Growing Number of Pet Owners Turn to Home Cooking

Adopted at the age of 9 months old from a family that didn't understand the needs of a sensitive breed like the Italian greyhound, Guido was seizing about once a month and had constant bouts of vomiting and diarrhea.

Lascola, whose family fed his childhood dogs kibble with no problems, said he had vets tell him to euthanize Guido.

"I was still ignorant to the food issues," he said, even though "he had all the signs of bad quality food."

Desperate to help Guido feel better, Lascola turned to an animal communicator who he said told him right away that it was Guido's food that was making him sick. After reading article upon article on the Internet and reading books on nutrition, Lascola started out slowly, adding chicken and rice and then vegetables to Guido's kibble.

Then, after the pet food recall, Lascola removed commercial food from Guido's diet altogether. Now, under the close supervision of the nutritionist and with the help of two medications for Guido's digestive system, Guido's seizures have decreased in frequency to about once every six to eight months.

His new food, in addition to the protein, vegetables and grain, also includes a carefully calculated set of vitamins and supplements, a key factor creating a balanced diet.

"What I didn't realize is I was killing him," Lascola said.

Home Cooking Advocates Question Commercial Ingredients

Inspired by his efforts to find better food for Guido and the flagging economy that was hurting his career as a landscape designer, Lascola opened up California K9 Kitchen -- a home-based business that sells homemade, all-natural treats to local stores and customers.

Business, he said, took off with more and more people interested in food with ingredients they would eat themselves.

Likewise, Pitcairn said sales of his book -- now in its third edition -- took off after the pet food recall, his royalty payments nearly doubling.

In March 2007, more than 150 brands of pet food were recalled, some voluntarily by the products' companies, after they were found to be tainted with melamine, an industrial chemical. Dozens of dogs and cats died as owners learned about the tainted dog food, most of which was imported from Chinese manufacturers.

Gallagher said the Pet Food Institute did several studies on consumer satisfaction from the height of the pet food up through this year and said that numbers have steadily increased.

According to American Pet Product Association sales estimates, pet owners will spend $17.4 billion on pet food this year, up from $16.8 billion in 2008.

Commercial pet food has generally evolved over the years, with different formulas marketed for puppies and kittens, seniors and animals with sensitive digestive tracts.

Advertisements even reflect owners' growing interest in their pets' nutrition with claims of prebiotics and vitamins in various types of food.

But while the pet food industry is regulated by the FDA, the standards for what passes as edible for animals, Pitcairn said, is not nearly as strict as human-grade products.

Pitcairn said it's not uncommon for commercial pet food to contain leftover animal parts, like beaks or tumors or parts of so-called "4-D" animals who come in to the slaughterhouse, "dead, dying, disabled [and] diseased."

"It's even been determined that sometimes roadkill is used," he said.

Gallagher and Thompson didn't dispute some of Pitcairn's claims of byproducts that were sometimes found in food, but pointed out that the commercial industry is regulated -- a stamp of approval not guaranteed with home cooking.

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