fresh scent’ laundry supplies into their homes, as well as the latest aerosol spray and plug-in ‘air fresheners’ that can contain toxic aldehydes and phalates and other dubious volatile organic compounds. How can people still trust chemical manufacturers and their government except by living in denial and becoming historically amnesic with regard to the prescience of Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring, that was ridiculed as unscientific and chemophobic by the petrochemical-food-and drug industrial complex.
Doris J.Rapp MD, has done justice to marine biologist Rachel Carson’s efforts in her well documented book Our Toxic World: A Wake Up Call —Chemicals Damage Your Body, Brain, Behavior and Sex, (2004, published by the Environmental Medical Research Foundation, Buffalo, NY. Also visit www.drrapp.com).
For pets’ sake we can all turn to the basic, safe home cleaners, many recipes for which are available using non-toxic and inexpensive ingredients like white vinegar, borax, and baking soda. (visit Co-op America’s National Green Pages: www.coopamerica.org/pubs/greenpages/about.cfm, and Healthier Home Cleaning. The Green Guide: www.thegreenguide.com/doc/98/clean
For room freshening, try organic essential oils such as lavender, lemon grass, orange and pine. These also have many therapeutic uses as well. (visit www.younglivingoils.com)
The most convincing evidence that pet owners need to be more vigilant about the use of potentially poisonous chemicals in and around their homes comes from a 2008 report by the Washington, D.C.- based Environmental Working Group of blood and urine samples from cats and dogs that were tested for some 70 chemicals commonly found in people. These chemicals included plastic additives, chemicals found in food packaging, heavy metals, stain resistors, and fire retardants. Forty three of a total of forty eight chemicals found were higher in pets than in people, indicating that dogs and cats are highly polluted. Dogs had more than double the amounts found in humans of certain stain-and grease-proof coatings found in carpets and on non-stick pans; cats had 23 times higher levels of flame retardants in their blood compared to people—that has been linked by the EPA with hyperthyroidism in cats. (Cats also had five times higher levels of mercury than people, this being attributed to higher consumption of fish).
Several eco-friendly, non-toxic and non-polluting therapies that many veterinarians now provide include: homeopathy, naturopathy, pheromone and aromatherapy and chiropractic adjustments as well as aquatherapy and other types of physical rehabilitation. You may enjoy training yourself in massage therapy, including acupressure massage, kinesiology and energy transfer healing and related techniques as detailed in my books The Healing Touch for Dogs and The Healing Touch for Cats.
Light- or photo-therapy can be extremely beneficial for all mainly-indoors animals as well as us. Dogs with seasonal (winter) alopecia (hair loss) benefit from a full spectrum grow-light or Vitalite over their favorite resting area; and both dogs and cats will often instinctively lie under such lights. The Green alternative is to put up a carpeted window shelf or two on the north side or give animals access to an insulated sun porch, or an open one in warm weather.
I have come to this conclusion because of the dramatic clinical improvement in dogs and cats suffering from a number of chronic, debilitating, and costly health problems once they have been taken off highly processed, high-cereal and soy- containing commercial pet foods and are given naturally formulated, ideally organic whole food diets appropriate for their species, age, physical condition, and activity level.
Scientifically formulated, manufactured pet foods are packed with chemical supplements used to ‘fortify’, i.e. make up for deficiencies in the basic ingredients that are mainly slaughter house and food and beverage industry waste byproducts. Other chemical additives to flavor/taste-enhance, stabilize, preserve, color and ‘texturize’ (appear like meat and gravy rather than a grey mush) are also incorporated. According to a CNN News report on July 20, 2007, such supplements that are put into processed foods for human consumption as well as in to pet foods are not subject to any FDA inspection or oversight, and the government has no records as to country of origin of these additives/supplements.
Many micronutrients are destroyed by processing, excessive exposure to heat and/or water denatures proteins, destroying essential amino acids, various vitamins, and some of the essential fatty acids.
Oxidation/rancidification of pet foods and their ingredients during storage and transport is another problem. Most pet food manufacturers have recently phased out using BHA and BHT that were used for many years as preservatives in both human and pet foods. Animal tests have linked BHA to stomach and bladder cancer, and BHT to thyroid and bladder cancer. Pet food manufacturers now use ‘mixed tocopherols’ (a claimed source or form of vitamin E), and citric acid as preservatives. High levels of vitamin E, the most widely used antioxidant in pet foods today, can disrupt the activity of the other fat soluble vitamins, namely vitamin K (menadione), vitamin A (retinol), and vitamin D (calciferol). So these are often added as supplements to the formula, which is not without risk since vitamins A and D can be toxic at biologically excessive levels in the food.
There are additional chemical contaminants not listed on the pet food label that are associated with the production, processing, and preserving of the original sources of the primary ingredients like animal fat, chicken meal and corn meal, including pesticide residues, animal drugs, ethoxyquin (a known carcinogen) added to prevent tallow from becoming rancid, and polyacrylamide used to coagulate slaughter house waste. Mercury compounds in fish products, and dioxins and PCBs in most animal byproducts, are additional concerns, as is the lower nutritional value of conventionally grown crops compared to organically grown*.
