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The Cat’s Meow : Happy Bellies – What We Feed Our Kittens

It sparks a certain sense of pride to hear Sawyer say “you’re so good with him” when it comes to my relationship with my cat, Gatsby.  Yes, we say our cats.  Yes, I absolutely adore Penelope.  They both mean the world to me.  But as most cat moms and dads know, cats form a strong bond with one human and familial bonds with everyone else.  Gatsby and I have a strong bond, and it makes me happy beyond words to hear Sawyer comment on the bond that we share.  And Penelope, well, she’s more daddy’s little girl.  You win some, you lose some.

The kittens are nearly a year old now.  Over the course of the 10+ months that we’ve had them, they have both developed incredibly distinct personalities.  Sawyer and I marvel over them each and every day.  They are such a gift, and they are – of course – valued furry family members!  As family members, we want our kittens to receive the best care and treatment at home and as we expect for ourselves, and that includes diet regimens.  Just as we pick and choose healthy foods for ourselves, so we also do for our cats.  Health and happy bellies are at the top of the list when it comes to what is important for the well-roundedness of their lives.  Sawyer and I like to stick to a healthy, simple diet that is made up of mainly raw foods: raw veggies, unprocessed foods, and ethically-attained meats.  The ingredient labels on our food packages are simple and straightforward.  I believe the ingredient labels for my cats’ food should be just as uncomplicated.

Sawyer and I have friends who just celebrated 22 years with their cat, and while it’s difficult to imagine myself at 47 years old, I would love nothing more than to give Gatsby and Penelope the opportunity to live to the ripe old age of 22.  For an indoor cat, a healthy life depends a lot upon diet.  Cats are natural-born predators and have existed for hundreds of years by stalking, trapping, and killing their own prey for food.  I’ve been asked quite often why I don’t let my cats outdoors.  There are many reasons for this, including the heightened risks of feline leukemia, poisoned food, cat fights, fleas, ticks, worms, abscesses, getting lost, getting stolen, human cruelty, pesticides, cold and/or rainy weather, and many others while cats are outdoors, I’m generally worried that my kittens might get hit by a car simply because we live on a busy three-lane street.

The average life of an outdoor cat is around two to three years, whereas an indoor cat can live to be much older than that (in the case of our friends’ cat, 22 years!).  I would enjoy nothing more than many years of companionship with these two fluff balls.  Gatsby and Penelope are less prone to health problems caused by toxins they might ingest while outside hunting and exploring, less likely to get injured or lost, and happy with an enriched environment in our apartment, specifically catering to their needs.  Although I have no qualms admitting it, I would be lying if I said I didn’t have specific furniture for the kittens.  This furniture goes beyond food and water dishes and expands into a 36” scratching post and a two compartment kitten condo with attached perch and dangly enrichment toys.  Not to mention every single box we bring into the apartment has at least a week’s run on the floor in our common area so that the kittens can nap, play, and explore the secret wonders of each cardboard flap.

There is little to question when speaking of enrichment: their surroundings tell it all.  I wouldn’t feel quite as at home in Sunrise Spot if I didn’t pick up at least three toys from the floor when I return home from work each evening.  The kittens like to pick and choose which toys they’d like to play with on certain days, or where they’d like to nap while Sawyer and I are curled up on the sofa for a movie in the evening.  They are fussy about the little intricacies (they grow bored of too much of the same), which reflects a feline intelligence that I admire in them.  What they aren’t fussy about is what Sawyer and I feed them.

Meal times are a scheduled occurrence in Sunrise Spot.  7:15 AM breakfast.  5:30 PM dinner.  Gatsby, should I not automatically wake up in the morning around 7:00 AM, promptly rips the comforter off the bed to get me up for breakfast (thankfully this behavior doesn’t occur often).  Both kittens wait patiently by the door to greet me when I come home from work at 5:15, let me scratch each of them behind their ears, and then stalk off to wait by their bowl for supper.  It is a routine that all of us have adopted.  It is a simple schedule that reflects our lifestyle, so I considered this question: why can’t the food be as simple as the schedule?

The answer I came up with: it can be!

