Help Your Cat Go Green at Mealtime

From using biodegradable kitty litter to replacing store-bought toys with safe household objects, like some feathers and string, cat lovers are demonstrating that they love the environment too. It’s only natural that the concern over pollution from pets would extend to cat food.

“Being eco-conscious is not something you do for yourself and not for your pets,” says Don Reisinger, sales and marketing director for New Age Pet, maker of the ecoConcepts Pet Bowls. “If you’re going to do it right, you need to be eco-conscious right across the board.”

The Green Cat Movement
As you seek out more natural foods for yourself and continue to recycle packaging, think about doing so for your cat. Here are tips on how to make your cat’s dinnertime more eco-friendly:

1. Look for natural ingredients. A growing number of consumers have begun using the standard of minimally processed foods when deciding what to feed their cat. The Association of American Feed Control Officials, which regulates the pet food industry, defines natural food as “… derived solely from plant, animal or mined sources … not containing any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic except in amounts as might occur unavoidably in good manufacturing practices.” Increasingly, pet food makers are putting ingredients in cat food that people understand are healthy, such as chicken, salmon, carrots, spinach and omega-3-rich fish oil.

2. Recycle food packaging.
“Canned food packaging is very recyclable. It’s the greener alternative as far as ability to recycle is concerned,” says Christine Mallar, owner of Green Dog Pet Supply in Portland, Ore. Makers of dry cat food often look to create stability for ingredients and sometimes use waxy or coated paper for bags. “If there are layers, we tear off the outer layers and recycle the paper part on the outside and leave the liner to the garbage,” says Mallar.

3. Buy bowls made of recycled matter.
Eco-friendly food and water bowls on the market include: recycled plastics and glass; stainless steel, which is durable and doesn’t often get scratch marks where bacteria can hide; and locally made, lead-free ceramic bowls, which cut down on the use of fossil fuels used to transport the goods.

4. Serve filtered or recirculated water.
To provide your cat with good-quality water and help the environment, choose filtered tap water. It removes metals and pollutants from your water supply. Avoid bottled water, which often ends up in landfills unless it is properly recycled. Pet water fountains, which recirculate water, are also a good way to entice your kitty to drink more because the water tastes fresher. When changing the water, use it for plants instead of pouring it down the drain.

5. Use recycled place mats.
Avoid mopping up the floor under the cat’s bowl by purchasing a place mat made of recycled material. “For anything you’re buying for your pets or yourself, you should consider what it is made of, where it is coming from, how long it will last and what happens with it when you’re done,” says Mallar. She sells fair-trade place mats made in Africa from Global Mamas that are batik on one side and plastic recovered from landfills on the other side.

“For too many decades,” Reisinger says, “we just bought what we wanted and did not pay attention to the environment.” With just a few simple changes, you can help to make a positive difference.

Why Your Cat Won’t Eat

Cats have a reputation for being particular about their diets, because they like their favorite foods served at just the right time and place.

If your cat quits eating, however, your swift action is critical, says Dr. Marla J. McGeorge, a veterinarian who runs a feline-only practice in Portland, Ore. “If your cat doesn’t eat for more than a day, it should go to the veterinarian,” she advises. “It doesn’t take very long for cats to develop a liver disease from not eating.” Liver failure occurs when fat accumulates in the liver due to a lack of protein.

Common Problems
Recognizing the typical reasons cats stop eating is a first step in protecting and helping your kitty. Your cat’s loss of appetite could be caused by one of these issues:

