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, 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.
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.