When the FDA learned that certain pet foods made cats and dogs sick and killed, it discovered that melamine contaminants in plant proteins imported into the United States from China were commonly used as ingredients in pet food. (Melamine is the same poison that killed many Chinese babies who drank contaminated powdered dairy products on the news recently)

The heartbreaking news coverage of pet owners mourning the loss of their beloved pets who died from food contaminated with melamine has put animal lovers across the country in a state of fear and bewilderment. The FDA and the American Veterinary Medical Association urge pet owners to switch brands as coverage if they are still concerned. (An unhelpful or reassuring tip).

Many pet owners, however, are unwilling to take the slightest risk when it comes to the health and safety of their pets, and are buying organic pet food or preparing personalized food for their furry friends. Some are even going one step further.

Consider the arrival of the seminal cookbook titled “Real Dog Food” that has been successfully featured on Amazon’s 200 best-seller list.

Robert Van Sickle, owner of Polka Dog Bakery in Boston, said he has received many inquiries from customers seeking advice on how to make their own pet food. For your German pointer, Van Sickle mixes carrots, spinach, salmon oil, apple cider vinegar along with whatever meat is in your freezer at the time, to make a deliciously complete pet food that would go toe-to-toe with any food famous pet. Pioneer Dr. Ross served!

Concerned pet owners are also helping boost the already booming sales of natural and organic pet foods. An executive at Wild Oats Markets Inc., the specialty food chain that caters to health-conscious consumers, says that sales of organic pet food were increasing 15 to 20 percent a year and fears of pet foods convince more consumers to feed your pets only natural foods. “People are extending their food ethic to the whole family, including pets,” said Richard Warner, director of dry food products for Wild Oats.

Shelley Gunton, owner of Oregon-based Castor and Pollux Pet Works, said her stores, which specialize in organic pet food, have seen sales spikes since pet food fears began to surface. “This will reinforce to pet owners that there are options,” Gunton said.

Proponents of natural and organic pet foods and treats say those products can help prevent many diseases in dogs and cats. The growth of the organic pet food industry and disagreement over what qualifies as organic food has led to the creation of the Organic Pet Food Task Force. This working group has suggested labeling standards that organic manufacturers should adhere to in addition to existing requirements that apply to all pet foods.

Veterinarians say owners should be on the lookout for symptoms such as lethargy, diarrhea, increased or decreased urination and thirst, vomiting, and poor appetite. These are the symptoms of kidney failure, which has been the leading cause of death from contaminated pet food.

Our homes are also full of substances that can be poisonous to our beloved pets, according to the National Association of Veterinary Medicine. Dogs tend to get into trouble more than cats because they are generally not picky eaters and will eat almost anything in front of them.

Contaminated pet food isn’t the only concern for pet owners.

According to the ASPCA, human medications are among the top threats to dogs. Many drugs can be lethal to pets, even in small doses. Some of the dangerous medications include pain relievers, cold medications, anticancer drugs, antidepressants, and diet pills.

Remember the potential hazards in your garage, including antifreeze and other fluids for your car. Garden chemicals can also be dangerous. Fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides are potentially fatal to your pets.

If you ever suspect that your pet has ingested something dangerous, you must act quickly. Don’t wait for symptoms to appear. Call your vet immediately. Some symptoms can take hours to develop, and when they appear, it may be too late to save your pet.

The best way to protect your pet is to act like you have a small child (or spouse) in the house that never grows up.

Jokes aside, store anything that could be toxic to your pet in a safe place, either high up on top shelves or in closed cabinets or containers out of reach.

Be on the lookout for this. A little slip could mean “curtains” for your beloved pet!

So let’s redouble our efforts to keep our pets safe and healthy, naturally!

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