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Do our pets deserve a healthy diet?

Pooja Shrestha

Pooja Shrestha

 |  Kathmandu

The right food in the right amount at the right time can boost your pet's health.

Feeding homemade, healthy, fresh food to your four-legged family members is the best way to take care of them. There can’t be any greater truth than that. Most of us believe that commercially produced food is scientifically produced, so we can trust it, even when the majority of us don’t know anything about most of the contents or ingredients that are mentioned on the packaging. These products are not only missing many minerals and vitamins that are vital for the health of our pets, they are also missing what we might call the most important ingredient: time.

“Time is the missing ingredient in cooking.” —Michael Pollan. When a well-known author and food writer mentioned in his Netflix documentary "Cooked" that time is the key ingredient that is missing in our food, I'd like to go a step further and say the same thing is missing in our pets’ food.

The pet food industry's target customer has never been our pets. Its products are designed to attract our eyes and minds. This becomes clear when we analyze how the products are packaged and colored and what ingredients, or even worse, what chemicals, are used to increase their shelf life. It's clear that the pet food industry's main goal has always been to make our lives easier, even if only in a superficial way.

What I mean is that these pet food products are designed to provide convenience for us. But here is what I have to say: there is no shortcut to love. We love our pets and have always been mesmerized by their ability to love us back unconditionally. But if we love our pets, we can’t negotiate our love for them on the scale of convenience. As we have all witnessed by now, there is a very simple equation to getting a healthier mind and body. Better food equals better health. So, giving your pet store-bought, highly processed food instead of a healthy homemade diet doesn't reflect care. Because convenience can never be a long-term solution, and too much of it could have a fatal consequence.

However, this article isn't about patronizing anybody based on how they treat their pets; it's about making the best humane choices for them—our furry children. I begin by self-reflecting on the choices I made for my pets. While growing up, I was surrounded by pets. I got to grow up knowing a few different species personally, for which I am extremely grateful. But in retrospect, compared to the unconditional love I received from my pets, I find myself far less generous in giving my love and attention to them. I used to think that I owned my pets as things to have in my life for my own needs. Unfortunately, this seems to be a common attitude. Because we humans think that we are superior to all other living beings in this world, we have only ever taken from the animal kingdom. This behavior of ours continues to have a big impact on many animals’ lives—pets and wildlife. Even though there are plenty of voices addressing this issue, most of them remain unheard. If we don’t change this now, it will become our species’ sad but true story, the absolute failure to live in harmony with other animals and the environment.

Since criticism is always better if presented with some solutions, I hereby apologize before moving forward, as I digressed. The ending of the previous paragraph can be read as a failure to control the frustration of an animal lover. I will, however, try to minimize the outbursts, but it is hard to not get caught up in the realization of the grandeur of our species’ selfishness.

Getting back to the purpose of this article, I will focus on our most common and cherished pet, dogs. Although our interspecies relationship started on the basis of mutual benefits, in the modern day world, we have comfortably moved on from being faithful friends to our pets to their masters. Having said that, I should also not miss out on giving credit where credit is due. The ability of our species to self-reflect has led some of us to come a long way from being our pets' masters to being their loving parents. As we have evolved towards being pet parents, we are still working on taking better care of our furry children. We individually might have evolved, but our society has not made a step towards building a friendly environment for our pets. This could be seen as the wildly unrealistic dream of an overly enthusiastic pet lover's mind to have a social space for pets in a country where even the so-called “righteous ones” (people) don't have any friendly, quiet, clean social spaces.

Since the modern world has changed the way we live in so many ways, our furry friends have also adapted to living in whatever space we provide them with. As their guardians, how much do we think of their needs other than their basic requirements for food and shelter? If this question is still overwhelming, then maybe I should only bring it up in my next attempt to reach out to the pet lovers’ community. So, let’s narrow it down by considering what food we give to our beloved pets. The pet food industry is a well-stablished industry all around the world. As everything has its pros and cons, our country's reluctance to invest in technological infrastructure has been more of a blessing than a curse for our furry friends when it comes to what they eat. Since we don't have a pet food industry, it's hard for us to get our hands on cheaply made, processed food products. Most of us feed our pets leftovers from whatever we eat at home, which also has its downsides (which I will explain below).

