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Owners prepare pet food at home

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  • Owners prepare pet food at home

    Heike Munday was in the checkout line at Whole Foods Market recently, her cart piled with 20 pounds of organic chicken necks.

    They weren’t for that night’s dinner — at least not for her. She got them for her two dogs and two cats.

    Heike, a pet groomer and owner of Furry Friends, has been feeding her own pets natural diets for years, including chicken necks and other raw foods.

    Nutrition and food quality is becoming a major concern for more and more pet owners, especially in light of the recent recall of more than 80 brands of potentially poisonous pet foods. The incident has left many pet owners worried about their companions’ foods and searching for alternatives. (For a list of recalled pet food, visit

    So, many are doing what Munday is: feeding their pets raw or organic foods and home-cooked meals.

    But it’s not always easy, and it’s not always done the right way, pet experts warn.

    “The potential of raw diet for animals is very good if it is done correctly,” says Nancy Irlbeck, an animal nutritionist at Colorado State University.

    The diet has to be balanced and safely prepared. It’s a complex procedure that takes a lot of work and costs a lot of money.

    “But the problem is that most people are lazy by human nature and the animals will suffer,” Irlbeck says.

    What often happens, she says, is the pet owner gets a good raw diet going, then runs out of a certain supplement, so they skip it. Two or three days down the road, they forget they were supposed to buy more, and the animal eventually becomes nutritionally deficient.

    Likewise, pet owners don’t often follow important safety measures when refrigerating and handling raw meats and chicken, and when cleaning up. If the animal is old or has a compromised immune system, improper handling of raw food can make it sick.

    Munday has been feeding her pets home-cooked meals for 10 years, beginning when she rescued a cat that had serious medical problems. The cat, Sessi, threw up no matter what she was fed. Veterinarians couldn’t find a cause. So Munday started researching animal nutrition and became intrigued by the abundance of literature on natural food diets and especially evolutionary diets - mimicking the feeding regimen of wild animals. She tried the raw food diet on Sessi and is convinced it saved the cat’s life.

    Her dog Willie, a Hurricane Katrina rescue, also gets raw meat, along with fresh organic vegetables, which Munday says is helping restore his health.

    But she says she had to go through a half dozen veterinarians before she found one who could help develop a diet and safety measures to follow when preparing meals for her pets.

    She now takes her pets to veterinarian Jim Friedly of the Natural Health Care Center for Animals in Falcon. An expert in wellness and nutrition, he helped her devise a diet and monitors the efforts.

    “There is an alternative. You don’t have to feed junk to your pets,” says Friedly.

    He notes that organic pet food was becoming increasingly popular before the pet food recall, because people who eat organically are demanding it for their pets, too. In fact, the organic pet food industry is a $30 million a year business, according to the Organic Trade Association, and growing rapidly because of concern over the quality of pet foods.

    Owners can feed dogs organic food through a raw diet or home-cooked meals, or by purchasing premium packaged organic meals.

    Munday feeds raw and cooked organic meats, buys patties packaged especially for pets by Ranch Foods Direct, and gets natural canned food at Wag N’ Wash Pet Center.

    But Irlbeck, of CSU, warns that care must be taken with organics, too. “You have to evaluate what is labeled organic. It can be misleading and you might not be getting what you think you are,” she says.

    Likewise, Friedly notes that some of the nonorganic dog foods on the market today that are labeled “premium” really aren’t because they contain byproducts (chicken beaks, feathers, cowhides, and such) and filler such as corn meal, grains and wheat gluten, all of which can cause health problems for some pets.

    If you decide to feed raw or organic meals, he cautions: “There are many recipes on the Internet, but some are good and some are not — and inexperienced pet owners most likely won’t know the difference without professional help.”

    CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0371 or [email protected]

    Looking to upgrade your pets’ diet? Here are some helpful sources:

    - The American Egg Board, working with Davis Veterinary Medical Consulting, has created some pet recipes that are available free at (enter EGG at checkout in the promo code box). The site also has calculators to evaluate your pet’s calorie intake and compare brand ingredients.
    - offers consultations and advice from veterinary nutritionists.
    - A well-known proponent of the raw diet is veterinarian Ian Billinghurst. His Web site is:
    - has advice from a retired Denver veterinarian.
    - offers some pet food reports.

    - “Natural Nutrition for Dogs and Cats,” by Kymythy Schultze
    - “The Compete Holistic Dog Book,” by Jan Allegretti
    - “Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats,” by Richard Pitcairn
    - “Give Your Dog a Bone,” Dr. Ian Billinghurst
    - “The Natural Dog,” Mary Brennan, DVM
    - “The New Natural Cat Book,” Anitra Frazier
    - “The Good Food Cookbook for Dogs: 50 Home Cooked Recipes for the Health and Happiness of Your Canine Companion” by Donna Twichell Roberts

    Raw food can be contaminated with salmonella and other bacteria. Some nutritionists say dogs genetically have strong constitutions and can fight off such bugs. Others say that is not true. Here are suggestions from Falcon veterinarian Jim Friedly:
    Know the source. Buy from stores that process meat the same as they do for yourself.
    Handle raw meats carefully, as if they were for your own meal. That includes clean-up. If an animal doesn’t eat it all, take it away so it doesn’t spoil.
    Keep raw meat frozen and thaw only small amounts needed for a meal. The food can be put in individual containers and even vacuum-packed.
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