Meow-ch! Food shortage concerns NEPA cat owners

Jan. 13—Christine Gush's 12-year-old long-haired cat, Sabrina, prefers her food a certain way.

"It has to have gravy on it or she won't eat it," the Harveys Lake resident said in the Gerrity's Supermarket on North Keyser Avenue in Scranton.

Gush searched for Sabrina's favorite food, Friskies Meaty Bits, at three stores near her home, only to find the shelves empty, a sight seen at grocery and pet stores across the region.

It's something experts attribute to ongoing supply chain shortages brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dana Brooks, president and CEO of the Pet Food Institute, a Washington D.C.-based trade group advocating for pet food manufacturers, said there has been a shortage of cat food, predominantly wet food, since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

"Pet food makers are working their way out of a major backlog," she said.

Gerrity's co-owner Joe Fasula said while dog food has also been in short supply, it's worse with cat food. Supply chain problems means suppliers give more priority to human food than pet food.

"Whether it's the packaging materials or food itself," he said. "Raw materials were getting diverted to human canned food and ever since then, it never really recovered."

Brooks attributes the shortage to not enough packaging materials, particularly aluminum.

Also, getting meat and fish for the food has been hard with labor shortages, cost increases in production and restricted imports of fish like salmon, she said.

Aisles where dry and wet cat food are sold were mostly bare Thursday afternoon at multiple retailers and stores, including Gerrity's North Keyser Avenue location, Weis Markets in South Abington Twp., and Target and Walmart in Dickson City.

Gush, who searched for her cat's food for two weeks before purchasing it on her way home from work at Allied Services, said it has been hard finding boxes of canned cat food, which she prefers because it is cheaper and easier to carry.

"I see empty aisles all the time," she said.

Rose Kamla of South Abington Twp. alternates going to stores around the area to get the food for her 2-year-old cats, Spatz and Heidi. She shopped at Weis with her husband, Tom, on Thursday afternoon.

She had trouble finding it three months ago, but has had better luck since.

Fasula said the shortage affected Gerrity's for a year, but it's not just the Scranton-based grocery store feeling the pinch.

"It's across all brands and supermarket outlets," he said. "It's a production and supply chain issue."

Cat owners aren't the only ones that have noticed a food shortage. Joanne Davis, founder of St. Cats and Dogs, said six months ago it was hard to find food for the cats the organization rescues. When she doesn't find the food at one store, she goes elsewhere.

Davis tries to stay ahead of the shortage, stocking up on food for the roughly 120 cats. But getting food delivered has, at times, been hard.

"Sometimes it takes a few weeks," Davis said.

Cat owners said they have found ways to make sure their feline companions get enough food.

Kamla said she purchased a 10-pound bag of Purina Complete dry cat food in case she can't find it at stores, while Gush buys several cans when she goes to the store.

To ensure her two cats have enough food, Harding resident Susan Volpe said she buys her food both from and in the store.

While he doesn't foresee the problem of low cat food supplies getting worse, Fasula said he also doesn't think it will end.

Dennis Curtin, spokesman for Weis Markets, said in an email Thursday labor issues and commodity shortages remain an ongoing challenge for the cat food industry, a trend he foresees continuing this year.

"While customers can still purchase cat food, it's not as plentiful as it was three years ago, which results in customers purchasing their second or third choice," he said.

Brooks said cat owners should be seeing more normal supplies of food, but suggests contacting the manufacturer for their recommendations for alternative cat foods if they experience a shortage.

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