A Note on Cat Health/Cat Food
You’re probably (still) thinking I’m nuts for delving into the world of making cat food. At first, so was I. I mean, there are tons of products out there, and I’ve had many, many cats over my lifetime, and they’ve all lived happy, healthy, long lives, right?
Except that maybe they haven’t. And I’ve never had a cat that had sensitivities before. And I can’t stand to see him suffer.
The more I read about cat food and cat health, the more I’m astounded about how ignorant I was about cats before. How can someone who’s had these furry friends all their lives not know these things?!
I feel so strongly about some of this information that I feel compelled to share with you. I hope that my fellow furbaby friends will take at least a few tidbits to heart.
- Cat’s, unlike dogs, get most of their fluids from their food, so feeding them exclusively dry food is actually detrimental to their health, and promotes kidney disease. There are loads and loads of sites touting wet food only diets…even as recent as when I was in college (ok, it wasn’t that recent, but whatever), there was loads of information out that said wet food diets were bad and dry food was good, because it’s better for their teeth. So imagine my surprise when I read all over the place that dry food is evil. Why have opinions changed? Well, first off, loads of cats have been dying of kidney disease, because they aren’t getting enough fluids from their diets (indoor cats), being fed only dry food, no matter how many bowls of water you put down. Thinking back, I’ve had at least one cat that had kidney disease, and while she drank and drank her water, she still didn’t get the fluids she needed to make up for the dry food.
- Dry food has loads of bacteria on it. Yeah, this didn’t occur to me, but it’s true. And a kitty’s system spends most of it’s time fighting the garbage that the processing plants put on their food, so their systems are in a constant battle against what you’re feeding them if it’s dry.
- Specialty foods sold at the vet are some of the worst, most imbalanced foods on the market. And they cost more. Just because a vet is getting paid to carry a food doesn’t mean it’s good for the animal. Just saying.
- “All natural” doesn’t mean it’s balanced, or healthy for the cat. Nor does it mean it’s quality food.
- Cats, unlike dogs, eat almost exclusively protein. And most cat foods on the market have fillers, grains, and other garbage in them.
- Cats are finicky for a variety of reasons, mostly linked to either fear, not enough choices as a kitten, or other people-based issues, not because the cat’s a jerk. If you offer a dog a rock, he’ll probably try to eat the rock. If you offer a cat food that isn’t familiar, he might think it’s a rock and won’t eat it, no matter how tasty. In the wild, cats are really open to new food discoveries…they’ll taste just about anything once, and then decide if it’s edible. However, if they’re indoor cats and they were only offered one or two things as “food” as a kitten, they won’t recognize other things as food as adults…so you have to introduce them to new things that are food slowly with something that is recognized as food. No kidding, they think it’s a rock. Worse, if they were frightened while eating something, or something else bad happened while eating something, they’ll from then on associate “bad” with that food and avoid it (yay).
- Cat poop is not supposed to be big, or smelly. Yeah, I know. So if the food is nutritious and the right balance, your cat poop should be small (I mean almost nothing), and light-colored. Not dark. Not big. Not happening several times a day. Who knew?
- Cats only eat between 3.5-6 oz of food a day when fed the right food. (REALLY??!) No kidding, if they’re not eating the equivalent of McDonald’s, they eat a very small amount of food. (Three cats in my house have been going through 5-6 6oz cans per day, plus two cups of dry food a day since I got them!)
- You can’t just put a chicken leg (or a can of tuna) down on the floor and call it a meal for a cat…it’s not a balanced diet. Just like people, cats need certain vitamins and minerals that are only available to them if they eat their natural foods (mice and other small animals) whole. If not, you have to add supplements, or they get sick.
- Cats shouldn’t go more than about 24 hours without eating. Unlike people and many other animals who can safely go without food for a period of time, cats cannot. When a cat stops eating or his normal daily caloric intake drops dramatically, it’s a very short matter of time before the potentially fatal disease known as hepatic lipidosis takes over his liver. In fatty liver syndrome the cat’s body, starved of sufficient calories, starts sending fat cells to the liver to convert to energy. However, feline bodies aren’t designed to metabolize fat in that manner, so the buildup of fat cells compromises liver function – a potentially fatal complication. Yeah, this is really, really bad. So you can’t just wait out your kitty if (s)he’s a picky eater…you either have to get them to eat something (even if it’s unhealthy), or take them to the vet, or they can die. Which would be bad.
- When they won’t eat, sprinkle Kraft Parmesan Cheese on it. I’m not kidding. It’s like kitty crack. Why? I dunno, just do it. I know we’re trying to get away from chemicals, but sometimes, given #10, you get desperate. Or tuna juice. But KPC is the trick, really.
