By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker
Last week was Cat Week here at Mercola Healthy Pets — a whole week dedicated exclusively to feline behavior and health. I interviewed several knowledgeable, passionate cat experts last week, and I hope all of you who love kitties got a lot from the videos and articles. Today I'd like to offer a few of my own tips collected from years of experience as a proactive wellness veterinarian with many cat patients, as well as a parent to several kitties over the years.
My Top 5 Tips for Cat Guardians
#1: View the world as your cat does
Think about the world from your cat's perspective, apply that perspective to the environment you offer her in your home, and then make necessary adjustments to decrease her stress and increase her joy.
Often we get so busy with our own lives that we lose awareness of what it's like to walk in someone else's shoes (or paws), including loved ones we share our home with. Sometimes it's easy to tell there's something wrong with a feline housemate due a change in her behavior, for example, lack of grooming, hiding, or more or fewer vocalizations.
But what about when your cat is acting normally? Do you ever try to view her world through her eyes during those times? I think it's an exercise worth doing. Some questions to ask yourself:
- How clean and comfortable is her cat bed or wherever she hangs out most of the time?
- How strong is the smell of household cleaners after a thorough housecleaning? What does kitty's nose tell her when you spray perfume, or scented room or upholstery deodorizers around the house?
- What condition is her bathroom (litterbox) in? Is it in a low-traffic area? Is it clean?
- What is there for her to do all day? Can she look out the window and feel the sun on her face?
- Does she really enjoy her food? Is she bored eating the same food all the time?
I've found this exercise to be extremely helpful in getting cat parents to really think in terms of how their kitty feels about sharing an environment that has been designed and personalized for humans.
I had one client, a lovely 20-something musician who told me, "I never thought about the fact that Jack (his cat) probably HATES band practice nights. It's loud and we play long into the night with all the lights on. He hides the entire next day and we just thought he was sleeping off the party, but he was probably terrified."
I think we assume our pets automatically and easily adjust to our individual lifestyles. We don't regularly check in with them and make sure they're okay, or consider the possibility that the environment or lifestyle we're offering them might be negatively impacting them.
Just recently, the owner of a geriatric cat told me, "I can't believe the difference we both felt when I started raising the window shades and blinds every morning. We both feel so much better! I have a kitten again!" Little changes can make a big difference in your cat's quality of life and even her health.
Another client told me her cat's asthma symptoms went away after she changed to all organic cleaning supplies. That cat's respiratory health was radically improved because her owner was attentive to how her home environment was affecting her kitty.
#2: Sneak fresh food into your cat's diet
If you have a kitty who's addicted to kibble, try replacing 5 pieces of dry food a day with 1/16th teaspoon of fresh food (try one of these recipes). While it's true getting a kibble-addicted cat off junk food can be tricky, it's not impossible. Start by calculating how many calories your cat needs per day using the following formula:
First, convert your cat's weight to kilograms by dividing her weight in pounds by 2.2. Let's say she weighs 15 pounds:
15 pounds divided by 2.2 = 6.82 kilograms
Next, multiply your cat's weight in kilograms by 30 and then add 70 to that result:
6.82 kilos x 30 = 205 + 70 = 275
Now multiply that result by 0.8:
275 x 0.8 = 220
To maintain your cat's weight at 15 pounds, she should be fed 220 calories per day. If she needs to lose a few pounds, substitute her ideal weight for her current weight in the formula. Next, measure out an amount of food equal to the daily calories she needs, then remove 5 or 6 pieces of kibble and replace it with fresh food. After a few days, remove an additional 5 pieces of kibble and add another 1/16th to 1/18th teaspoon of fresh food.
Over time (sometimes months) you can slowly wean your addicted kitty to a much healthier addiction: species appropriate food! You can also add bone broth to the dry food to decrease the pleasurable crunch. (Who obsesses about soggy potato chips? No one!) The moisture is not only good for her, but it makes it harder for her to avoid the fresh food mixed in with the kibble.
If you can't afford to feed an entirely fresh food diet, replace as much processed food with fresh food as possible given your budget. And it's extremely important to feed a diet that is nutritionally complete whether you make the food at home or buy a commercially frozen fresh food diet.
You can find out if a cat food recipe is complete and balanced by asking the person or company who created it to send you the nutritional analysis of the food. Companies that care about long term nutritional adequacy are proud to share their analyses results with you.
If they haven't analyzed their recipe or food, it means they're guessing at nutritional adequacy. Sadly, many commercially available raw foods aren't appropriately evaluated to assure minimum nutrient requirements are met, and this will cause health problems over time.
