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Toxic Pet Food has Pet Owners Scarfing up Advice on Natural Diets

By Joyce Kryszak

Buffalo, NY – Reports of contaminated pet foods, causing illness and even death, have pet owners scurrying for safe alternatives to feed their beloved companions.

But that has opened the door for advocates of holistic pet feeding. They promote feeding the way they say Mother Nature intended.

WBFO's Joyce Kryszak talked with a couple of veterinarians and one devoted natural feeder to get their opinions - and some of their recipes.

You'd never guess Woody's is 11 years-old to look at her. The mid-sized, mixed breed is as spry as a puppy. And as hungry as one too since we rudely showed up at her dinner time.

But Woody's owner, Alexandra Murphy doesn't mind a bit. It's a good opportunity for Murphy to give us a tasty demo of Woody's menu.

As you might have guessed by now, Murphy is what is called a "raw feeder." That means her dog Woody and 11 year-old cat T-J only eat raw meat and veggies. No kibble food from a bag for these guys.

Murphy said she began feeding raw about seven years ago after a doing a lot of research. And after getting a lot of flack from fellow pet owners and veterinarians who questioned the wisdom of non-commercial pet food.

Murphy said even her veterinarian relented after seeing her pets' shiny coats and healthy blood work.

Murphy is certainly not alone in her passion for natural feeding. There is almost a cult following of pet owners who spend hours each week or month grinding or cooking their own pet food. And there are some vets out there who whole-heartily support them.

Cynthia Lankenau is a holistic veterinarian from Colden who said commercial kibble foods have always been bad news. She said studies show it takes three generations to undo the damage of processed diets.

She said that has left the intestinal systems of animals exhausted, caused diseases and allergies and can even shortens pets' life spans.

To transition from processed to homemade food, Lankenau said pets should be gradually introduced to first eating cooked, bonelss meat, then raw meats, organ meats, and predigested veggies. And very little grain. That seems odd, since grain is the primary ingredient in most commercial foods.

So, why do most vets still promote commercial food? Lankenau said Pavlov would understand. She said veterinarians are brainwashed in school by the pet food manufacturers.

But some veterinarians are breaking free of traditional training. Jim Albert is a veterinarian for small and extremely large animals. In addition to his practice at All Creatures Animal Hospital in East Amherst he is also an assistant veterinarian for the Buffalo zoo.

Albert said verinarians - just like people doctors - are slow to acccept change. But he sees the benefits of natural diets.

Because of concerns over salmonella, Albert still is not sure how he feels about raw meat diets for pets.

Lankenau and others dismiss those concerns, saying pets' stomachs have acids that kill any bacteria, even salmonella.

Albert does admit that dogs and cats have canine teeth for a reason. And he said the nutritional requirements are quite similar, no matter the size of the canine or the cat.

Either way, Albert said that there are still plenty of good options available to pet owners.

There is good reason for people to be exploring those options. Albert said he has treated half a dozen pets who were afflicted by the tainted commercial foods.

As a result, he said that has some of his busiest clients turning in their processed food for food processors.

Back in Murphy's kitchen it is pretty obvious how much work homemade pet food can be.

Murphy said it is worth the extra work because she knows she will get to enjoy her furry friends for many years to come. But she admits making homemade pet food isn't for everyone.

Unless someone has done thorough research and is committed, Murphy said they shouldn't make their own pet food.

She said one of the best ways to find out is to find a good mentor.

And they are out there. Find them in your neighborhood by calling a local holistic veterinarian. Or, go online where you will find packs of natural feeders who love to share their philosophies and their recipes.

Click the "listen" icon above to hear Joyce Kryszak's story now or use your podcasting software to download it to your computer or iPod.