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My Pet World: Consumers still worry about safety of pet food

Question: I was in Canada last week and looked in the supermarket at cat food. One brand was imported from Thailand, and another imported from the U.S. In 2007, ingredients imported from China killed pets. Knowing where products come from might prevent a tragedy and offer consumer a best chance at making informed choices. Don’t you agree? — E.H., Clemson, S.C.

Answer: This is an excellent and far more complex question than perhaps it should be.

To begin with, melamine and cyanuric acid were illegally added to foods to mimic increased protein. This was a criminal act, and the pet food companies affected were as horrified as consumers. We’ll never know how many pets perished; the number doesn’t really matter if your pet succumbed as a result of tainted food.

In 2007 and into 2008, I interviewed Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin for this column and on radio. Durbin serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee overseeing food safety, and he called for the hearing on the pet food recall. Repeatedly, he expressed concerns about our own food safety because of ingredients and products we import from China and elsewhere, and it turned out that he was correct.

I asked Durbin a question, which seems to be common sense. If it’s a potential danger for America to import ingredients and products from China and other countries where we have little control and doubt their internal control processes, then, why don’t we stop importing from those places? Durbin says that is not a realistic possibility.

Then what are we to do? Durbin really didn’t have a direct answer, except to suggest additional inspections, etc.

Nutritionist Tiffany Bierer, health, sciences and nutrition manager for Mars Petcare U.S., points out that, for example, nearly all vitamins and minerals are imported from China (for human and pet consumption).

Bierer says, “At Mars, we have people on the ground in China, auditing facilities. All pet food companies can’t say that. Also, check the packaging to insure the product is manufactured in the U.S., if that is important to you.”

She adds, “Consumers do have the right to ask these types of question. Nearly all pet food brands include a phone number on the packaging.”

Q: I found a cat in the street that had been declawed and I took her in. She’s very playful and adoring with me, but when anyone comes to visit, she hides. If I’m holding her before she realizes someone has come in, she allows the person to pet her, then hides under the sofa. Is there anything I can do to help her overcome her shyness toward strangers? — A.D., Las Vegas

A: Cat behavior consultant Mikel Delgado, of Berkeley, believes this cat may have had a rough start in life. Genetics, though, also could play a role in a cat’s behavior. Some people seem predisposed to be more outgoing, and the same is true for pets.

“Never force a cat who is afraid to interact with people. Parading her around for company doesn’t allow the cat to make choices,” says Delgado.

Of course, a little motivation never hurts. Begin with a visitor who the cat may be somewhat familiar with, and ask your guest to toss a few small pieces of cheese or another valuable treat just beyond the cat’s reach from under the sofa. Another idea is to lure the cat into play with a fishing pole-type toy with feathers.

Also, place an empty box in the room the cat is hiding in. Believe it or not, some cats will jump in an open box and “hide” there instead hunkering under the sofa.

Also, Delgado adds, consider managing your expectations, “This cat sounds perfectly affectionate and wonderful with you,” says Delgado. “It’s possible the cat may gain more confidence with strangers, but she may never be really outgoing.”

Congratulations, also, on adopting this cat.

Q: My cat put her paws into her water bowl and flicks the water all over the place. How do I prevent the kitchen puddles? — L.P., Minneapolis

A: Many cats are actually quite far-sighted. You can try flitting your kitty with eyeglasses, a prospect that is unlikely to work out. Your cat likely can’t see where the water level is, and would rather get a wet paw than a wet nose. Placing a floating plastic ducky in the water bowl is one idea so the cat can detect the water level. Another possibility is that your kitty may be playing. It’s exciting to watch water splash, and to see household members slide across a wet kitchen floor!