Dr. Terri McGinnis says she wrote "Dog & Cat Good Food Book" (Taylor & Ng) "to give animals a vote" in their own feeding.
A California veterinarian with a balanced approach to the role of animals in their owners' lives, she argues persuasively that, if consulted, pets would prove indifferent to the gimmicks employed to sell commercial pet foods.
"Artificial color and flavor additives don't count with dogs or cats," she said. "They're there for the humans who buy the food. Why distort cat food to remove the smell when cats love the smell?"
The book, 95 pages with a series of charming illustrations, is "a logical eextension" of two earlier works, "The Well Dog Book" and "The Well Cat Book." "I don't make a big distinction between pets and people," Dr. McGinnis said during a recent visit. "People should feed themselves well and they should feed their pets well. Poor nourishment leads to poor health. You shouldn't have to take your pet to the vet all the time."
What she proposes is not starting. "The basics of pet nutrition are common sense," she said, "but the details are not, Pets, like children, need more food while they are growing. But what amount of protein do they need? What combination in a pet-food package? The owner needs more information."
So "Dog & Cat Good Food Book" provides a growth chart, a list of calorie requirements and an evaluation chart to help pet owners decide aong "at least 10 different brands of foodss and more than 50 different products" that may be on the supermarket shelf. The tone reflects what Dr. McGinnis calls her "sane" approach to animals. "I have pets," (three dogs) she said. "They have their place, but they don't dominate my life."
Therefore she writes of table scraps: "Treats should be treats, not a pet's total diet and if you're not very careful, pets offered table scraps daily are often soon eating little else."
Dr. McGinnis rates the sections dealing with the physical manner of feeding a pet and choosing a commercial food as the most important in the book. "Two most important items on any new pet owner's shopping list should be food and water bowls," she writes. Walter, in fact, "is perhaps the most important nutrient of all. A dog or cat can go without food for days and lose 30 to 40 per cent of its body weight without dying, but a water loss of 10 to 15 per cent can be fatal."
Although the book contains several recipes, she is not antagonistic toward commercial foods. "They can do a better job than you can do yourself," she said. "After all, the average person is not going to spend time creating meals for pets. The companies who make them have the resources and the nutritional information to do a good job.
"But you should choose the best of them. A new cat food came out with sodium nutrite as one of the ingredients. There's no reason for it, only to give color. People shouldn't buy it. I wrote them and said I wouldn't. By pressure you can force change."
Dr. McGinnis' activism may stem from the location of her California practice, the Berkeley area. But her commitment to animals began "in the second grade. I vaccilated in high school," she said, "and thought about being a pediatrician, but it's nearly the same thing."
Veterinary medicine is divided into three branches, she explained: Some practice "food animal" medicine (scientists who work in the food industry or government); others - race track doctors, for example - do "large animals" medicine, while she and her colleagues practice "companion animal" medicine.
"Animal medicine is almost as advanced as human medicine," she said, and there is a conflict over which direction the profession should go, what services should be provided. I'm opposed to too great a swing to specialists. I think there is a greater need for the general practitioner. But after all I'm a family practitioner."
The first books were written at the urging of a client, who also is a apublisher. "At his request, I researched the pet books," Dr. McGinnis said. "Most were too simple or out of date, so I began a single book that became two." "The Well Dog Book" and "The Well Cat Book" according to the author, "gave pet owners a way to decide when to go or not to go to the vet. It gave a general idea of medicine and health related to pets and covered nutrition for the beginning or average pet owner."
"Dog & Cat Good Food Book" goes further and Dr. McGinnis thinks it "can lead to owners, particularly children, learning to feed themselves better" by exposure to details of good nutrition and seeing the results of proper feeding on the pets they care for.