While in San Francisco I took the occasion to visit a couple of pet food stores. I am always curious about the different approaches to processed food for animals, particularly for cats, being the cat an obliged carnivore, while the dog is an omnivore, just as we humans are.
In Italy cats have been served leftovers since forever, but this has started to become a problem over the past couple of decades, as cats are increasingly being kept indoors (and therefore are not longer able to hunt to supplement their diets properly with preys) and families are becoming smaller and smaller (which means less trips to the local butcher’s, local butchers actually closing their shops, more processed food, and less leftovers a cat can reasonably eat). As a consequence, people have started to buy commercial food for their cats. Commercial food for cats in Europe, especially dry food, is mainly grain-based. Grains are less expensive than meat while still providing proteins through gluten, in addition some vets believe that cutting on animal proteins also helps protecting urinary-tract problems, the main health problem for aging cats – considering that cats kept indoors tend to live longer, with a life expectancy of 15 years, against the usual 5-10 years of a cat free to roam among fast cars and neighbours prone to poisoning, beating or shooting anything alive. Detractors believe that grain-based commercial food is profitable for those producing and selling it, but is no proper food for an obliged carnivore such as the cat, leading to a number of problems, from food allergies to urinary-tract problems (again).
Trendy alternatives to grain-based commercial food are grain-free commercial food (mainly produced in North America), or raw feeding, which can consist either of whole preys such as quails or chicks, or a diet of raw meat, bones and organs – also called BARF diet. These alternatives are big in North America, which is in fact the place from where Europe imports grain-free food.
All that said, my expectations about pet food stores were quite big, but they were definitely exceeded by a particular chain, Pet food Express*, where not only I was able to find a large number of brands producing grain-free food, not only they had a huge freezer full of BARF-patties ready for BARF-fans to serve to their cats, but they also had and impressive assortment of… frozen mice. In tetra bricks.
Maybe they were originally meant for reptile-pets, but what a revolutionary idea, feeding cats with… mice! A couple of brands on the market also guarantee that the mice are killed humanely, and they can ship the frozen product directly to your home.
Yet another example of how trying to restore natural order in an anthropized world can be complicated and frustrating. In order to allow a cat to feed on its natural prey you need facilities, logistics, freezers, you face a number of ethical problems, and the cat will still miss the psychological benefit of the hunt.
* An additional reason why I’m now a fan of Pet Food Express is that they do not sell any animals, they have an adoption policy instead, collaborating with humane shelters.