Many veterinarians – while wonderful with cats and knowledgeable about many different issues that could crop up over the lifetime of your feline family member – are not quite as savvy when it comes to feline nutrition.  The most commonly available resource for nutritional information for both the public and (like it or not) our veterinarian are large pet food companies that market “prescription” diets.  This is forgivable, certainly, as they provide essential care for your fuzzy friend, but it’s important to know what’s good for your cat to eat (check out this condensed informational paper on basic dietary needs for your cat here).

Sawyer and I definitely had a bit of a learning curve when it came to our cats’ diets.  When we rescued them, they were on a Purina kitten chow diet, which was definitely not something we stuck with.  We have switched their primary food source several different times (thankfully they have been excited to try out new things), trying to weed out grains, vegetable and plant matter and highly processed and cooked meat products.  It’s no wonder cats suffer from so many diet-related diseases when they are given food products that have never been in the natural diet of an obligate carnivore.  I can attest to being completely overwhelmed by the ingredients list on the back of a package of food, whether it be for myself or for the cats.  I just wanted something simple, straightforward, and a healthy provision of necessary nutrients for my family members.

Because of the overwhelming ingredient labels overwhelmed with ingredients added as supplements to provide for a lack of healthiness in the dietary plan, I have recently opted out of kitty kibble completely.  We are still in the phasing out stage, with the kittens getting a quarter scoop of Evo Turkey & Chicken formula each day, mixed in with their new options.  We have a great locally-owned and operated pet food store in the Burlington area that houses not only food, toys, and other pet necessities but incredibly knowledgeable employees.  While my decision to be rid of dried food was not fully inspired by an employee at this store (instead by extensive research, thoughtful conversations with other cat owners, and the information that pet store employees offered me), they definitely helped me come to a final conclusion about it: it’s not natural.  Evo boasts 87% high-quality animal ingredients, 13% fruits & vegetables, and 0% grain, gluten, or potato.  As a dry food, Evo is top-notch.  However, cats do not have the ability to digest vegetable or fruit products; they are born and bred to eat whole, raw prey.  They simply are not meant to be nibbling on carrot sticks or kale.

Although the kibble I picked out for my kittens is “low carbohydrate”, cooked and dried foods such as kibble degrades the nutrients in the meat product and therefore offers less to your cat.  Before I decided to make a change, I mixed the kittens’ Evo kibble with BFF (Best Feline Friend) wet food including canned food and pouched food options.  These options deliver high moisture content, which important to a cat’s diet because the raw prey cats naturally select as sustenance contain essential moisture.  BFF is grain and gluten free and their main ingredients are red meats or dark meats from tuna (skipjack or bonito – both highly sustainable species) which are wild caught and certified dolphin safe.  The factory also operates at the international standard for human food processing – which sort of makes a cat mom like me feel better knowing that my kitten and I are both eating standard-meeting/exceeding foods.  However, BFF – like all canned food companies – have to add water to their ingredients list.  I couldn’t feed them a full diet of BFF only – their teeth would rot within a year.  They needed something more substantial (I do have a can or two of BFF for a special treat every once in a while).

I have begun the switch my cats over to a raw food diet.  I know the stigma (my mother reminds me at least once a month) that cats will start eating you if you should pass away and leave them without food, and raw food might exacerbate that.  “Sleep with one eye open,” my mother always says (stop it, mom).  If I’m honest – and I try to be – I’m not all that concerned with waking up with nine fingers or toes instead of ten.  I’ve chosen to try out Oma’s Pride poultry with the kittens.  Unlike some raw food companies, Oma’s Pride does not flash-pasteurize their pet foods, so all the intended nutrients are still included when you open that package.  So far, so good, and dang is that ingredient label simple and straightforward!  I was worried that perhaps they might be missing something with this diet that they had been getting with the dried kibble, but once I reminded myself that cats are natural-born predators, that clean ingredient label – no more than FIVE ingredients on that Oma’s Pride label (no supplements added!) – was the best decision for a simple, natural feline diet.

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As a first-time cat mom, I admit that it was incredibly overwhelming at points when trying to understand my cats’ dietary needs.  As family members, I go above and beyond to provide them with the best of everything, including food.  I have found that, when it comes to food, simplicity in the label often points to a high-quality, healthy diet for my kittens.  I have noticed a great deal more energy, playfulness, and sociability in both of them as I begin switching them over to a raw diet.  I feel confident that, without the vast ingredients list of additives that was once such a confusing mess, my kittens are getting the quality diet that they need to thrive for many years to come thanks to a clean ingredient list.

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