Universal Press Syndicate
Whatever got into that pet food, the effects of the unprecedented recall of 60 million containers from nearly 100 brands are going to be felt for months if not years to come.
The good reputations of companies such as Iams and Hill's Pet Nutrition, among others, backed by decades of solid nutritional research, may take a long time to recover.
The potential for chronic kidney disease in the pets who survived may reduce the quality of life for those animals and increase worry and costs for their owners.
And, finally, the loss of so many pets -- the final count can never be known -- will never be forgotten by the people who said goodbye or by the veterinarians who fought to save those animals.
The complete answer to the big question -- what went wrong? -- will be a long time in coming. But looming nearly as large are the questions of how the recall was handled and how it could have been handled better in order to protect pets and the people who love them.
Even if you couldn't care less about animals, it's not a great leap to see that there are important issues of human health and consumer protection here as well.
While it is the nature of business to downplay bad news and the nature of government to proceed with bureaucratic caution, the pet food recall was a situation that called for widespread and open communication.
The people who needed to know the most -- the nation's veterinarians -- were caught unaware of the recall and were unprepared for questions and for treating the desperately sick animals they were struggling to help. While many -- nearly 19,000 practicing veterinarians -- were able to tap into the Veterinary Information Network, a private online service long affiliated with Pet Connection, other veterinarians had no little or no access to the critical information they needed.
That information gap points out the dire need for the federal government to set up a system to disseminate and collect urgent information on animal health. While some may argue against spending money on animal health, in fact the nation's veterinarians play a key role in our national security. The health of animals is often an indicator of a human health crisis in the making. Anyone ever hear of bird flu?
From a consumer-protection angle, it's an understatement to say that the recall was a disaster. Pet owners had no idea that so many foods from so many brands were manufactured by the same company. This lack of transparency is unacceptable. We now realize such information is just as necessary to consumers as is any of the nutritional analysis already required to be on a pet food label.
While we're retooling that label to add the manufacturers, let's not forget that complete contact information for both the brand and the manufacturer should be required. So too should be language specifying the country of origin for the food's ingredients. The consumer has a right to know these things when making a decision on which food to buy.
While no one can guarantee that such a tragedy will not happen again, consumers need to be given the tools they need to make informed decisions, and veterinarians need to be respected for the health-care professionals they are and be provided with what they need to protect animals and humans alike.
We hope the loss of so many beloved pets serves as a wake-up call for the nation. We deserve better, for our pets and for ourselves.
What to feed now?
While the recent pet food recall involved a great many brands, by no means did it involve them all. From several large-scale manufacturers to many smaller companies specializing in foods with organic or human-grade ingredients, many commercial pet foods remain as safe as they ever have been, and most veterinarians have no problem continuing to recommend these products. Most of them are still feeding their own pets this way, in fact.
This is especially true of the majority of dry foods. Veterinarians suggest that if you switch to a dry food, either temporarily or long-term, you can make it more palatable to a pet used to wet foods by softening it in low-sodium bullion, or in clam juice for cats. Microwaving the product to body temperature may additionally tempt finicky pets, especially cats, who like warm food in part because it smells better to them.
But don't rule out canned diets. Again, many commercial products have no connection to the recall. To be sure, call the companies on their customer-service lines and ask where their products are made before you buy. You should also ask your veterinarian for guidance.
And what about home-prepared diets? While there are passionate advocates who insist that such diets be offered raw -- a suggestion that worries many veterinarians -- other advocates of home-prepared meals say it's not about cooking or not cooking. Rather, it's about the ability to choose fresh, whole ingredients yourself for your pet's meals.
While making a pet's food at home is certainly not as easy as pouring kibble into a bowl or opening a can, it's not really any more difficult than cooking for your family. It's a matter of planning, shopping and properly storing and handling the foods you buy. You can make things even easier by finding those companies offering frozen ground meat blends or freeze-dried raw diets.
To start with, though, advocates for home-prepared meals recommend educating yourself on what makes a proper pet diet. You just can't throw some hamburger in the dish and call it a day. It's easy to find plenty of information on such diets. The specialty book site www.Dogwise.com offers most such titles.
Additionally, seek out the advice of a veterinarian who's knowledgeable about home-prepared diets and is willing to help you with getting it right for your pet's needs. -- Gina Spadafori
Ways to fight spotted lawns
Q: I had always been told that yellow spots in the yard were caused by female dogs. But we have a male Labrador now, and sometimes he "lifts" and sometimes he "squats." Where he squats, the lawn turns yellow. Is there a way to prevent these spots, perhaps by adding something to a dog's food or water? I'm looking forward to your answer and to some greener grass. -- H.T., via e-mail
A: In spring, a gardener's fancy turns to thoughts of greener lawns. Female dogs take the rap for destroying lawns because they are more likely to release a large quantity of urine in a single spot, while the males are more likely to spread theirs in smaller amounts on vertical surfaces such as trees and shrubs. But as you've found out, even male dogs can release enough urine to trash a lawn.
