Sample from the Spring 2009 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.

By Jennifer Sokolov

My then suitor, now husband announced during the first phone call of our courtship. He was referring to his two cats, Booger and Spudd, a pair of rescued mixed breeds from the same litter whose tabby markings and Abyssinian-like features had won his heart since their kittenhood. When the time came for all of us to reside together, I flung the doors of my tiny studio in Brooklyn, New York, open wide and began the process of making the house a home. My bathroom became “our” bathroom with the addition of the litter box and cat grooming tools. My kitchen became “our” kitchen, complete with cat dishes, and a large bag of kibble hidden on the top of the cabinets. My bed became “our” bed because, in a studio, there are no other options.

My first test as a cat-mama came quickly. Booger had a health crisis shortly after he moved in, and it came to my attention that dry food can cause male cats urinary problems. Thankfully, Booger recovered and I was determined to find a way to do less harm to my animals and all animals with respect to food and healing. Three new books appeared on our bookshelves, Anitra Frazier’s The New Natural Cat, Dr. Pitcairn’s Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, and Dr. Martin Goldstein’s The Nature of Animal Healing. I read them all from cover to cover.

As a vegetarian pet owner, I felt nauseated after reading Pitcairn’s and Goldstein’s exposé of the pet food industry. These “foods” are made from animal parts unfit for human consumption including bones, feathers and beaks, fecal-coated intestines, diseased and drugged factory-farmed animals and, most horrifyingly, euthanized companion animals from shelters. (See the New York Times article “Fear of Disease Prompts New Look at Rendering” by Sandra Blakeslee.) The danger of this food is that the intense heating of the meat scraps necessary to prevent contamination during the rendering process, destroys the nutrients essential to pet health—hence, the ever-growing list of fortified ingredients in commercial pet food.

I talked to my vet about food options, and she encouraged me to consider cooking for my pets. There is a lot of skepticism among the medical community about homemade pet food because dogs and cats have very specific nutritional needs that can be life threatening if unmet. Among the amino acids in question are taurine and arachidonic acid for cats and taurine and L-carnitine for dogs, all of which are readily available in meat. Cats, particularly, do not always absorb these and other nutrients well from vegetable sources. Conventional wisdom suggests that a diet containing mostly meat, balanced with grains and vegetables appropriate to the specific needs of cats and dogs, would be a great way to nourish one’s pets while empowering pet guardians to make environmentally sensitive choices about the kind and quality of the food.

On many levels, however, it isn’t that easy. For starters, what is a “natural diet” for your pets? Cats in the wild eat mice, small birds, and bugs, none of which (except maybe the bugs) are available to me as a personal feline chef. Factor in that a feral cat’s life expectancy is only three years—and that cats are not by nature social or vaccinated or sterile—and suddenly it becomes clear that nothing about the environment of an indoor domesticated cat mimics the great outdoors. The diet and lifestyle of our highly anthropomorphized pets are a culinary world unto their own. While we can certainly abide by the science of canine and feline nutrition, the best delivery method for nourishment is murky and politicized, particularly if you are not, yourself, a meat eater.

Dr. Andrew Weil, a powerful voice for alternative health endorses his own brand of pet food (from which he receives no profit). His quality assurance guarantees are a good checklist for evaluating the efficacy of any commercial pet food…

Read the rest of this article in the Spring 2009 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.