Mad cow disease or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) has many people concerned for their own health. Some have stopped eating beef and sheep altogether in the hopes of not contracting the disease. Though the US government feels reasonably certain that mad cow disease is not currently a problem with US purchased beef, in some other countries, the same cannot be said. Many pet owners are concerned not just for themselves but also for their cats and dogs.
It has been shown, that at about the same time that people began showing contraction of BSE, the disease also affected some cats. Because BSE can take years to manifest, transmission rate may actually be higher than supposed. Also, because food for cats often contains parts of the animal most likely to carry BSE, like offal and brains, likelihood of transmission may be greater.
The good news is that scientists are reasonably certain cats infected with BSE cannot transmit the disease to their owners. Also, cases of BSE in dogs have not been noted. Other animals that might be susceptible to mad cow disease include mink, deer, elk, and sheep. Yet these animals are seldom raised as pets.
Medical researchers feel that the safest way to protect cats from BSE is to construct a diet that does not contain potentially infected ingredients. First off, one can make sure that food for cats does not contain any beef. Alternately, one could purchase pet foods that are made of “human grade food.” This will not contain cow brains or offal.
Domesticated cats were never meant to live on beef, in any case. Imagine Mr. Whiskers hunting cattle. Alternative foods can contain chicken, fish, eggs, and soy as main protein sources. These are considered as good as or better than beef in diets for cats.
Some foods for cats do contain lamb or sheep ingredients. Since technically sheep can become infected with BSE, avoiding sheep ingredients might also be a good idea. However, at this point, researchers have not established a cause and effect between pet food and BSE. Eating table scraps rather than pet food might just as easily have infected cats. This remains an area where more research is needed.
Some advocate feeding cats an entirely vegetarian diet. While many support this out of personal conviction, it is not exactly natural for an omnivorous creature to never eat meat. Many veterinarians are opposed to strictly vegan diets, where all protein sources must derive from soy or grains.
Spending a little more on a cat’s food, or using only foods for cats that contain chicken and fish protein can help prevent one’s cat from contracting BSE. For now, most medical researchers still note the rarity of cats that are infected by the disease and emphasize the minimal risk to humans posed by a BSE infected cat.