Nutrients for a balanced diet come from a variety of foods or from supplements. You'll see in the recipes I've provided that I offer some options for cats to consume all their required nutrients from whole foods (expensive, but feasible) as well as some options to minimize expensive ingredients by incorporating supplements into the diets;
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Many foods contain trace amounts of zinc, but very few (excluding mussels, clams, and oysters) provide enough to meet a cat's minimum requirements (18.80 mg per 1000 kcals).
In the wild, cats meet their zinc requirements by consuming the eyes of prey animals because they contain the choroid, which provides 15,000 - 90,000 ppm zinc. They also consume male sex organs, which contain 175 ppm zinc); rodent hair, which provides 38 percent of their daily zinc requirement; and teeth, which provide 20 to 30 percent of their daily requirement.1
I assume most people don't have access to the pieces and parts of prey animals that wild cats consume to meet their zinc requirements, so we use other whole foods to "fill in the nutritional holes" in the diet.
High-zinc whole foods are expensive, but your only options are to 1) include them despite their cost, 2) include a zinc supplement to meet minimum nutrient levels, or 3) knowingly feed a zinc-deficient diet (this is obviously a terrible option — please don't choose it). The same holds true for many other nutrients as well, including vitamins D and E, choline, taurine, copper and manganese.
Many species-appropriate foods contain trace amounts of specific nutrients, but not enough to meet a cat's significant requirements for several vitamins and minerals. For instance, liver provides several nutrients in very small quantities and vitamin A in very high quantities, depending on the species of liver fed.
For instance, if you feed enough free range beef liver to meet a cat's daily selenium requirements, you'll be providing excessive and potentially toxic levels of vitamin A and methionine. One pound of free-range beef liver contains these nutrients (the yellow highlights are nutrients that are deficient or exceed safe upper limits):
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Likewise, a pound of pasture-raised chicken livers contains vitamin D (factory-farmed chicken livers do not contain enough vitamin D to meet minimum requirements), but inadequate levels of iron and copper to balance the diet. So when you see a recipe that says to add "meat" or "liver" without specifying the source of the protein (the animal it comes from) or the leanness percentage (amount of fat in the meat), you know the recipe hasn't been analyzed for nutritional adequacy.
And here's a caution about whole food multivitamins such as spirulina and microalgae. These are excellent sources of most of the nutrients required by cats, but they are at almost homeopathic levels, meaning miniscule, insufficient amounts. In fact, in the example below, two pounds of spirulina added to a typical "prey model 80/10/10" diet still doesn't balance the recipe for micronutrients (and no cat will eat two pounds of any supplement).
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#3: Learn how to make bone broth
Not only is bone broth a fabulous way to wean cats off dry food, but it's a great way to keep older kitties eating and hydrated. It can also make medications delivered by syringe much more palatable to kitties. Bone broth is also an excellent topper (regardless of what your cat is eating) if you're looking for a delicious way to increase nutritional density. Here's a video to get you started:
#4: Get your cat moving
A few suggestions:
Make sure your cat has things to climb on, like a multi-level cat tree or tower.
Invest in a laser toy, either an inexpensive one, or something a bit more sophisticated like the Frolicat™ line.
Choose toys and activities that appeal to your cat's hunting instinct.
Don't overlook old standbys, like dragging a piece of string across the floor in view of your cat. Ping-pong balls are another oldie but goodie, along with bits of paper rolled into balls, and any light object that can be made to move fast and in unexpected ways.
Consider walking your cat in nice weather using a harness. This gets him out into the fresh air, stimulates his senses and gets his paws in direct contact with the ground. An alternative is a safe, fully enclosed porch or patio (a "catio") that prevents your cat from getting out and other animals from getting in.
Also consider using food as "movement motivation" with tools such as Doc & Phoebe's Indoor Hunting Feeder.
Check out my interview with celebrity cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy for more ideas on how to challenge your cat both physically and mentally. Jackson has also published several books on creating feline environmental enrichment around the house that I highly recommend.
#5: Be a minimalist in your use of any and all chemicals
Cats are exquisitely sensitive creatures. They're sensitive to noise, chemicals, medications, pollutants, air quality — the list is endless. If you have an outdoor cat and you live in Wisconsin, during the summer months she may be at risk for fleas and ticks, but even then, what's the worst-case scenario? She may get tapeworms from fleas, but thankfully, our feline friends are highly resistant to heartworm and other tick borne diseases that plague even the healthiest of canines.
Indoor housecats not exposed to other animals don't need monthly pesticide application (fleas come from other animals) or annual vaccines (infectious diseases come from other animals). Vaccines don't magically wear off after 365 days — most last a lifetime. When it comes to the kitty in your life, reducing unnecessary veterinary chemical exposure is as important as reducing household and food chemical exposure.