  • Respiratory infection The ability to smell is a trigger for your cat to eat, says McGeorge. If your kitty sneezes, suffers from watery eyes and sounds congested, it probably won’t show enthusiasm for its dinner.
  • Nausea If your cat frequently licks its lips, approaches the food dish, then backs away, it’s likely nauseated, says McGeorge. It’s difficult to tell if your cat has eaten something that upset its stomach or if it suffers from liver disease or other illnesses that cause nausea. Your veterinarian might order laboratory tests that will help clear the mystery, says McGeorge.
  • Pain or trauma It’s a good idea to examine your cat for wounds or injuries, says Dr. Josie Thompson, a veterinarian who runs a cats-only clinic in Walnut Creek, Calif. The resulting pain or underlying infection could understandably decrease your cat’s hunger.
  • Ingestion of foreign objects or poison Plants, string, ribbon and pieces of toys can become obstructions, possibly even poisoning your kitty.
  • Age-related issues “Older cats are more at risk due to kidney problems, bowel disorders, heart disease and cancer,” explains Thompson. Older cats might suffer from arthritis, limiting their ability to bend to food bowls located on the ground. As cats age, such dental problems as abscessed teeth and bleeding gums can make eating painful.
  • Change in food or location Changing your kitty’s food abruptly can lead to a loss of appetite, says Pam Johnson-Bennett, a Nashville-based cat behaviorist. Moving the location of your kitty’s food dish may also cause problems. For example, cats won’t eat if their dish is too close to their litter box. Your cat will also avoid meals if it feels threatened by another animal in a multi-pet household.
  • Household changes The addition of a new pet, the departure of your son or daughter for college, or a move can all affect your cat’s appetite. Pay special attention to your kitty’s food intake during such times of transition.

What You Can Do

If your cat isn’t eating, try to entice it with these four steps:

1.  Heat the food. The aroma of warm canned cat food just might tempt your kitty. However, make sure you just add warm water instead of microwaving, cautions McGeorge. Microwaves can heat unevenly, and you risk scalding your cat’s mouth.

2.  Offer food by hand. The attention you pay to your cat while you feed a few morsels by hand can make a difference.

3.  Adjust for age. Consider soft food if your elderly cat has tooth issues. Elevate the food bowl if your kitty is arthritic.

4.  Provide a safe, quiet location. Make sure your kitty is comfortable with the location of its food dish. Set up several feeding stations in a multi-cat household.

Your veterinarian remains your best resource when your cat quits eating. Some owners hesitate making the call, figuring their cat’s appetite might return or worrying they’ll make a veterinary visit for no reason. “The big message from me is to bring your cat in,” says McGeorge. “The best thing you can hear is your cat is fine.”

Last-minute Holiday Food Gifts for Cats

Whether you are playing Secret Santa with your cat-loving friends or simply looking for a way to treat your own feline for the holidays, the gift of food is a practical and delicious one in today’s economy. But how can you make a gift of kitty chow look more festive than a can of cat food?

Jill Comeau, director of product development at Gourmet Gift Baskets online, has been designing food-filled gift baskets for frisky felines ever since the site started up seven years ago. Comeau offers advice on how to design the perfect collection of goodies for the cat in your life.

Step 1: Select a base.
While your cat will certainly enjoy the contents of its gift basket, it is not only what’s inside that is appealing. Get creative and think of the word “basket” in a flexible way. A shoe box, a cat bed or even a traditional basket lined with a blanket will delight your pet long after the treats inside have been devoured.

Step 2: Choose food carefully.
When putting together cat delicacies for your own pet or someone else’s, make sure to take the animal’s age and special health concerns into consideration. A gift for a cat older than 7 should primarily include cat food for seniors. A basket for an overweight cat should be lighter on treats and higher on weight-control meals.

Step 3: Think visually.
For visual appeal, select food packages of different sizes and colors. Rather than buying one bag of dry food and placing it in your basket, try purchasing different flavors of kibble and different sizes of easily sealable gift bags. Divvy up the dry food into your special packages, labeling each with the appropriate flavor, such as “tuna” and “chicken.” Canned food is another way to add easy visual appeal to your gift, and a variety of flavors will keep the feline recipient in the best of holiday spirits.

Step 4: Shop for simple toys.
Look for different shapes and sizes for toys. And include a variety of things cats like to play with. This may include traditional toys -- like mice that scurry across the floor and catnip-scented balls -- and non-toy items, such as cat-safe bows and ribbons that felines love to bat around. Toys like Go Cat Go can be later filled with the dry food in the gift basket to provide hours of fun for your food-motivated furry friend.

