The pet food recall in March 2007 did more than change everything I believed about the â€œrightâ€ way to feed pets. We lost our cat, Kisses. Sometimes grief competes with happy memories when I think about her, a sad trend which seems to slowly improve over time.
As this unpleasant anniversary approaches, a friend suggested I focus on the season as a new beginning â€“- appropriate advice for spring. Kisses will always have a special place in our hearts, and the two cats who joined our family after her death are unique, irreplaceable gifts. Her legacy includes the information I gathered while working with our wonderful vet to prolong her life.
After Kisses was gone, I sent friends the titles of all the books I discovered during her illness, and I share my bookshelf inventory with Itchmo readers now to honor her memory. I also dedicate this entry to thousands of other grieving pet parents.
Note: Books containing recipes for cats have one asterisk* and those with recipes for dogs and cats have two asterisks.** If youâ€™d like to pick up a few toys along with your books, consider pet supply shops like Only Natural Pet Store (see the Hard Goods category) or Robbins Pet Care. Used booksellers such as Biblio.com are a great way to locate out-of-print books. Older titles may recommend certain commercial foods that have changed ingredients and/or ownership over the years. Use caution.
I read The Nature of Animal Healing by Martin Goldstein, DVM, after Kisses became ill, and it was my first exposure to pet food problems and dangers beyond the recall. (His brother and sister-in-law wrote The Goldsteinsâ€™ Wellness and Longevity Program for Dogs and Cats). His explanations of holistic techniques and the chapter, â€œThe Death of a Pet,â€ were extremely helpful, and the book led me to several other authors, including Ann Martin.
Martinâ€™s works, Food Pets Die For** and Protect Your Pet: More Shocking Facts,** are riveting. Like Goldstein, Martin showed me I had bought more than pet food over the years: I had swallowed a false message that commercial food is the only way to maintain optimum health for our pets. The second book, Protect Your Pet, contains a chapter titled, â€œThe Controversy of the Raw Meat Diet.â€ Martin explores limited nutritional changes when meat is lightly cooked or stewed, and she highlights concerns about raw meat.
A newer book is Pet Food Nation,** released during the recall. In this easy-to-read paperback, veterinary clinical nutritionist Joan Weiskopf offers quick hits on topics such as pet food history, regulation and labeling. Like Martin, Weiskopf has reservations about feeding raw meat.
Author Sandy Arora includes raw meat recipes in Whole Health for Happy Cats.* Recipes are only a small portion of this book, and I appreciated the colorful layouts which make information easy to locate when you return to the book later. One sidebar lists vegetables which can be included in cat food and one lists those to avoid. I underlined a warning to avoid using essential oils with cats in the â€œHome Care and Minor Ailmentsâ€ section.
Another raw meat diet supporter is Elizabeth Hodgkins, DVM. In Your Cat: Simple New Secrets to a Longer, Stronger Life, she devotes a chapter to feeding raw meat to cats, a choice she has made for five feline generations as a breeder of Bengals. Hodgkins also explores the connections between the diets we choose for our pets and common ailments such as obesity and diabetes. The chapter on obesity contains seven tips for switching your cat from dry to wet food.
More veterinary advice is contained in The Veterinariansâ€™ Guide to Natural Remedies for Cats* by Martin Zucker. Like many other holistic pet care resources, the first portion of the book is dedicated to feeding pets, with good food as a foundation for good health. Keep Your Cat Healthy the Natural Way* by Pat Lazarus is another excellent resource. Rather than a cookbook-style approach, most of the recipes in these two books are based on percentages and formulas (such as how much protein to use) which let the caregiver select individual components.
Dr. Pitcairnâ€™s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats** by Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM, and Susan Hubble Pitcairn features more than 400 pages of information, such as suggested remedies for common ailments. The first quarter of the book is dedicated to feeding pets, and my copy is full of scribbles. One highlighted quote: â€œLead is one of the biggest concernsâ€¦because lead is deposited and does not break down. It is interesting that bone meal meant for human consumption (sold in natural food stores) cannot be derived from U.S. cattle, because there is excess lead in their bones. These same bones, however, are used in pet food, and the more fed, the more lead exposure there is.â€
Donald Strombeck, DVM, wrote Home-Prepared Dog and Cat Diets: the Healthful Alternative,** first released in 1999. The writing is more technical than most of the other resources, but still readable and accessible. More than 200 recipes are the simplest parts of the book, clustered within related sections such as â€œFeeding Normal Dogs and Cats,â€ â€œFood Intolerance and Allergyâ€ and â€œDiet-Induced Disease.â€
Homeopathic Care for Cats and Dogs by Don Hamilton, DVM, is an interesting resource even for those not interested in homeopathy, which uses highly diluted substances to treat illness and restore balance. Hamilton often lists non-homeopathic options, explores which traditional medications might be used and suggests which ones to avoid. Each system of the petâ€™s body is explored in turn, and Part Three of his book is â€œVaccination: Helpful or Harmful?â€ Tables showing the decline in death rates due to measles and whooping cough before vaccines were introduced are particularly interesting.
