Saturday, September 6, 2014

You Are Your Companion Animal's Best Advocate

Caveat Emptor! In Latin, it means buyer beware. When it comes to pet food and veterinarian advice, you had better become familiar with this axiom or you risk compromising your companion animal's health as I almost did.

As the guardian of a cat named Max, I have as much—if not more—of a responsibility to him as I do to myself because I am solely responsible for his care and wellbeing. I've made a lifelong commitment to him, no different than the commitments most people make to their children.

In the eyes of the law, I am wrongly labeled as Max's owner, primarily because animals are considered property much like a sofa or a bed—or a black person in America prior to the Civil War. I know better, however, and as a cat guardian I have grown and evolved as I have learned how to provide Max with a happy and healthy life.

While I am vegan, Max is not. He isn't vegan because I wouldn't want him to be vegan, but because I know it's not in his best interest. Max is a true carnivore by nature and although he may not be outdoors chasing down birds and squirrels, I feed him a meat-centric diet that a carnivore requires for optimum health. I do not feel morally conflicted about feeding Max animal flesh because it is what he would eat if he were undomesticated. I adopted him from a shelter, and until humans stop breeding cats and dogs for domestication, it is the best I can do. Furthermore, forcing him to eat a vegan diet would not only compromise his welfare, but it would be morally inconsistent with the spirit of veganism.

Male cats are more prone to urinary blockages and infections than female cats due to their longer and narrower urethras. Max has had a history of urinary tract infections, which makes it even more fitting that he consume a wet, carnivorous, grain-free diet. During his last serious bout with the infection, the vet treating him suggested that I feed him a dry food (Hill's Science Prescription Diet) designed for urinary health that—coincidentally—also happened to be sold right there in the veterinary clinic.

I balked at the vet's recommendation but bought the food and went home to do some research. It was just as I had suspected; cats who have had urinary tract infections, especially a history of urinary tract infections, should never, ever be fed dry food!

Indignant doesn't even begin to describe how I felt over this obviously biased and uninformed recommendation by a veterinary professional who is supposed to be helping my cat get better—not worse. Needless to say, I returned the food and looked for another veterinarian.

It wasn't just the type of food that was problematic, but the quality of the food itself. I have painstaking researched pet food companies, canned cat foods, and individual ingredients within those foods over the years and have learned what questions to ask company representatives and how to identify good formulas from bad ones. From my own research, I found Hill's Science Diet pet food to be among the worst. I also visited a natural pet food store that requires its employees be educated on pet nutrition and spoke with a representative there about Hill's Science Diet food because I was shocked to see that the store carried it. The employee said the store carried the brand because people asked for it, but she told me that she has cats, too, and she would never feed her cats any Hill's Science Diet formula.

So why are vets pushing what I think is pet junk food at veterinary clinics? And why does a vet prescribe a dry kibble to a male cat with a history of urinary tract infections? I think many animal guardians would be surprised to learn that veterinarians are not animal nutritionists. According to Susan Thixton at Truth About Pet Food, dog and cat nutrition classes at most veterinary schools across the country are known to be very brief, lasting only a couple of hours in total. Moreover, the classes are typically taught by representatives dominating the pet food industry, including Hill's Science Diet, Iams/Eukanuba, and Purina, so there is an inherent conflict of interest and very limited understanding of high quality pet food.

And the conflict doesn't end with the individual veterinarian. According to holistic veterinarian Dr. Jean Hofve at Little Big Cat, pet food companies provide a great deal of indirect funding to the American Veterinary Medical Association through lecture sponsorships, receptions, exhibitor fees, and "goodies" at the annual AVMA Convention, in addition to direct donations to the AVMA Foundation. Dr. Hofve went on to say that in 2008, AVMA created a four-year "AVMA Platinum Partner Program" with Hill's Science Pet Nutrition and that the AVMA received more than $1.5 million from Hill's in exchange for promotional favoritism.

Now you have some idea why Hill's Science Diet pet food is widely available at veterinary clinics around the country. Like most everything else, it's not because the food is any better or more nutritious, but rather because the company has paid for premium exposure to potential customers.

And food isn't the only cause for concern. Big Pharma has infiltrated veterinary clinics as they've done human doctor's offices where both are equally prone to physicians hawking and overprescribing medications. In another instance, a vet tried to use Max as a test subject for a new drug that contained a three week supply of antibiotics that was to be injected in him all at once. When I politely questioned the vet and told him I didn't want Max to have the injection, he became insulted and left the room. Needless to say, we didn't return to him either. If I can't question a doctor—whether he be treating Max or me—without him getting defensive, he's not worth his salt as a professional.

Max
Thankfully, Max hasn't had a urinary flare up in four years. Unfortunately, the shameful and manipulative exploitation of companion animals and those who love them by pet food companies, veterinarians and the AVMA continues. Therefore, it is crucial to keep in mind that no one loves your companion animal as much as you do. You are their best advocate, so advocate for them! I'm not suggesting you don't trust anyone, but as the old adage goes: trust but verify, and always do your research. As with all animals, don't be afraid to speak up! Your friend is depending on you.

Vegan Starter Kit

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