Junk food, apparently, is not the bane of human existence alone. Pets are getting into medical trouble these days thanks to their eating habits, or rather - by eating what's forced on them by their owners, veterinary surgeons and experts opine.
Allergies and obesity are reducing the life expectancy of Lassies and Mittens nourished worldwide on industrial foodstuffs, said Gerard Lippert, a Belgian acupuncturist for animals who has just completed a study on the diets of 600 dead dogs.
"Pets, like humans, are victims of junk food," he told AFP.
Of the 600 furry corpses he examined "those fed on processed foods died three years earlier than those fed on food made in the home."
Dogs, he added, "originally were omnivores who shared their food with humans."
Rippert said he was increasingly called on to heal skin, motor and digestive problems as acupuncture was an all-embracing method enabling work on practically all organs.
"Dry dog food and cat food croquettes are over-heated, which destroys vitamins, trace elements and other basic nutritional elements," he said.
"We don't know the origin of the proteins in the foods," he added. "And there's an excessive amount of cereal, often genetically modified, and very little vegetables."
"We're turning our dogs and cats into ruminants," he said.
Laurence Colliard, a veterinary surgeon and nutritionist located in the Paris suburbs, estimates that only five percent of French pet-owners cook food for their four-legged companions.
France is Europe's top pet nation -- with 7.8 million dogs and 10.7 million cats, according to a 2008 study by the Sofres/Facco polling institute.
"I'm seeing an increasing number of allergies, diarrhea, vomitting, skin dermatitis as well as cases of obesity, specially amid cats because of the excessively high energy content in industrially-produced cat foods," said Colliard.
Pet owners tend to favour processed foods because of the difficulty of preparing nutritionally balanced meals, which in an ideal world should contain some 50 nutrients as well as meat, vegetables, rice and pasta. An animal's age, weight and exercise routine also need to be taken into account.
The packs on offer on supermarket shelves also claim as a bonus to reduce nasty urine smells and modify the consistency of animal poop.
The pet food industry was born in England where James Spratt produced the world's first dog biscuits in 1860.
Some 150 years later, many Internet sites are calling for a return to natural foods for pets.
BARF or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food is a type of pet diet that consists of raw meat, bones, and organs," says www.barf.com. "It is the practice of feeding domestic pets their evolutionary diet as a way of maximizing their health and longevity.
"Dogs should not eat cooked or processed food," it adds. "Instead, your pet should consume foods that are similar to a dog's wild ancestors. This includes bones, fat, meat, and vegetable materials."
Likewise offers tips for natural home-made meals.
It's only in the last 100 years we have we been led to believe that dogs cannot survive without packaged food. We are told it would be harmful if we were to give them the scraps from our own home cooked meals. This is pure poppycock!"