When it comes to commercially made pet food on the market, we don't have the infrastructure to make it, but we have a well-established culture of bringing in products from other countries. For some of us, the consumption of expensive imported products has always been a signifier of belonging to a higher social class. As a result, we have seen a visible growth of pet shops opening up around us, selling all kinds of pet food products and accessories handpicked for our aspiring social media pet stars. However, the obsession of becoming the owner of a star pet on social media is still harmless when compared to feeding imported food products to our pets. In the beginning, the most popular pet food brands that were found on the market were Pedigree and Drools, both of which sell kibbles that are factory-manufactured. These factory-manufactured products are heavily processed, which is done in order to increase the shelf life and reduce the production cost.

Dr. Keren Becker, a veterinarian who takes a proactive approach to pet health and wellness, has been speaking out against these highly processed pet foods. She makes a point of saying that the process of making dry kibbles in a factory creates harmful oxidative compounds. These oxidative compounds in pet food lead to chronic diseases and premature aging. Dr. Becker voices her opinion on many social media platforms and has recently published a book called “The Forever Dog,” co-authored with Rodney Habib. She has established the Anti-A.G.E.s (Advanced glycation end-products) foundation, whose goal is to make people aware of how bad processed food is. Listening to these experts and reading what they have to say to all the responsible pet parents makes me realize how much more I need to learn before I take the responsibility of taking care of another life in my hand.

There are many factors we need to pay attention to, but let's start with the primary support. Because what we feed our pets has a life-changing impact. The right kind of food has the power to heal and repair. Most of us are embracing a healthy lifestyle for ourselves, so it can’t be a farfetched choice to do the same for our pets. I have been practicing proactive medicine for my pet since I met Dr. Pranav Joshi from “Vet for Your Pet”. I found Dr. Joshi’s approach to be unprecedented and a lifesaver for my dog. I came to learn about a whole new world of possibilities for my aging pet. Dr. Joshi believes in preventing the body from breaking rather than waiting for it to break and then fixing it. I came to realize that before meeting Dr. Joshi, I was reacting to the disease model, which is to wait for the body to break and then try to patch it.

Now I find myself buying good food as medicine for my pet. I can see the positive changes in her health and can feel the satisfaction of being able to be true to my feelings towards her. Now, coming back to feeding our pets leftovers of whatever we eat at home: I have seen people feeding their pets tea, chocolate, and digestive biscuits, as well as curries with spices and lentils, to all kinds of beans.

Whenever I talk to people about what food supports a dog’s health, the reply I usually get is, "I have been feeding the same food for ages and nothing bad has happened." Dogs and cats are extremely resilient in general. As scavenging carnivorous creatures, dogs in particular will eat anything and not show much discomfort. But if you love your pet, there are some basic rules about what NOT to give. For example, onions in our food can be extremely toxic for our dogs. If you think your dog hasn’t shown any symptoms of discomfort, then think about all the scavenging city dwelling animals. Most of these animals don’t die immediately, even after eating plastic bags or paper while scavenging for food. What you will notice later is irreversible organ failure and premature aging.

Feeding homemade human grade food to your pet is far better than factory made, processed food, but there is a simple rule when you take things into your own hands (especially when it is about being a guardian of a living being), do your research. Get an expert's opinion on what and how much to feed. Consult your veterinary doctor or, even better, a food nutritionist. Let’s put some sincerity into the “I love yous” that we say to our pets. Let's put some real effort into our care for our furry friends.

(Pooja Shrestha is an ethnomusicologist by profession and a being with immense respect for animals.)



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