By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker
Today, helping me celebrate day five of Cat Week, are Jae Kennedy and Adrienne Lefebvre, also known as the Two Crazy Cat Ladies. Many people in the pet world know exactly who these two lovely ladies are and what they do, but I asked them to introduce themselves and talk about what they're up to in Las Vegas.
How Two Crazy Cat Ladies Got Its Start
"First of all, we want to thank you so much for having us," says Jae. "We're so excited to be a part of the Cat Week extravaganza. I'm Jae. This is Adrienne. We are proud cat parents of four beautiful boys, ages 6 to 20. We call ourselves crazy cat ladies because we're just really passionate about cats and cat health in general. We've been in the pet nutrition industry since 2005, but we saw a lack of information and products for feline health, specifically.
A few years ago, we started our own company as the Two Crazy Cat Ladies. We launched a line of holistic supplements just for cats. But we really spend the majority of our time just learning, growing and sharing what we've learned as cat parents." "We're just trying to be a resource for other cat parents," says Adrienne. "To help cats live the long and healthy lives they deserve," Jae adds.
Adrienne and Jae are producing great-quality supplements for kitties, and just as importantly they're really committed to educating cat parents on tough topics. Caring for kitties can be difficult. They're not small dogs. They're often misunderstood, and many people can't quite figure out how to live in harmony with them.
Most Cats at Age 10 Are at Mid-life, Not the END of Life
"We love everything feline," says Adrienne. "But one thing we've been really focused on here lately, in the now, is helping cat parents learn how to best provide a good quality life for their 'older' kitties. I think a lot of cat parents, in our experience, feel that when a cat is 10-plus years old, it's kind of the end of the line or something. But a 10-year-old cat is often at mid-life. There's a lot we can do for our cats who are 10 and older."
It's very true that people tend to view their 10-year-old cats as elderly, and unfortunately, veterinarians have perpetuated the myth. We're taught in vet school that once a kitty turns 10, we're supposed to tell clients their pets are now senior citizens.
"I think there's a real stigma that comes with terms like elderly, senior, or old," says Jae. "It kind of paints this picture in our heads of the last stages of life. And that's just not so for most cats who are 10 to 12 years old. But many cat parents aren't doing anything to preserve their pet's well-being because they expect their health to decline at that age. They expect them to break down. They just think it's a part of life.
We also actually hear about cat parents who make the tough decision to euthanize their pet right around that age if they're diagnosed with an illness. They euthanize them because they think they've already lived a full life at 10." "But there's so much that can be done," says Adrienne.
Too Many People Tend to Throw in the Towel on 'Older' Cats
I think part of the issue is that as a society, we're convinced that our bodies are designed to start breaking down at mid-life. As humans, we expect to degenerate organ by organ until we're miserable. When it comes to our pets, we just put them to sleep. Another problem is that veterinarians aren't teaching cat parents how to be proactive when it comes to keeping their pets healthy.
"I agree completely," says Adrienne. "Absolutely, 100 percent agree," adds Jae. "It kind of feels like it's a hopeless situation if you get a diagnosis," Adrienne explains.
"Many people tell us, 'Well, you know, our vet said we've got maybe a few months,' when the problem isn't even something that should be fatal. There are so many things you can do, especially nutritionally, to help postpone the worsening of many conditions." "You can even put diseases and aging in reverse in a lot of cases," adds Jae, "with just a few simple nutritional changes."
"It's kind of frustrating, because we've seen changes with our own eyes," says Adrienne. "We've seen the improvement in our own cats by making small changes. It makes us want to do whatever we can to help people understand there's a better way and a different path that can lead to a longer, happy, healthy life for their cats. They don't have to just accept bad news as the end."
How to Transition Your Cat to a New Diet or Introduce a New Food
Another thing I was taught in vet school, to my ever-lasting frustration, is to never switch a cat's food. I asked Jae and Adrienne what their approach is to feeding a variety of foods to kitties.
"We definitely believe in variety," Jae replied. "Variety when it comes to proteins, variety when it comes to cat food brands if you aren't making your cat's diet from scratch, and variety in homemade cat food as well. Cats fed the same protein over a period of time can actually develop an allergy to it."
"One of ours did," Adrienne adds. "We just recently talked to a great guy, Troy Allison, who is the owner of Fetching Foods, a new raw food company here in Las Vegas. He talked to us about the Swiss cheese effect. If you look at Swiss cheese, there are all of these holes in the cheese, but if you cut it up and stack it differently, all the holes go away.
It's a way to think about combining a variety of proteins and a variety of brands for your cat's meals. If there are any discrepancies or gaps in the nutrition or nutritional balance, those holes get filled.
