DEAR READERS: The Cornucopia Institute, an organization that supports small-scale farmers, recently published an extensive report on pet food quality, ingredient sources and how to decode pet food labels. Some highlights:
-- It addresses the FDA compliance policies that allow diseased animals and animals who have died in ways other than slaughter into pet food. "Since these materials are processed at very high temperatures, their nutritional value is degraded compared to fresh meat that would qualify for human consumption. Research has demonstrated that carcinogenic heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are formed when muscle meat is cooked at high temperatures."
-- "The primary reason why 'adulterated' ingredients from dead and downer (those unable to walk or who show other signs of disease) animals have not been prohibited from pet and animal feed in the U.S. is economic. Due to the cost of their disposal, and the environmental and human health risks of improper disposal, there is economic incentive for the use of these materials."
-- "There is no denying that there are environmental challenges surrounding the disposal of SRMs (specified risk materials), and dead and downer animals. But putting this material into animal food to increase the profitability of rendering plants, livestock producers and pet food companies is clearly not an ethical solution to the problem."
-- The report names companies that render dead pets, and mentions, "the two largest companies that pick up carcasses from shelters and clinics ... are both owned by rendering companies ..."
-- It also notes, "China also supplies ingredients that go into pet food made in the U.S. and Canada, including pea protein, soy protein, vitamins and minerals."
-- The report provides warnings concerning other common pet food ingredients, including carrageenan, synthetic preservatives (BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin and proplyene glycol), BPA, sodium selenite, food dyes and grains.
I am glad to see such confirmation of my concerns that I have documented over the past several years in my column and in the book "Not Fit for a Dog!: The Truth About Manufactured Cat and Dog Foods."
Thanks to Susan Thixton at truthaboutpetfood.com for this synopsis of the highly respected and credible Cornucopia Institute.
DEAR DR. FOX: I have a small 7-year-old female standard poodle who usually loves to walk. Lately, if she is upstairs and hears her leash rattling, she will come downstairs, knowing we are taking a walk. We live in the country, and hunting season started recently. If she hears gunshots in the distance, she stops walking and even sits down. It has gotten so bad that even if there are no gunshots, she will not walk out of the driveway. Even when our toy poodle joins us for a walk, she does her sit-down routine. Hearing fireworks or thunder does not have this effect. When we let her out in our fenced-in backyard, she will run, so there does not seem to be any physical problem. What do you suggest? -- M.M. Woodbine, Maryland
DEAR M.M.: Your gunshot-shy dog is showing signs of phobia in a fairly specific situation and location, considering that she runs happily in the fenced yard regardless of gunshot, thunder or firework sounds. Your dog may be indicating to you that it is not safe to go out any further, and sitting is her way of telling you that she feels it is unsafe. She may be right: There are too many idiots pointing their guns at live targets during the hunting seasons, even shooting each other.
She may feel unsafe and more vulnerable herself while on the leash and unable to flee. Fitting her with a harness may provide more comfort, and for some dogs, a chest harness can act like a comforting "thunder shirt." Perhaps going out the back way and not out front via the usual driveway route may break the conditioned emotional reaction.
But be alert -- she may be wiser than you think. When I first came to the United States from England in 1962 and lived in Maine, that first hunting season I experienced resulted in a child on a bicycle being shot, a cow-hide hanging on a line to cure on private property being shot at, and a couple of deer hunters injuring each other, presumably by accident!
Regularly Petting Shelter Cats Helps Prevent Disease
A study confirming the benefits of petting cats in shelters who are already human-socialized has been reported by Dr. Nadine Gourkow and Dr. Clive J.C. Phillips in the journal Preventive Veterinary Medicine. They compared a number of tame cats in shelter cages who were given human contact with those who were not, finding that human interaction by petting, playing and grooming improved shelter cats' welfare. Cats so treated were more content and less anxious and frustrated. Treated cats had increased concentrations of immunoglobulin A in their feces. Within 10 days, treatment had substantially reduced viral shedding. Treated cats had less respiratory disease, especially good responders to treatment.
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