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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, May 22, 2024
HomeNewsLocal newsEmpty Shelves Mean Hungry Cats

Empty Shelves Mean Hungry Cats

Last Saturday, a frustrated cat owner told the Source, she went on what has become a common, desperate hunt for cat food on St. Thomas.

“I checked both KMarts, Pueblo, Cost-U-Less, VIP Pet Supply, and Walgreens to no avail,” she said.

More and more often empty shelves greet shoppers seeking cat food for hungry pets, as was the scene at Kmart in Tutu early this week. (Submitted Photo)

The woman, who did not want her name used, acknowledged that supply chain issues have affected other items in recent years, but she said her pets aren’t interested in excuses.  “Right now, I’ve got six felines that are not having it.”

At the Human Society on St. Thomas, volunteer Susan Kinder agreed.

“It’s been a situation for quite some time,” she said. The shelter has been able to cope by getting food shipped in directly.  But for her own pets, Kinder said, she’s also always on the hunt. “I wish I’d stocked up” before it became scarce.

The problem is not confined to the island, or to the territory.  There’s been a national shortage of cat food for several months and it seems to be getting worse.

Ever since the Covid pandemic revealed kinks in the global supply chain, consumers have dealt with temporary shortages of various commodities, from new cars to baby formula.

When an item becomes scarce, there often are many contributing reasons.

“It’s really compounding issues,” said Matthew Padgett, director of consumer affairs at the Department of Licensing and Consumer Affairs.

Matthew Padgett, director of Consumer Affairs, said supply shortages are often the result of many factors. (Photo submitted by Matthew Padgett)

In the case of cat food, the major problems seem to be a shortage of aluminum for cans and a shortage of meat.

“Most people don’t realize how much goes into just making a can of cat food,” he said.

Aluminum has been in short supply in recent months for a few reasons.  The website FVEAP (Feline Veterinary Emergency Assistance) says the problem seems to have started when two major factories in China – which produce much of the world’s supply – suffered accidents in 2021 and in April 2022.  That came around the same time that China instituted stricter rules on carbon emissions, also probably slowing aluminum production.

Padgett added that much of the aluminum that still is available in the U.S. is being shipped to Ukraine for the war effort there. The aluminum supply shortage seems to have affected other commodities as well.  For example, he said, the price of canned soft drinks has increased noticeably in the past few months.

Another important factor is that the meat industry also saw shortages during the early months of the pandemic.  And then, Padgett said, there was the Avian flu that resulted in the loss of millions of chickens.  Much pet food relies on poultry and meat by-products for its protein component.

FVEAP suggested one other possible factor: a seeming uptick in cat adoptions nationally.

Kinder was unable to say whether adoptions have increased on St. Thomas. There was no response to voice and email messages seeking comment from the St. Croix Animal Welfare Center.

“I would have to assume” the situation of strained supply is similar on St. Croix and in the St. Thomas-St. John, Padgett said. The division has not received many complaints from either district.

“We don’t get a lot of complaints about availability,” in general, he said. Rather, complaints are more often about prices, with the high cost of eggs currently leading the list.

Given the compound nature of the cat food issue, it may be a while before it is resolved.

Meanwhile,  Padgett advised consumers that larger chain outlets are probably more likely to have supplies than small stores, while some well-established independent stores may have long-standing relationships that guarantee them a fairly steady supply.

Kinder’s solution is to substitute seafood meant for human consumption.

“I’m getting ready to buy tuna fish,” she said. “And salmon.”

That’s a short-term solution that FVEAP approves, so is cooking meals for your cat – as long as you check with your veterinarian to be sure the animal is getting the nutrients it needs.

 Dry food is easier to find than canned and is also a reasonable substitute -if your cat will tolerate the switch.  FVEAP advises adding extra water to the cat’s diet if offering only dry food.

“It’s going to take some creativity” for a while, Kinder said.

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