I feel the 'don't switch your cat's food' thing is often a matter of convenience for cat parents. You find a food your cat likes and that's what you feed all the time. Cats have a reputation for being finicky, and I think many owners don't want to inconvenience themselves trying to get their pets to try new things. But I think variety is really healthy for cats, and it's our responsibility as their guardians to provide that variety to them."
I asked Jae and Adrienne how they approach situations in which cats simply refuse to try new foods.
"We trick them!" says Adrienne. "Our cats aren't fans of lamb," explains Jae, "but we wanted to add lamb to their diet. So we mixed a little bit of lamb in with their turkey, because they love turkey. You can slowly increase the food they don't really like and they will get used to the flavor most of the time."
"Cat parents know their cats best," says Adrienne. "Our kitty Scotch transitioned very quickly to a new diet. He loved it. It was not even an issue. Pooh Bear, on the other hand, took almost six months. You have to find the pace that works for the individual cat.
But it doesn't have to be a big project. It's just little by little and paying attention and making those incremental changes over time at the pace that works best for you and your cat." "Small changes over time," agrees Jae.
Remember: Patience and Perseverance Pays
I asked Adrienne and Jae for their tips and tricks for making food transitions easier on cat parents.
"Our motto is, 'Patience and perseverance pays,'" says Jae. "It's really about continually giving them the option and opportunity to eat better food. As we mentioned earlier, Pooh Bear took six months to transition. We've heard other people say it took a year for their cats. It's really just persevering. It's slow. Take your time. If you're going from kibble to wet, then start mixing in just a small amount of wet, or put it beside the kibble."
"We usually mix in a little bit of what we want to transition them to," says Adrienne. "But sometimes it works better to put the old and new side-by-side so they're eating something they like, but they're also getting a little curious about the food right next to it. I think it's also important to realize it will be a bit heartbreaking as you gradually remove the food they've grown to love."
"Hunger is your friend," adds Jae. "We don't want to starve our cats, but if you put them on routine feeding schedule every day, then they're hungry at those times. When they're hungry, they're going to be more apt to try the food you put down for them, including new food.
Once we got rid of the all-day buffet, as you call it, it really changed everything. It made transitions and adding new foods a lot easier, because they were hungry." "We do want to emphasize not starving them, obviously," says Adrienne. "We just want to use their natural hunger to get them to try new foods. And when you feed them at specific times each day, they end up telling you when it's time to eat."
Why You MUST Close Your All-Day Kitty Buffet and Switch Your Cats to a Consistent Mealtime Schedule
Speaking of the dreaded all-day buffet (my term for free feeding), even many veterinarians tell their clients to do it. "Just leave food down for them." When a cat parent finally decides to close the buffet, they wind up saying, "The second I pick up the bowl, my cat starts crying and won't stop."
"That's the heartbreaking part for me," Adrienne admits. "When we started becoming interested in pet nutrition, we thought all we needed to do was move to a higher[-]quality kibble. Then when we realized we still weren't impacting our cats' health in the way we wanted to, we knew we had to get rid of the kibble. That was a very hard transition for me. Jae was very cut-and-dried about what we were and weren't going to do for the cats. I had a harder time with it."
"She was still giving them kibble," says Jae. "It was very hard for me," explains Adrienne, "because they were crying for it, and it was heartbreaking. But you do have to stop the free feeding. It's the first step in building a mealtime routine for your cats."
"The routine also helps with their stress levels," Jae says. "It might be hard at first, but in the long run, they get used to eating at a specific time. These days if I have to go to a meeting or something and I feed them a little early, they look at me as if to say, 'It's not time to eat, mom!' They know their feeding times. Nutritionally, they're less stressed, but I think environmentally as well."
"They love their mealtime routine," says Adrienne. "They start looking for their food about five minutes before they know it's due." "Fifteen minutes for Scotch!" Jae clarifies.
Can an Older Cat Be Transitioned to a Healthier Diet?
I have found that the younger a kitty is when you start introducing variety into the diet, the better. It's much easier with a kitten than an adult cat, but it's not impossible. I don't buy the notion that an 8- or 9- or 10-year-old cat is just too old to be transitioned to a better diet. I asked Adrienne and Jae for their thoughts on transitioning older cats. "It is never too late," they both replied.
"We transitioned our oldest cat when we was 18," Jae says. "He had just turned 18. We took him into the vet for a routine checkup. He had elevated kidney levels and of course they wanted to put him on a prescription diet. We were going to have nothing to do with that, so that was really the turning point.
