Food as Medicine


Today we are going to take a break from our regularly scheduled equine programming to take a look at another species . . . one that many of you might have in your homes or barns. The house cat. But this is also tale (or should I say, tail?) that I believe can be applied to your horses: how proper nutrition is essential for good health.

Pounce and my daughter
Pounce is my daughter’s kitten. She insisted she wanted a girl kitten who was black with white. So I told the animal control office to lie!

Pounce, the handsome tuxedo cat in the photo, has been part of our family since he was just five weeks old, about 16 1/2 years ago. Plucked from the streets of Waltham by the local animal control officer. We paid $20 for him.

Fast forward to last December when I could tell Pounce was ailing. He’s always been a zaftig cat, but he’d lost weight and his coat looked scruffy. The big tell was how much he was drinking. It strongly suggested kidney disease. Cats with kidney disease tend to drink a lot of water, and they urinate a lot, as the body tries to work around the kidney insufficiency by flushing extra waste products out of their system.

This was confirmed when I took him to the vet. Not only were his kidneys failing, but his bloodwork showed creatine levels of 3.9. High stage 3 in a chart that tops out Stage 4. He also weighed only 12 pounds, down from his high weight of 16. My vet explained how common this was and said that the progression of the disease might be controlled through proper diet but that he might only have a year or two left.

Most veterinarians, including mine, suggest a prescription renal food which is low in protein, phosphorous and sodium. However, when I asked if all three of our cats could eat this food, she told me no, that the low protein causes muscle wastage. She warned that many of the renal prescription food were unpalatable to cats and that could exacerbate weight loss so I might have to try a few.

That got me thinking. And researching. I talked to a friend that has more of a holistic small animal practice. I joined a Facebook group. Based on what I learned, it seemed that many (not all) cats respond well to a raw food diet — basically, human grade protein that is also lower in phosphorous. Dry kibble is not recommended because kidney impaired cats are already dehydrated  and a lot of canned foods, especially those with “gravy” are extremely high in phosphorous. Renal food helps some, but other cats lose too much weight. You don’t want your CKD cat to starve to death while trying to slow the disease down!

One of the first steps recommended was to find a high quality canned food that is low in phosphorous. My cats were already eating Wellness Core Grain Free, which seemed to fit the bill but it obviously wasn’t doing enough.

Stella & Chewy's
The cats have spoken. Stella & Chewy’s Chick, Chick Chicken is the hands down winner in the taste test.

Next step was to find a raw food diet that the cats would eat. That proved harder than anticipated. All three of them turned up their noses at real raw food. While they will catch the occasional mouse, none of them are interested in eating food that is raw! Finally, I found a dehydrated raw food that all three of them scarf down — Stella & Chewy’s Chick, Chick, Chicken (none of the other flavors are acceptable, but this one conveniently has the lowest phosphorous of the brand). Before feeding, I add water. In addition to their new food, I also give them fish oil, which helps reduce inflammation, and an herbal supplement called Kidney Support Gold.

This September, nine months after the vet gave her verdict, I brought him back. She barely recognized him! His coat is glossy, he’d gained three pounds, and his creatine levels had dropped to 2.7. She declared him a stable Stage 2 and told me that whatever I was doing, not to stop. Pounce has more energy and looks so much healthier, it’s nothing short of a miracle. We are hoping that his renewed health means he’ll have a lot more years with us.

I’m convinced that what’s really made the difference is the raw food diet. It’s also reinforced for me that proper nutrition and a proper diet, is essential for feline, equine and human health.

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10 thoughts on “Food as Medicine

  1. I could go on for days about the foods we feed our carnivore friends. The biggest canard is the one where dogs are ‘omnivores’—argh. That’s just the dog food companies trying to convince you that corn is good for dogs (it certainly is much cheaper for the dog food company than making their food with real meat.)
    My neighbor has a cat who’s had the same renal problems as yours, and the vets said the same thing: low protein foods only. But the cat doesn’t like them, so she’s forced to infuse him with saline solution twice a week and hope he eats the ‘prescription’ food the vet frightened her into buying.
    One of my best friends lives in Texas. She rescues Labs from the shelters, rehabs them, and rehomes them. She’s done this for at least 400 Labrador retrievers. She takes the hard cases: the ones with skin issues, seizures, etc. And the first thing she does is take them off the ubiquitous corn based kibble and puts them on raw foods. It takes about a week for their metabolisms to purge the junk. She feeds the dogs a raw turkey leg or half a chicken (only thing missing is the feathers) and within a few weeks, their skin improves, they stop seizing, their poop stops stinking, etc. It’s amazing.
    I feed my cats as much raw food as they’ll take (and I can afford) but..as you note, one of them, a purebred Siamese, just can’t handle too much raw, so I feed her kibble with no grain whatsoever and ‘people food’ like canned salmon, cooked chicken, etc.

