Can’t find your pet’s usual food?

Here’s how to DIY it in a pinch

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 5/13/20

The empty shelves are hard to miss.

No, not the ones in the paper products aisle—I mean the pet food. 

The canned food Wombat likes isn’t there. Beauregard’s bag …

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Can’t find your pet’s usual food?

Here’s how to DIY it in a pinch

Posted

The empty shelves are hard to miss.

No, not the ones in the paper products aisle—I mean the pet food. 

The canned food Wombat likes isn’t there. Beauregard’s bag o’dry is gone. Instead, we find brands we’ve never heard of, or different foods by the same company. There is one small box of cat litter. And it doesn’t clump.

What happened? 

For the record, statements from various pet food manufacturers and sales companies say that the food is there, but measures to ensure worker health have slowed delivery. 

At the same time, meat processing plants are changing practices to slow the spread of COVID-19, and package delivery services seem extra busy as we try to find what we want online.

Ideally, you picked up an extra sack of food the last time you shopped, or you ordered your preferred cat food (plus litter!) online a month ago and it’s arriving soon. We are not all so well organized. 

What’s a pet owner to do when confronted by empty shelves? 

You can make your own food. It’s not as simple as scraping half your plate into the dog’s dish—there’s nutrition advice to keep in mind—but homemade is worth trying, especially if you have a picky pet who is grieving the loss of those little containers of fanciness. 

First, some things to consider. “I would strongly encourage a cooked diet versus a raw diet,” said Catskill Veterinary Services veterinarian and River Reporter columnist Dr. Joseph D’Abbraccio. “Raw diets can have some health benefits, but I would certainly caution people about the exposure to raw meat products and the risk that presents.”

 If your pet has health issues (like kidney or liver trouble), “or stomach sensitivity, they should be very careful about what they feed, and speak to their veterinary team,” he said. 

Second, do no harm. Lists abound of foods your pet shouldn’t eat. For instance, dogs should avoid chocolate, grapes, raisins, onions, garlic and mouthwash, among other things. Cats shouldn’t eat foods from the dog list, plus fat trimmings and bones, lots of liver or tuna, more than a bit of dog food, and more.

For more info, see these www.bit.ly/RRdogfood and www.bit.ly/RRcatfood.

Third, what can you feed your pet? 

For cats, www.pets.webmd.com says cooked meat or fish is fine. Oats are good (and they keep the cat, erm, regular), as is cooked corn or cornmeal mush. Cooked eggs are also an option. Vegetables can be great; in fact, pet.webmd recommends a veggie burger (but no onions or garlic). Pumpkin is great if your cat needs more fiber. 

For dogs, the American Kennel Club and www.pet.webmd list a wide variety of safe foods. On the good list are cooked, plain grains like brown rice, eggs, peanut butter, cooked meat and fish (but watch the canned tuna) and yogurt. Pumpkin and raw carrots are good. Apple slices, too, according to www.cesarsway.com.

What about supplements?

Human vitamins are for humans—don’t give them to your pets. Dr D’Abbraccio says there are several pet multivitamins that are appropriate; he suggests checking out www.standardprocess.com/veterinary-formulas. You can always call your own vet for more information.

Now, crafting a recipe. 

You might not need one, aside from cooking those foods that require it. But if you want to prepare your pet food, Dr. D’Abbraccio recommends www.bit.ly/RRrecipesforpets, which allows you to input the various foods you have on hand, and it will tell you how much to use and the nutrition profile. 

For the process itself, you can cook meat and chop it up. Ramona Jan, of Damascus, PA, has cooked chicken gizzards and pureed them in the blender. Her Bosco loves it. 

Dr. D’Abbraccio adds, “The texture doesn’t really seem to matter to many pets if you are talking about dogs and cats. Even animals that have severe dental disease or no teeth will eat and enjoy hard/solid food. Lightly processing is fine, such as chopped up.”

Say pandemic-related shortages go on for a while. How long can we safely provide a homemade pet diet? Dr D’Abbraccio says, “For the more long term—longer than a month—I’d say people should seek further advice from a veterinary professional.”

Oh, and subbing something in for hard-to-find cat litter? This site offers some suggestions, including the easy and not too time-consuming sand from your local garden store. (Getting dirt from outside seems cheaper still, but cat fans worry about worms.) 

With any luck, our store shelves will once again groan under the weight of a thousand types of pet food. But in the meantime, you can provide, which is really what good pet parenting is all about.

Do you have some other sort of pet?

If you use a veterinarian (not everyone does for small rodents) you should contact him/her. Some, like flying squirrels, require specific amounts of certain vitamins, so you need to be careful.

What do pet food companies say about hard-to-find food?

Purina (maker of pet food and Tidy Cats cat litter) said, “Our amazing associates are working in our U.S. plants (keeping a safe distance from each other) to make the food, treats and litter that you feed and use with your dogs and cats, and continue to provide industry-leading quality and safety checks at every step for every batch. We know that increased demand has led to some empty shelves, and we will continue working hard to make sure you can find Purina products on shelves (or in your online carts) to meet your food and litter needs.”

The site www.petfoodindustry.com noted sales of Blue Buffalo (made by General Mills) grew rapidly in March, lending credence to the idea that we bought a lot, at least then.

From MarsPetcare (which also owns pet hospital chain Banfield): “In essential facilities, like factories, labs and veterinary hospitals, new health and safety procedures have been put in place, including social distancing, health screenings, additional site cleanings and strict use of personal protective equipment.”

Some writers have concerns about homemade pet food

Although, keep in mind, they’re thinking about long-term use:

Cailin Heinze wrote on www.vetnutrition.tufts.edu that “ an improperly prepared home-cooked diet can seriously harm your pet’s health, especially for a growing kitten or puppy... Whereas all commercial pet foods must legally meet or exceed certain amounts of nutrients to be marketed as “complete and balanced foods,” studies have shown that the vast majority of recipes that pet owners design for their pets, or obtain from magazines, books, or the internet are deficient in one or more essential nutrients. A big problem is that these inadequate levels of nutrients may not be evident for weeks or even years in adult animals, until the pet has a serious health problem that may not be easily reversed.”

Another vet, Jennifer Coates over on www.petsmd.com, warned that, although owners may start with an adequate diet, they often tinker with the food, creating something that their pet will eat but is not nutritionally adequate. This can be mitigated with pet vitamins, as mentioned in this story: www.bit.ly/homemadepetfooddanger.

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