Several books on my shelf explore the spiritual connection between animals, their caregivers and their health, including The New Natural Cat* by Anitra Frazier and Your Pet Isnâ€™t Sick, He Just Wants You to Think So by Herb Tanzer, DVM.
Four Paws, Five Directions by Cheryl Schwartz, DVM, applies Chinese medicine to pet health, and herbalist Juliette de Bairacli-Levy is the author of The Complete Herbal Handbook for the Dog and Cat.
Pet massage techniques are detailed in Getting in TTouch with Your Cat by Linda Tellington-Jones and The Healing Touch for Cats by Michael W. Fox, DVM. I particularly appreciated Foxâ€™s comments about multi-cat households, such as â€œâ€¦I have found that cats who live only with humans more often become dull, obese and sickly than cats whose social environment is enriched by the companionship of other affectionate, playful cats.â€ His words reshaped my view of a multi-cat environment. Although some cats want to be queen or king of the castle, most seem to benefit from feline companionship.
If youâ€™re adding another feline, I loved Pam Johnson-Bennettâ€™s books Think Like a Cat and Cat vs. Cat. In How to Be a Cat Detective, British behaviorist Vicki Halls discusses common problems in multi-cat households and outlines how to collect and deposit facial pheromones from your cats throughout your home as if the cats are already buddies.
I always have a stack of books to read, and one item in queue is Pets at Risk: From Allergies to Cancer, Remedies for an Unsuspected Epidemic by Alfred J. Plechner, DVM. I heard about another book, Natural Nutrition for Cats: The Path to Purr-fect Health by clinical nutritionist Kymythy Schultze, but I have not seen a copy yet.
Learning more about feeding our pets teaches us how to better meet our own needs. The pet food recalls reignited my interest in organic foods, and we eat â€œlocallyâ€ as much as possible. I like shaking hands with the families who raise the vegetables and meat I consume. To find foods not available locally, The Ethical Gourmet by Jay Weinstein is a good resource.
I noticed an interesting comment related to the human food supply while reading Food Not Lawns by H.C. Flores a few weeks ago. Flores quotes a communications director for one of those familiar agri-giants who said, â€œâ€˜[We] should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDAâ€™s job.â€™â€ The original source of the quote is a New York Times article from 1998, “Playing God in the Garden.” More about the companyâ€™s response to the article is available on Michael Pollanâ€™s Website.
Flores wrote, â€œThis is like saying a car company doesnâ€™t have to make sure its cars are safe, but the Department of Transportation should take responsibility for any accidents that occur because of equipment failure or bad design. The solution is obvious: If the suppliers of our food cannot be responsible for the safety of that food, then we need to take that responsibility into our own hands.â€
I agree. Legislation moves slowly, but information is already available. We can equip our minds to make informed decisions, right now.
Some foods are unhealthy or poisonous for certain species; onions are poisonous for cats. Contrasting opinions about topics such as feeding bones, garlic, raw meat and more may seem overwhelming at first, but remember: you already wade through all sorts of data about how to feed yourself and human family members. Whether you choose to create meals for your pet, carefully select and monitor commercial foods, or a mixture of both methods, trust your ability to make decisions based on information instead of marketing. You can do it. We all can.
Losing a pet teaches us things, too, like who our friends are and how great our vet really is (or, sadly for some, is not). I am so thankful for online resources like Itchmo, Pet Connection, the Pet Food List and more. From insightful articles to equally insightful and spirited comments, these sites were my lifelines during the recall.
May we all find comfort as we pay tribute to lost friends. Our garden will soon feature a memorial to Kisses, with new shrubs or a tree to offer berries, insects and shelter to all the birds she loved to watch.
Photo of Kisses: Candace Schilling
We bought a disposable camera on a vacation, took more photos when we returned home to fill it up and forgot to develop the film until recently. After Kisses died, I wished for a picture of her in a favorite red chair. We must have taken this one a few years ago, and it turned up at just the right time.