Step 5: Put it all together.
Comeau offers these instructions for gift basket assembly:

  • Always arrange products by size -- small in front, large in back.
  • When using a product that comes in a box, the box needs to go on the periphery to facilitate wrapping.
  • In general, the sturdiest, most stable items should be placed along the outer edge of the container.
  • Use shredded paper or tissue paper as filler.
  • Double-sided tape or glue dots can hold items together.
  • Wrap with shrink-wrap cellophane, available at most craft stores.
  • Decorate with non-fray bows or sturdy silk flowers to give kitty something extra for playtime.

Beyond the Basket
Of course, you can consider alternative gifts for the cats in your life. Stockings, for one, provide lots of room for food and other goodies, and they are easier to arrange than baskets. Traditional gift wrapping works as well once items like canned and packaged food are placed in a simple box.

Comeau’s own cats’ reactions to her presents serve as proof that your felines are sure to be pleased. “My cats go crazy when I give them gifts,” she says.

Multi-cat Food Explained

Jen Rice’s small Manhattan apartment is just big enough for her and both of her cats, so odor control in the small space is a top priority for Rice. Her pets’ veterinarian recommended multi-cat food to address her concerns. “The fiber in multi-cat food helps with litter box issues,” explains the 26-year-old publicist. “I empty their boxes very regularly and noticed there was less in them when I switched to multi-cat.”

Elimination issues aren’t the only ones multi-cat foods address. Below, Katy Nelson, DVM, an emergency veterinarian in Virginia, explains the ins and outs of multi-cat formulas.

How Is Multi-Cat Food Different?

  • Weight control

  • Obesity is a growing problem in domestic cats and can be a complicated one in multi-cat households, where food fiends often clean their thinner partners’ plates. “In a house with 10 cats, nine of the 10 are overweight,” says Dr. Nelson.

    Multi-cat formulas address the issues of the heavier cat with L-carnitine, which helps to burn fat. An enhanced level of vitamin A is also often included to reduce the possibility of weight regain. For the slender cat, multi-cat food also contains the high levels of protein necessary for muscle mass maintenance.

  • Colon health and hairball minimization

  • Multi-cat formulas contain enough high-quality fiber to promote colon health. The fiber not only keeps litter box odors to a minimum, but it also fights hairballs. Along those lines, Nelson recommends a multi-cat formula that lists beet pulp as one of its ingredients. “It’s an excellent fiber source for animals,” she says.

  • Immune system support

  • Multiple cats mean multiple germs, especially when a new cat is brought into the home. High-quality multi-cat formulas contain prebiotics, which are nondigestible ingredients that work in the digestive system to help good bacteria thrive and multiply. Prebiotics help balance out a feline’s system, enhancing immune system functioning.

Is Multi-cat Food Right for Your Home?
According to Nelson, multi-cat food is only appropriate for healthy adult cats under 7 years old. “Kittens need kitten formula, which has more calories, and seniors need senior formula,” she explains.

Lactating and pregnant cats should not eat multi-cat food, and neither should those whose medical conditions need to be treated with a special diet. Such conditions may include kidney problems, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease and other common, yet serious, health issues.

How to Dish It out
Like their owners, cats have their own eating habits, body types and energy output. As a result, even on multi-cat food, each feline needs its own dish and portion size. Says Nelson: “If you have more than one cat, you need extra discipline when it comes to feeding. You can’t just put multi-cat formula in a big communal bowl and let everyone spend all day grazing on it.”

Nelson recommends feeding felines in separate locations in the home, so that each can have a portion size appropriate for its weight and activity level. “Give your cats a specific time frame to eat in and then pick up the dish,” she advises. “I think of it this way: If someone put a whole pizza on my desk, I’d eat the whole thing over the course of my day. I’m better off taking one slice on a plate and being done with it.”

Nelson acknowledges that this type of feeding may be a daunting task and adds that it can take six to eight weeks to get cats on a feeding schedule. However, you end up with so much more control over what they eat, and your pets are healthier for your efforts.