Pet-supply catalogs carry food additives that are advertised to minimize the damage. There are also many folk remedies floating about, suggesting the addition of substances intended to change the nature or the volume of the urine produced.
I hesitate to recommend any additives to a pet's food or water, however. First, the results seem to be pretty mixed, at best, and second, I don't like to suggest adding anything to a pet's diet that's not being put there for the good of the animal. (I'm not saying the additives are dangerous, mind you, but I don't like adding things to a pet's food unless it's going to be beneficial for them, not the lawn.)
The best solution is to set aside a less-visible part of your yard for your dogs to relieve themselves in. If that's not possible, you should dilute the urine by immediately flushing the area where your dogs have urinated with a couple of gallons of water from the hose. This should lessen the yellowing effect of the urine and help keep your lawn from spotting up. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
Outlander passes its 'Lab' tests
When the Mitsubishi Outlander arrived for its weeklong test-drive, I could do nothing but nod in appreciation. It's sleekly styled and well-sized -- a little bigger than a "cute-ute" but a lot smaller than a full-sized SUV.
It has impressive numbers, too. The top-end luxury package, with heated leather seats, a great sound system (yeah, like the dogs really care about the latter) and more, comes in a car priced thousands less than others offering similar features -- $29,000 on the tester I drove. Gas mileage isn't bad either, as it's rated at 19 mpg city, 26 mpg highway.
But as I continued to scan down the copy of the window sticker that comes with every test car, I had to raise an eyebrow at the name Mitsubishi gives to its glossiest black:
"Labrador Black Pearl."
Now, that's what I call pandering.
Although, wouldn't it be great to have some models actually named after dogs? Couldn't you see some sleek sports car as the Saluki? Or how about the Bull Mastiff for a hulking big SUV? A family sedan named the Collie? What better image of safety and protection for the little ones than a car that reminds us of Lassie?
But I digress.
The Mitsubishi Outlander is a great dog car that any human would enjoy driving. The cargo space is large and well-shaped, without the sloping rear that ruins it on many other SUVs. The seats flip forward to open it all up, and the door lifts easily out of the way to make loading everything easier.
Even better: The bottom of the rear gate flips down, giving dogs a good target for jumping in or humans a good place to sit while tailgating.
The whole vehicle feels tight and well-made, and in four-wheel drive it handles as close to a sports car as any SUV can. Again, the performance is on par with vehicles costing thousands more.
It's one of the few dog cars I've driven where compromise isn't necessary. It's a great car, at a great price -- and a lot of fun to drive. -- Gina Spadafori
'Wellness checks' should be more frequent
Your veterinarian may need to see your pet more often than once a year, especially if your dog or cat is very young or getting old. Here's why one traditional vet visit per year may not be enough:
-- Pets age faster. While "one year equals seven" really doesn't compute, the lifetime of a cat or dog is much shorter than ours. This means that age-related issues come up faster and, with many of these, early detection is key to treatment.
-- Pets hide illnesses. In nature, the sick and weak are preyed upon, so animals instinctively hide their illnesses. Many times, caring pet owners bring in their cat because the animal didn't want to eat breakfast this morning. But it's too late: The pet's kidneys are shot, with too much damage done to save them.
-- Pets can't talk. Although surveys reveal that most of us talk to our pets, they still can't talk back. Veterinarians are trained to find out what's wrong from animals who can't say what hurts or where.
-- Veterinarians are "it." People have health-care teams (doctors, dentists, optometrists, chiropractors, psychologists, etc.), but for the four-legged family member, the veterinarian wears every health-care hat.
If we take two pets from the same litter and send them to two different families, one pet could live much longer than the other. How?
The pet who gets a higher level of preventive health care and cutting-edge treatment can have years added to his life, while his littermate's health is being neglected.
That's why veterinarians now recommend more frequent wellness visits, for your pet's health and your peace of mind. -- Dr. Marty Becker
BY THE NUMBERS
It's often said that there are "dog people" and "cat people." But in fact, a lot of folks are just plain "pet people." For example, many people who have a dog also have (multiple answers allowed):
Cat 41 percent
Fish 20 percent
Bird 10 percent
Small animal 9 percent
Reptile 7 percent
Horse 5 percent
Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Skip these mistakes when house-training
The mistakes you make in the first 24 hours your puppy is home make it more difficult to house-train him properly. Here are some tips:
-- Don't allow your puppy to roam. If you catch the puppy in "sniff and circle" behavior, you can prevent an accident by scooping him up with no emotion and taking him to the preferred location outdoors.
-- Don't whack the puppy or rub his nose in the mess when he potties in the house. This only teaches the puppy not to potty in front of you and to fear you.
-- Don't give the puppy too big of a room. Instead, when you cannot supervise him, put him in a small bathroom or laundry room with a comfy bed inside a crate.
If done correctly, it takes only days to house-train a puppy.
(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)
Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.
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