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Pet Owners Cater to Canine Palate

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Pet Owners Cater to Canine Palate


Pet Owners Cater to Canine Palate

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COHEN: This is DAY TO DAY. The pet food poisoning scare widens. I'm Alex Cohen.


And I'm Alex Chadwick. Pigs in six states now have been quarantined. The animals were fed salvaged pet food that was contaminated with melamine. That's the same chemical responsible for sickening thousands of dogs and cats, and killing many of them.

COHEN: The Food and Drug Administration announced plans yesterday to expand its testing of imported products containing things like soy protein, corn meal and wheat gluten.

CHADWICK: And the Chinese have now agreed to allow FDA inspectors into the factories that made those contaminated products.

COHEN: Since last month, more than a hundred brands of dog and cat food have been recalled. Many pet owners have decided to take matters into their own kitchens. There's all sorts of options out there. Cookbooks for cats, bone shaped cookie cutters for bake-your-own biscuits. Canine cuisine classes offered at chi chi supermarkets. And then there are the folks that go a step further.

Unidentified man: Okay, we've got one, two, three, four, five.

COHEN: It's early Saturday morning and a group of dog owners are sorting through cardboard boxes filled with turkey necks, chicken backs, pork feet, whole fish. A faint meaty smell hangs in the air at this cold storage facility in Southern California. People come here once a month to stock up on foods that are part of a diet known affectionately as BARF.

Ms. PAM PUCKETT (Director, Southern California BARF Group): Biologically Appropriate Raw Food.

COHEN: Pam Puckett runs southern California's BARF group. She explains the premise. Ditch the processed grains and kibble. Feed dogs and cats raw meat, bone and vegetables instead, diets similar to what their less domesticated ancestors once ate.

Ms. PUCKETT: It's a species appropriate diet. For the same reason we wouldn't eat Cheerios for three meals a day and that's it. You know a bowl of water and a bowl of Cheerios would not maintain human health, and a bowl of kibble and some water doesn't maintain canine health.

COHEN: The BARF diet isn't for everyone. Compared to manufactured foods it can be more expensive. You need adequate storage space to keep raw food frozen, then you need time to let it thaw. And it can be tough for animal lovers to stomach the fact that you're feeding your pet other furry beings.

Ms. PUCKETT: This is rabbit.

COHEN: Pam picks up a thick, plastic bag packed with deep pink flesh interspersed with yellowish white chunks of something.

Ms. PUCKETT: That's got the body with stomach, bladder and intestines removed. The head is in there.

COHEN: It's so nice that it's pre-packed. If I actually saw the bunny head, I don't know if I could do it.

Unidentified Man: Oh we have that, too. Do you want some head? Ears attached and everything.

COHEN: Oh yeah. That's definitely a rabbit. Personally, I doubt I could handle putting a fur-covered rabbit head in my dog's bowl, but pet owners who do the raw foods thing swear by it. Amber Malfaven(ph) says she started giving raw beef and vegetables to her American bulldogs Heidi and Chico because Chico was suffering form hip dysplasia.

Ms. AMBER MALFAVEN (BARF participant): He doesn't limp at all anymore, which is amazing because he was almost crippled. And their coat's really shiny. They don't shed as much. Their skin's really good.

COHEN: But the BARF diet isn't without its own set of health risks.

Dr. ANDREA FASCETTI (Veterinary Nutritionist, University of California Davis): We have seen the adverse consequences of home cooking.

COHEN: Andrea Fascetti is a veterinary nutritionist at the University of California at Davis. She says unlike commercial pet foods, raw food diets can lack the proper amounts of vitamins and nutrients. For example, many humans prepare meals without enough calcium.

Dr. FASCETTI: The alternative is that some people put too much calcium into a diet or supplement it with too much calcium. And particularly during the growth stages, especially in dogs, we can see bony developmental abnormalities occur.

COHEN: And there's the fact that raw food can play host to all sorts of bacteria.

Dr. FASCETTI: Things like salmonella have been linked to raw food diet. E. Coli as well and those are certainly problems that can then be passed along to people and make us sick as well.

COHEN: Fascetti cautions anyone who's thinking about switching from manufactured pet food to a raw diet to consult with their vet first. And for the record, she feeds her two cats and her Labrador retriever commercial food.

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