    One way you might want to consider getting more water into your cat is to feed them beef stock. I make my own…in a crockpot, cover with water a pound of cubed, good lean raw beef..chuck is fine. I put in about 8 cups of water. Put it on low and let it cook down for several hours. Take it out, let it sit overnight to allow any fat to solidify. Skim off the fat, put up the stock in pint glass jars and freeze. Especially in summer, they get a bowlful of beef stock every other day. Somedays they wolf it down and other days they pass it by…but it does get water into them.

    1. I actually feel guilty now about what I fed our dogs, which was mostly kibble. Thanks for the recipe, I will try that. Anything to keep Pounce hydrated. I never had to do Sub Q (thank goodness) and even when he looked the worst he never stopped eating altogether.

  2. I switched my dog to raw food back in April. I was having a hard time maintaining a good weight on a healthy, active 2yo corgi on kibble, I was feeding such a tiny amount that there was no way she was getting all the nutrition she needed. The difference is amazing, she is maintaining her weight, has good energy, and no longer poops like she’s a German Shepard, lol! I recently joined a raw feeding Facebook group that has been a big help filling in nutritional gaps in my DIY raw. https://www.facebook.com/groups/rawfeedinguniversity/ They have a sister group called CatCentric as well. If you would like to pursue DIY raw (I know premade is super expensive) join the group, they have a lot of good information on transitioning picky cats onto raw!

    1. Glad to hear that transitioning to raw has had such a positive effect on your Corgi (one of my favorite breeds!). I’m hoping that moving to raw now will also keep our other two cats healthier as they are only 9 or 10. I’ve tried a couple of times to feed homemade raw and even bought the various mixes that you add to raw. I’ll check out the group and see if they have any other tips because so far all three cats refuse to eat it. You are correct. Premade raw is wickedly expensive, but probably not as bad as more vet bills.

      1. Check out the Perfectly Rawsome website too, they have a picky cat transition guide also. I want to switch my 2 cats but I’m dreading it, our female has recently started refusing canned food which she used to love so switching to raw might be a nightmare!

  3. I tore my desk apart and finally found the link to the best cat food information website ever.
    It’s

    catinfo.org
    The veterinarian who created it posts a 67 page long report:

    https://catinfo.org/docs/CatFoodProteinFatCarbPhosphorusChart.pdf

    Written by Lisa Pierson, DVM, she …highly unusual for a veterinarian..espouses raw food. She did the hard work. She looked at EVERY canned cat food available, broke them all down into constituents:-the nutritional composition of all the canned (i.e. moist) cat foods. She lists them in the amounts of Protein/carbs/fat and tells you what brands are junk and what are good ones. My veterinarian told me about it and said my cats should be on a 50/10/40 diet, where 50 is protein, 10 is carbs (she said no MORE than 10 carbs) and 40 is fats.
    This is an incredibly informative website. Peirson also says the same thing this biologist has been saying for years..cats, especially, are obligate carnivores and feeding them ‘corn based’ foods is merely poisoning them slowly.
    Interestingly..and perhaps tellingly…Petsmart refused to give her any information on what they were putting in their house brand of cat foods.

    Don’t feel too guilty, Liz. We all grew up feeding our pets Gravy Train and Meow mix, and now we know better. But we had to learn.

    She also tells you how you can switch your cats to a raw food diet.
    Not to blow my own horn, but I blogged about the pet food industry years ago:

    https://throughthebridlelightly.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/corn-based-pet-foods-are-poisonous-to-your-pets/

    posted August 2012

  4. I can’t figure out why my addendum to my comment didn’t go through, but here goes again, edited:
    Go to
    catinfo.org

    and check out the veterinarian who created the website. She did a ton of research on cat foods and tells you what your cat needs in the way of Protein/Carbs/Fat. For instance, my vet told me my cats need a 50/10/40 diet to be healthy..and they are.

    https://catinfo.org/docs/CatFoodProteinFatCarbPhosphorusChart.pdf

    Not to blow my own horn, but I blogged about this very same topic several years ago:

    https://throughthebridlelightly.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/corn-based-pet-foods-are-poisonous-to-your-pets/

    Don’t feel too badly, Liz, about what you fed your cats. We all made the same mistakes.

    1. Great post on the pet food. You are right. We trust our vets and many of them sell our pets out to the big feed companies. I’d forgotten about the catinfo.org site. It’s packed full of information. My friend who is a vet recommended it. Thinking back to what I’ve fed our pets over the years I’m amazed most of them lived so long. We had two cats that lived until 19/20. I realize now that one of them most certainly had kidney disease and we had no idea how to treat it. Just yesterday someone posted on a private group that I belong to that her cat has Creatine levels of 5.7! Her vet gave her the worst, most useless advice . . .

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