- Cats like to eat alone, in a protected place, preferably with their back unexposed and little to no noise. This one surprised me. I’ve always fed my cats side-by-side, like you would dogs, and usually while I’m grinding coffee or banging around making food. And yet, now that I think back on it, none of my furbabies really ate “together” (at the same time). One would always wait for the other to finish if they started before them (or at the same time), and then, after they were gone, finally dig in. They’d eat with me in the kitchen doing stuff, but not when I was loud. And usually would really chomp down the kibbles only when I was done. With these two new jumpy furbabies, the bowls have to be separated, no one can be in the kitchen (including Gracie), and they run every time there’s a noise or someone comes, even if they’ve just taken a bite (yes, food trails ensue). Gracie has to have her food delivered to her near her bed (yes, my Queen!), and Saffron prefers either under the dining room table (completely out of traffic), or will wait until the lights are off in the kitchen, signifying that no one’s coming back for a while (he’s the most jumpy of the gang). Mango will only eat if the bowl’s over on one particular side, with his butt under the counter so no surprises, and with zero noise, and then only when the food is the correct temperature and smell and only if Saffron’s had a bite or two first to prove it is, indeed, food. Ugh. But hey, I guess the fact that cats are prey to so many other animals and they have survival instincts that are as strong as their instinct to turn completely over in the air is probably why they’ve lived thousands of years. They also don’t like dirty bowls, bowls that are too deep (and touch their sensitive whiskers, have a distinct smell to them, etc. etc. Yeah, this is fun, isn’t it??
So how have the kids taken to this new food, and how did I learn all of this?
Yeah. So the first few days were rough. Of course I went into this, as I do, positively desperate to find something to get Mango to stop scratching, his face puffing up, vomiting, the works, right? I did all the research, I found this vet-researched, compiled, and approved food (and she’s considered the expert in the avenue of DIY cat food by a lot of other vets – every vet I saw out there had a link to her recipe so I was confident this was the one), I bought all the ingredients, took the time to make the food…and…each and every one of these stinkers turned their noses up at the food and walked away right after I put it down. They wouldn’t even glance at it again, never mind eat that stuff.
And the whining! “Mommy, I’m hungry. Feed me.
(It was a looooooooong week.)
Each morning and evening (feeding times), I would put on my smile, prepare their bowls, talk up the “foody”, and…nothing. Think your kid is picky? Try a cat.
“Mommy, why did you put rocks in my bowl??? Where is my food?”
I tried everything. I tried warming the food (they might not be ready for raw). I tried combining it with their old food (gradual integration). I tried a little tuna (I know…kind of against the whole “allergic to fish” them, but hey, I was desperate since the whole fatty liver thing was hanging over my head).
And then? Yeah, kitty crack…see #11 above. The parmesan cheese (not fresh, the chemical stuff…I tried fresh and it didn’t work either) thing is the trick.
Once the “cheese” was added, it was like a dam broke and all three are now ravenously downing their food every time it hits the floor. No kidding, they looooove this stuff. Especially if I warm it up. I’ll say it will take them a while (maybe never) to get them to switch to a more raw diet, but in the meantime, we’ve had no vomiting, no swelling, no scratching(!), and the world is a shiny new sparkly happy place with cuddly happy kitties again.
So many positives to this story: Doesn’t take that long to make, I know exactly what I’m feeding them, hopefully no more vet bills, and it only costs about 23 cents per cat per day. As opposed to the $2-3 per cat per day for the McDonald’s equivalent I was feeding them before (it would’ve been significantly more switching to the $2 per can healthy stuff that is on the market!). And they are sooooo soft (their fur has taken on a new consistency)! The cat litter usage has significantly reduced (they don’t poop as much so there’s less to scoop), it doesn’t smell, and they smell like baby powder now (instead of Mango smelling like he’s sick).
Switching to home made cat food is not necessarily everyone’s thing…but I have to tell you, I don’t think I can go back to the canned stuff now, knowing what I know.
If you’re not interested in switching to home made, I understand…it’s a commitment and some people just don’t have the time. If you feel that way, I would suggest that you at least switch the kitty to either an all wet food diet, or at least add wet food to the diet (combination) so that they get more fluids in their systems…kidney disease in a kitty is not only ridiculously expensive, but really painful for your furbaby. Even Friskies canned cat food (the McDonald’s of cat food) is better than a bag of the healthiest dry cat food, given my new perspective.
One word of caution if you’re interested in making your own cat food: you either have to be all in and make the full caboodle (meaning, don’t pick and choose what parts of the recipe you’re going to follow because they’re the easy parts and leave out the “hard parts”) or not…if you modify the recipe, the food will be unbalanced and may, over time, cause the kitty to get sick. You’re either in or you’re out. But seriously, it’s not that time consuming and the benefits are so worth the 2 hours of your life every now and then. Now, both the author of the recipe and I skipped the supplements on the first round of home made because we were attempting to see if they’d even go for it. The supplements are a commitment up front (they’re about $70 total), but they last a long time and don’t have to be purchased again for quite a long time. Again, I’m now paying about 23 cents per cat per day versus the $2-3 per cat per day of the canned stuff. I will now spend $250/year on cat food, versus $2190-$3285/year. Did you see that? Up to $3235 savings per year, just in food, and they’re healthier.
Why haven’t I done this before???
I’ll be posting the recipe here in the next day or two so if you’re interested, please stand by.