Friday, December 31, 2010

What to feed your cat -- go ahead and BARF.

You might not have thought much about what to feed your cat. But luckily for you, I have. You see, I had two cats until one died in Sept 2008, and then a year-and-a-half later I gave up Doobie to a great home. My older cat, Tom, was almost 18 when he died of combo hyperthyroidism-kidney failure. In fact and kind of eerily, a friend's cat died at nearly the same time, at the same age, and of the same condition.

So what's this got to do with what to feed your cat? Because when I brought Tom to my vet a few years ago and had a blood test done that confirmed his weight loss was from the hyperthyroidism (which in turn helped minimize the kidney problem), the first thing the vet told me was to get him on a prescription low protein diet.

Now, I'll bet that 95% of people would go along with the vet's recommendation. After all, they have the piece of paper on the wall. And they deal with these problems all the time! But, not being a trusting individual of our "mainstream" medical system, I did some homework.

After many hours of online research including the blogs of several "holistic" vets, together with a holistic pet care book I owned, I decided to forge my own path when it came to Tom's, and Doobie's, diet and discovered things worth sharing.

First of all, 95% of all cat food is complete garbage, shit, crap. I can't emphasize that enough. It's the worst of the worst of our horrible factory-farm food system where chickens and cows are given feed they were never designed to eat and antibiotics to help them survive till slaughter. Secondly, the filler in most cat food (and dog food, which I could easily be talking about in this article too) is grain. The "meat" is typically "by-products" and "meal" (ie, chicken meal).

It gets worse. We give our animals dry kibble, mostly, and when it comes to cats they often keep themselves chronically dehydrated, meaning they won't keep hydrated enough for optimal health with the drinking water alone. They're better off getting wet food (at least alongside the dry kibble, if not replacing it altogether), or else their kidneys get strained over time.

And even if we're giving them "wet" food from a can, it's cooked. Now, how many cats have evolved to eat cooked food, I wonder? I doubt it's been more than 100 years since we've been feeding our pets cooked foods, and their bodies have not had time to evolutionarily adapt. In a nutshell, they're designed to eat RAW, WET, and GRAIN-FREE.

With that preamble, let me make the following recommendations. There are two tiers, "minimal sanity" and "high sanity". I suggest starting wherever you're at, and don't worry if you're in the "insane" category, because that's where you've gotta start.

- filled with grain
- the by-product dregs of our insane factory-farm food system
- meet the "minimum guidelines" for pet food, on paper at least. Usually they toss in lots of synthetic supplements to meet the minimums. Who knows and who cares how well the bodies assimilate the nutrients, as long as they're alive for today, right? Oh, and if the company puts pretty pictures of kitties on the bag and sponsors major pet shows, all the better.

- grain-free
- human-grade ingredients
- kibble, preferably supplemented with wet food. I steer away from recommending wet food only unless your cat doesn't bother the heck out of you to get it a meal..."always available" kibble was the only way I could keep sane with Tom.
- example of optimalness (available at all higher-end pet stores):
  • dry kibble: Innova Evo or Orijen. In Canada Orijen is the winner owing to its Canadian roots
  • wet: Natural Balance Chicken & Liver; Wellness Grain-free varieties; Evanger's Organic

- the above, except RAW. Note, each of the following recommendations comes pre-balanced with greens & supplements.
- my three favorite kinds (all available in frozen serving-size portions), which use hormone- and antibiotic-free meats, some of them free-range and organic:
  • Red Dog Blue Kat (avail. in Victoria at Bosley's on Shelbourne)
  • Nature's Variety (at A Pet's Life)
  • Amore Pet Foods (at Chez Terry's)

You can also make your own raw meals for your kittie, but it takes more work and knowledge and I won't go into that for now. The upside to BARF diet (Biologically Appropriate Raw Food) is that it's what they are meant to eat, and if you supplement with raw chicken bones their teeth will be squeaky clean too. The downside is that you need to make sure it's hygienic as you would with raw meat; you can't just leave out the food and go away for a few days on vacation; and it costs more. But if you can handle that you'll probably have an insanely healthy cat for a long time and hopefully minimize future vet bills. (Not to mention a debatable abatement of vaccines, owing to their now diet-optimized immune systems.)

My own experience? Well, I went with the "minimal sanity" diet from when I first started research, until the time when Tom died. He'd been eating a cooked diet for many years and he was old and decrepit and I didn't want to mess around with BARFing in his case. Along with a natural supplement to help his kidneys, he lasted another two years after being diagnosed. Then one day, he decided to stop eating. You can read about my experience with his final days in an earlier blog post.

After Tom died I went totally sane with Doobie and BARFed. She took to it right away and I never looked back!

DISCLAIMER AND THANKS: I'm not a pet professional, but instead an obsessive- and independent-minded animal lover. I suggest you take some time to do your own homework, or at least consider the "minimal sanity" diet, which doesn't require much change of habit. Thanks to my current cat-sitting and my friend Alix and her cat Django for the inspiration to write this.

FOR FOLLOW-UP: For the pet stores and foods I've recommended, simply look up their names in a search engine. I also recommend:
- Dr. Karen Becker at Mercola Healthy Pets ( )
- search engine terms: "BARF diet" and "holistic pet care"

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