We had been doing a little bit here and there, but hadn't transitioned them fully. That was the point where I said, 'Okay, you know what, we're doing it. We're putting them on a high-quality raw diet.'"
I asked Jae and Adrienne for their thoughts on the best food for older cats.
"A diet with high-quality protein," answered Jae. "There's still this myth out there that older cats need less protein in their diet. That's absolutely not true. Older cats actually need more protein in their daily diet. They just need a higher[-]quality protein.
The best thing you can do no matter what age your cat is, is to transition to a species-appropriate, raw or lightly cooked, high-protein, high-quality diet. In our case, our older cats transitioned easily. I think it's because with age comes wisdom!" "But I do think it depends on the cat," Adrienne added.
Digestive Enzymes, Probiotics, Omega-3s and Antioxidants for Aging Kitties
At some point every cat's body starts to age. Joint stiffness and other signs of aging appear, such as vision problems and kidney disease. I asked Jae and Adrienne to share some of their suggestions for slowing down the physical degeneration that comes with aging in cats.
"First, of course, is a species-appropriate diet," Jae replies. "In addition, we suggest digestive enzymes and probiotics added to every meal. Those are really important, regardless of your cat's age. Omega-3s are also super helpful, especially for aging kitties." "Supplementing omega-3s is really important when you see stiffness in your cat and the coat starting to look a little scraggly," says Adrienne.
"We can't say enough about the importance of antioxidants for aging cats, specifically antioxidant enzymes, like superoxide dismutase," says Jae. "The way we explain it to our clients is that free radicals are like villains that come into our bodies as the result of the aging process, poor[-]quality diets, heavy metal toxins, and other things like that.
It's unavoidable, the buildup of free radicals in the body, and they contribute to organ degeneration. Antioxidants, however, are what we call the heroes that come in and rescue us from the free radicals."
"We need to have puppets for this," jokes Adrienne. "Antioxidants rescue our organs from damage from free radicals," Jae continues. "They help rebuild and repair a lot of the damage. So antioxidants are a top priority when it comes to aging cats." "They slow down the degeneration," adds Adrienne. "We can't stop the clock, but we can definitely help our cats stay healthy longer."
How to Get Your Cat to Accept Supplements
Cats seem to have almost a sixth sense about any "extras" we want to give them. I swear they can even sense when we're at the store buying something to slip into their mouths or food bowl! I asked Adrienne and Jae for suggestions on how to give supplements to kitties.
"Again, it's a trickery thing," answers Jae. "Find something tasteless." "Find something tasteless that you can mix into their food," Adrienne says, "so you're not administering anything to them. Just mix it into their food so they don't even know they're swallowing it."
"Sometimes that means adding in a little bit of tuna water or chicken broth," adds Jae. "Or some other flavor they really like to disguise the supplement. And keep in mind that things that are tasteless to us can be smelled, tasted, and rejected by our cats."
"Every cat is different," says Jae. "Some cats you have to trick, some cats you don't. With some cats you just have to put it in their favorite food, with others you have to get more creative." "We're huge fans of supplements in liquid or powder form that don't have a potent smell or taste," says Adrienne.
I sometimes start a new supplement with a very low dose — I call it a whisper — and then work my way up to a therapeutic dose. That can be helpful as well.
"Definitely," agrees Adrienne. "Sometimes when we're supplementing, it's helpful to start with a lower dose than what is recommended, so you can kind of sneak it in there and get your cat used to something new in his food. And then over time, you slowly build up to the dose necessary to help with the issue you're trying to address."
How to Learn More or Get in Touch With the Two Crazy Cat Ladies
I asked Jae and Adrienne if they have any additional tips for cat parents who want to focus proactively on their pet's wellness.
"Our motto is always just to continue learning, sharing, and growing every day," Jae answered. "We encourage cat parents to go beyond what they hear at their veterinarian's office and learn more. And they can always come to us. We're available on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), at our Two Crazy Cat Ladies website, or via phone for advice or help. We always say that if we don't have the answer, we'll help you find it. We're all learning and growing together."
"Once we know better, we do better," says Adrienne. "Cats aren't known for being needy, but they do have needs, especially nutritionally. There is so much we can do nutritionally and environmentally to help them live their best life. We always say, 'A little bit goes a long way.' Just get started. It's the best thing you can do for your cats. We try to be a resource for people. When you have questions or you need support, we try to be there for you, just Two Crazy Cat Ladies!"
Together, Jae and Adrienne are a wonderful resource for cat parents worldwide. I appreciate all they are doing to help our kitty companions live a longer, happier, healthier life. Many thanks to both of them for spending some time with us today