Multi-cat food convert Jen Rice agrees. “I tried multi-cat food for my own selfish reasons, but my cats really seem to be thriving on it.” If you share your home with more than one cat, multi-cat food could help you and your furry friends live in better health and harmony too.

Unleash Your Cat's Inner Hunter

Is your cat packing on too much extra weight? According to a recent survey organized by The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, chances are high. Veterinarians in 29 states concluded that 53 percent of all cats studied were overweight, with 19 percent being downright obese.

“We are becoming a nation of couch potatoes and lap potatoes,” says the study’s lead investigator, Ernie Ward, DVM, a Calabash, N.C., veterinarian. He points out that too much weight may contribute to health problems, such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

If your cat does fall into the hefty majority, the extra weight may have more to do with domestication than intentional laziness. Pet nutritionist Hilary Watson of Ontario, Canada, thinks the switch from outdoor wild to indoor mild may be at the root of the pudginess problem.

Wild, Wily and Thin
Watson, who has over 20 years of experience in pet food formulation and quality assurance, explains that in the wild, feral cats primarily eat small prey, like rodents. Since there isn’t much meat on a mouse, and feral cats do not store food, a cat in the wild is constantly hunting during its waking hours.

While feral cats face numerous health threats, ranging from malnutrition to predation by other animals, they generally don’t suffer from obesity. Cats’ bodies are best adapted to the feral eating lifestyle, which includes many small meals during the day paired with a certain amount of exercise. But how can you duplicate this regimen at home?

Tap Into Your Cat’s Inner Hunter
Your cat may take care of some of the problem itself. You may have noticed that unless your feline is famished or is a very heavy eater, it probably eats a certain amount of food in a single sitting and then returns every so often to the dish throughout the day. Unfortunately, naps may be all that occur between the noshes.

Watson suggests adding a hunting element to the routine. Place small bowls in four different rooms of your home that your cat can access. Leave three of the bowls empty each day, using just one for the day’s food, but vary the bowl choice. For example, on Monday, feed your cat from the bowl in the pantry. On Tuesday, use the bowl in the kitchen. “Your cat won’t keep track but will likely march around throughout the day investigating the different bowls,” Watson says, adding that she’s coaxed many cats to “exercise” with this technique.

Multi-cat, Multi-weight Households
If two or more cats live in your home, and your veterinarian believes only one has a weight problem, Watson offers a few suggestions. If your heavy cat has difficulty jumping, try raising the other cats’ food bowls off the ground so the fat cat can’t get to them. This can help solve the problem of the heavy cat refusing to eat its weight-control food.

If the above fails or isn’t possible, place a chain on a door between two rooms. The chain allows the door to remain slightly ajar, allowing the svelte cats to slip through for easy access to their food bowls. The heftier cat is then fed its weight-control meal separately in the other room.

Tips for Keeping Tabby Un-tubby
Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine offers these additional tips for keeping your cat at a healthy weight:

  • Schedule regular weigh-ins Your veterinarian has a scale that is sensitive enough to pick up slight changes in weight in an 8- to 15-pound animal. Aside from the importance of noticing these otherwise difficult-to-detect changes, the regular weigh-ins create a positive motivational factor, similar to a person going to Weight Watchers.
  • Make sure your cat is eating what it is supposed to and nothing else Avoid offering table scraps and other calorie-rich snacks.
  • Don’t go overboard If your cat is still overweight after your home efforts, an underlying health problem could exist, such as hypothyroidism. Treat your cat to a full check-up. When your cat receives a clean bill of health, buy a quality weight control cat food and expect gradual results.
  • Offer interactive exercise Find a toy you can both play with -- something that dangles on the end of a line, for example -- and get your cat off the couch a couple times a day. 

As Dr. Ward suggested, both people and pets have a tendency now to be too sedentary. Remember that your “lap potato” is lounging over a potential couch potato -- you. If you develop better eating and exercise habits, chances are, those will benefit your pets too.