The science supporting the main-stream pet food industry is based not on veterinary nutritional science but on the animal production science of livestock feed formulation that relies on simplistic ingredient analysis and formulation as per the ‘Guaranteed Analysis’ on pet food labels that shows the percentage of crude protein, fat, carbohydrate, fiber and ash. The list of supplements/additives is always longer than the list of the basic ingredients such as chicken meal, meat byproduct and corn meal. It is curious that the pet food industry still refuses to label the caloric value of their products, a serious omission considering the current pet obesity epidemic.
Feeding trials to determine safety and nutritional values are not cost-effective and so are not done on a regular basis but should be with every new formulation and when ingredients from different sources are used. Every new batch of untested pet foods containing either new ingredients or the same ingredients but from new sources should be appropriately numbered, and annual reports of any adverse food reactions should be available to veterinarians upon request, and filed with the appropriate governmental regulatory authority.
The destruction/denaturing of essential nutrients due to processing, storage and cooking is a major problem with main-stream manufactured pet foods. Bags of dry cat and dog food may be up to a year and more post-manufacture before they are sold.
The fact that major pet food companies are still selling predominantly cereal-based cat foods (e.g. combinations of corn meal, corn gluten meal, brewers rice, wheat, and soy flour), as ‘complete and balanced nutrition for all life stages according to AAFCO animal feeding tests,’ attests to their lack of sound science and biological ignorance. Cats are carnivores after all!
Cats are notorious for becoming addicted to dry foods, and such foods, generally condoned by veterinarians because they believe the manufacturers’ claim that the food is scientifically formulated and balanced for health and maintenance, and helps keep cats’ teeth clean, can result in several serious diseases, from obesity and skin problems to diabetes and urinary tract problems. (See the book Elizabeth Hodgkins, DVM, Esq, Your Cat published by St Martin’s Press, NY 2007 for further documentation.)
Both dry and canned dog and cat foods contain ingredients that can cause food-allergy or intolerance, and may also lack essential nutrients that lead to various skin and other health problems. Until recently most veterinarians believe in what the pet food manufacturers claim, (and recent graduates are no exception when one looks at the funds provided to State and private veterinary colleges by the big multinational pet food companies), they rarely suggested changing their sick animals’ diets. Instead they practiced iatrogenic medicine, first by endorsing the continued feeding of potentially harmful diets, then by prescribing potentially harmful drugs and costly special prescription diets that are all too often useless and highly unpalatable. Now this is changing since the advent of evidence-based medicine showing how many cats and dogs with various ailments dramatically improve when given biologically appropriate, whole-food diets as per my recipes for cats and dogs posted on my website www.drfox.vet.com
As a more informed consumer populace says ‘no’ to junk/fast/convenience foods, along with more and more concerned veterinarians, so the days are numbered for the agribusiness food and beverage industry subsidiary, namely the main-stream commercial pet food manufacturers. They reap $15 billion annually from pet food sales. But public trust will be hard for them to ever regain after the debacle of the largest pet food recall ever in the U.S.. In the spring of 2007 of some 60 million containers bearing scores of different manufacturer and supplier labels, including all the big brand names, were recalled, leaving an estimated 8,500 dogs and cats dead, and harmed hundreds of thousands of others.
There is a new generation of commercial cat and dog foods, from raw to freeze-dried, canned to dry, that contain organically certified, whole food ingredients properly formulated and balanced, (i.e. not loaded with cereal and meat industry byproducts), that are now appearing on grocery shelves, and being marketed by local and national supply networks. This trend goes hand in hand with increasing consumer demand for organically produced, minimally processed foods as more health and environmentally conscious shoppers vote with their dollars and sense: And with veterinarians recognizing and the harmful consequences of most manufactured pet foods, and treating their animal patients accordingly.
* Excerpt in part from Not Fit For A Dog: The Truth About Manufactured Dog and Cat Foods by Drs. M.W.Fox, E.Hodgkins, and M.E.Smart, Sanger, CA, Quill Driver Books, 2008
With animals in my life during my formative years, many of whom I rescued, thanks to caring and supportive parents, and other creatures who were wild which I studied and learned as much about as I could, my life was enriched and set on a path dedicated to healing the human-animal bond because I realized at an early age that most of the suffering and sad demise of animals was due to human ignorance and indifference. Former veterinarian and personal correspondent Dr. Charles Danten, author of Slaves of our Affection: The Myth of the Happy Pet (Amazon.com 2013) is vehement in his dissection of human-animal relationships that there is much human psychopathology underlying the use of animals as ‘pets’ and for other purposes that leads to unwarranted animal sickness and suffering. I cannot disagree with his findings, many of which I exposed in 1990 in my book Inhumane Society: The American Way of Exploiting Animals, NY, St Martin’s Press. But I do not share his iconoclastic contention that it is unethical to keep some animals as companions and that they have no human therapeutic value. Animals, both companion and wild, are our bridge to sanity and the better side of our humanity. As history informs, we are indebted to them in a myriad of ways, our sins of cruel commission and indifferent omission notwithstanding, and it our civic duty to care for the environments we share with them, be they wild or domesticated, and to bring compassion and understanding to bear on all our relationships with creatures great and small.